First came the fried artichokes, followed by chicken tikka masala, a funnel cake, two corn dogs, a macaroni-stuffed hamburger and a pork chop on a stick. And that was just the warmup.
Each year, a handful of intrepid eaters volunteer to throw caloric caution to the wind in a swirl of gastronomic mayhem on opening day of the Sonoma County Fair, which started Friday and runs through Aug. 7.
Lasting a mere 90 minutes, the 10 lucky BiteClub Fair Food Scramblers purchase as many fried, dipped, battered, smothered, stuffed and candied foods as a picnic table and their stomaches can hold. Once all the food has been piled high, it’s time to dive in and see which of this year’s foods will reign supreme, and which are best avoided.
This year’s team: Mark Walsh, 57, of Santa Rosa; Bernadette Smith, 33, of Santa Rosa; Paul Derkos, 52, of Sebastopol, Amy Meiers, 33, and her son, Cannon, 8, of Santa Rosa; Michelle Marques, 43, of Santa Rosa; Phyllis Morton, 82, of Santa Rosa; Stephanie Ainsley, 31, of Santa Rosa; Jared Wetmore, 28, of Sebastopol; and Henry Chetel, 23, of Sebastopol.
Overall, the group tasted food from 22 vendors and spent about $325 in total, with prices ranging from $5 to $16 per item.
When the powdered sugar had settled, here were their results:
Best Overall Food: Pineapple Shrimp Bowl, Ricardo’s Hawaiian Feast
A hollowed-out half pineapple, stuffed with rice, slaw and grilled shrimp. Not only was the presentation spectacular, but the fresh flavors made this a top pick. Ricardo’s is a new vendor this year, and eaters can pick out their own pineapple bowls. “I just loved that part,” said Meiers, whose son, Cannon, was determined to polish off Ricardo’s non-alcoholic pina colada in a pineapple (He succeeded, including the maraschino cherry, and was last seen walking away with the pineapple).
Best Mexican Food: Tacos Trios, Old Mexico
Carne asada, chicken and pork tacos were a great combo, with something for everyone. A runner-up was a cup of melon and jicama with chili spice from Pepe’s, and the Jamaica (hibiscus) drink from Rose’s Mexican Food was a refreshing drink favorite.
Best Dessert: Sticky Rice with Mango, Thai Time Asian Bistro
Funnel cakes and ice cream are fair food favorites, but sticky rice with fresh mangos is a dessert that doesn’t come with an evening of regret. This is the second year the sticky rice has gotten a big thumbs up. Funnel cake enthusiast Smith, however, was true to the “everything” funnel cake with, well, it was hard to tell, but whipped cream, strawberries and cinnamon apples were represented. “The best part about this,” she added, “is getting to try all this without having to share with my husband.”
Best Fries: Dirty Greek Fries, The Sleek Greek
Fries slathered in tzatziki, with beef and feta were messy as heck, but the winner in this highly competitive category.
Best Indian Food: Chicken Tikka Masala, India Gourmet
No one was quite sure what category to put this under, but Scramblers thought it deserved a high five for taste, and was quickly polished off.
Best Pizza: Jerk Chicken Pizza, Biardelli’s
A huge slice with spicy chicken caught the attention of the pizza-loving Scramblers, who were impressed that the owner insisted on giving them a fresh slice right out of the oven. Biardelli’s is new this year.