Photo: Crista Jeremiason/PD

They came from all walks of life. A firefighter, a teacher, a salesman, a home organizer and financial manager sharing a single common bond.

An obsession with fair food.

This intrepid eating force, carefully chosen for their single-minded obsession with all things fried, sugary or barbecued-on-a-stick stormed the Sonoma County Fair Tuesday with the mission of consuming $200 worth of corn dogs, funnel cakes, sliders, ribs, ice cream, kabobs and fried artichokes in a whirlwind of caloric mayhem, crowing the county’s Ultimate Fair Food for 2011. Not a task to be taken lightly.

THE TEAM
Mike Stewart, 36, of Sebastopol is a Ukiah Firefighter and Pork blogger with a penchant for all things carnivorous.

Caroline Edillor, 47, of Santa Rosa works as a Financial Care Manager in Santa Rosa. With her husband Dan, the pair was unstoppable in the quest for unique flavors.

Melinda Anderson, 58, of Windsor is a teen mentor and organizer who’s mother inspired her passion for fair food by making corn dogs at home.

Danielle Lovejoy, 30 or Sonoma and her friend Lara Miraglia, 30, are teachers who schooled the group with their commitment to fair food, diving in for seconds long after the rest of the group gave up. Lovejoy countered that a six mile run that morning probably offset the damage.

Jarrod Logan, 32, of Santa Rosa sells flooring and said simply of his reason for joining the scramble, “I like to eat.”

Admittedly, all this heart-stopping tummy-plumping goodness is an indulgence most of us only allow ourselves once, maybe twice a year. Stirring within us a mix of childhood memories and a nutritional amnesia, eating fair food is a summertime tradition that’s hard for most of us to pass up.

“It’s sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to calories,” said Melinda Anderson, one of the participants selected for the annual “Fair Food Scramble” as she wiped the barbecue from her chin.

So, from polenta and frozen cheesecake to pazole and ribs, a group of five lucky winners chosen from dozens of hopefuls sampled as many edibles as possible within the allotted two hours and $200 budget. Assessing more than 25 dishes piled high on a shaded picnic table, the eating got serious, as the five “Fair Food Scramblers” pulled out forks, knives and trusty pens to rate their favorite dishes of the 2011 Sonoma County Fair.

Call it gastro-mayhem. Call it a taste of childhood. Just don’t forget to bring the napkins and allow yourself this one feckless feast of the season.

The results:

Best Overall: The Elvis Funnel Cake ($6, Pennsylvania Dutch Funnel Cake) . Though the guys in the group leaned more toward ribs, the ladies overwhelmingly gave their vote to this caloric monstrosity — a funnel cake topped with peanut butter, banana sauce, chocolate and whipped cream. Ridiculously, insanely yummy.

Best Meat: Despite piles of beef and pork from a variety of vendors, a clear winner emerged almost immediately. Big Bubba’s Bad Barbecue’s sweet, smokey ribs ($12) knocked out last year’s winner, Johnny Garlic’s pork sliders handily.

Best Fried: Combo plate from Jeanne’s Artichokes ($8) with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant got jealous stares and inquiries of “Where did you get THAT?” before we even hit the table. Pair with plenty of ranch dip. Also note that this was the only vegetable that got eaten at the Scramble.

Best Sweet: Chocolate-covered Cheesecake on a Stick ($5.25, Mrs. J’s Chocolate Pot) won the day, though several of us were quite fond of the refreshingly sweet-tart Mustache Mike’s Italian Ice ($5.50) making it a runner-up.

Best Healthy: It makes the list every year for a good reason. Old Mexico’s pazole ($7.50) is a classic fair favorite with veggies, hominy, rich broth and fried tortillas for dipping.

Best Group Eat: It was a unanimous decision to award the Pasta King a giant thumbs-up for polenta smothered in marinara and cheese ($8). Enough for a crowd, it’s a dish easily shared by several, rich, filling and surprisingly popular with kids (as long as you don’t tell them what it is).

Worst Dish You Absolutely Have to Try: A category in its own, you’ll understand once you try the PBJ Dog with Fried Onions (EuroDog, $7.50). It’s exactly what it sounds like: A hot dog with peanut butter and jelly slathered on the bun, topped with fried onions. A couple Scramblers loved it. Most of us would rather chew our arms off rather than eat another one. “Anything is good in peanut butter. Except that hot dog,” said Lovejoy. You’ve been warned.

Best Classic: Though it rarely gets the love it deserves, Stuffie’s Kielbasa Sausage Sandwich ($9.75) loaded with onions and peppers is always a crowd pleaser.

Best Advice After Eating Fair Food: A pearl of wisdom offered by veteran Scrambler Amy Leyack, “The Graviton and fair food really don’t mix.”

As the group licked fingers, did a final survey of the food carnage and rubbed their sore bellies, Stewart had just one last thing to say: “Are we ready for Round Two?”