Fair Food Scramble 2012 RESULTS

Favorite foods at the Scramble include fried pineapple, Sonora dog

It was a nutritionist’s worst nightmare: Two picnic tables piled with dozens of fried, sugary, glutenous, meaty, fat-laden dishes who’s caloric density could propel a small army. For a month.

Six brave souls faced down the feast bravely on the opening day of the Sonoma County Fair (July 25-August 12), without health wavers or regret during the fourth annual Fair Food Scramble. The challenge? Winners secure as much food as $200 will buy (in a brisk 45 minute race), followed by a mouth-stuffing, gut-busting eat-a-thon to find the best fair food of 2012.

Photos: Kent Porter

Within two hours, the results were in…

The Team:

JJ Harris, Petaluma: Our “healthy” Scrambler, JJ was tasked with seeking out foods with some healthful nature, in addition to gluten-free foods. She is fond of the Stuffie’s Veggie Burger (without the pesto mayo) as a vegan option and loved Pepe’s Horchata.

Randy Rued: The postman with the legs of steel who took us all the way to Linwood South!

Eric and Laura Lee, Petaluma: Next Food Network Star hopeful and former Simi Chef, Eric Lee was our serious palate on the team. He took the job to heart, picking just a handful of foods that really spoke to his secret fair food fondness. His favorite food remains the corn dog. His wife, Laura, is also a chef and had plenty of great insight on the food, echoing the group’s like for the Sonora dog and fried pineapple. The couple hit many of the Shade Park eateries.

Tyffani Peters, Windsor: Having worked with chefs like John Ash and Sondra Bernstein, Tyffani knows her way around food. She was the queen of the Mexican Village, plying us with spicy mango, tacos and tamales. Her fave: Corndogs.Randy Rued. Santa Rosa: A postman by day, Randy used his powerful location skills to suss out the best foods from Lindwood North and South. His favorite: Willie Bird’s Sausage.

Tanner Moulding, Rohnert Park: The man we called “Lemonader” put his pucker to work finding the best lemonades at the fair. Favorite food: Sonora Dog.

Plus: Thanks to Mike Stewart (our Vet), Greg Retsinas (the Bossman) and Jason Stanbrough (the crepe man and pack mule).

Best Overall: Sonora Dog, $6
A newcomer to the fair, Lisa Thompson and her sister, Debra White, both of Santa Rosa, won the judges hearts with a hot dog wrapped in bacon, topped with pinto beans, grilled onions, mustard and mayo. The kicker is a sweet Mexican roll specially made by Santa Rosa’s La Reyna Bakery. “It’s a hot dog on steroids,” said Thompson. Sonoran Hot Dog Stand, Magnolia. Judges loved it so much, we also named it Best Meat Dish at the Fair. Scrambler Tyffani Peters of Windsor said,” Classic fair food with a nice Mexican twist and fusion of flavors.”

Best Fried: Fried Pineapple, $7
County fairs have become ground zero for putting anything not tied down into the fryer. From pickles to Coca-Cola, there’s not much that hasn’t been tried. Pineapple, however, is a new one for us, and a hands-down winner (the judges were split on whether this should actually be Best Overall). Big chunks of juicy, ripe pineapple get batter-dipped and golden, for a sweet, crunchy combo. Cardinali Grill, Linwood South. A fried loser? Fried watermelon (also from Cardinali), $6. “Watermelon doesn’t take well to cooking,” said 2012 Scrambler JJ Harris, of Petaluma.

Best Lemonade: Phil’s Fresh Squeezed Lemonade, $4
This year, we took our drinking seriously at the Scramble. Most of the lemonades faired, well, fair, without much real lemon flavor. Phil’s tart-sweet fresh-squeezed taste won us over. Phil’s (the giant lemon) in the Shade Park. Other interesting drinks to check out: Horchata, (Pepe’s, Mexican Vilalge), Mango Cup (Michoacan Natural Ice Cream, Mexican Village), and Sarsaparilla (Rincon Valley Christian School, Shade Park).

Best Pasta: Pasta King Pesto, ($7.25)
Do we even have to say it? Art Ibleto is a legend, and all of the food is made onsite in the permanent Pasta King building on the fairgrounds. The pasta don oversees most of the operations from the air-conditioned back room throughout the fair. The pesto is just a Sonoma County Fair classic that you gotta get every year at least once. Pasta King Spaghetti Palace, Shade Park.

Best Newcomer: Crab Rarebit, $12
Though most of the group didn’t dive into this sharp melted cheese and crab concoction on toast points until it was, well, cold, those of us who got our fingers in early knew this was something special. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, but in line with the more upscale dishes served at Sliders Gastro Pub and Sports Bar in front of the Racing Grandstands. “I could really taste the crab,” said Laura Lee. A second dish, “Gastro Nachos” (also from Sliders) with cantaloupe and guacamole wasn’t as big of a hit with the group. “Unripe melon, pickled jalapenos and nachos was the worst idea ever,” said Lee.

Photo: Kent Porter

Best Classic: Munch-a-Bunch Corndog
“For me, fair food is corndogs. It’s nostalgic and as long as a food triggers that, it’s a winner,” said Chef Eric Lee. The Next Food Network contender was a fan of the Munch-a-Bunch dog ($4), but after the Scramble, continued his search. “I’m having at least two more,” Lee said. Munch-a-Bunch, Linwood South.

Best Dessert: Brown Sugar Cinnamon Crepe
San Francisco Crepe Company (previously known to locals as Cafe Martin at the Roxy) won the judges’ coveted dessert vote for its sheer simplicity. A folded crepe with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon stood out among the frosted, fried, canned strawberry-topped desserts. Not that we didn’t love them all, but sometimes less is more. Other faves: Homemade cannoli’s from Cardinali.  Look for the rehabbed cable car on Poplar.

Best Healthy: Pasta King Polenta, ($8.50)
Almost every year, we give this marinara smothered polenta a “best of” award. It’s rich, filling and just plain good without making you feel like you’ve swallowed an elephant. Plus, it’s vegetarian, making it approachable for different dietary needs.  Shade Park.

A few other favorites: Baklava (Sleek Greek, Shade Park), fried artichokes (Jeanne’s Artichokes, Linwood North) and the Cajun Sausage Sandwich (WIllie Bird’s BBQ, Linwood North). We compared several carne asada tacos, as well, including the returning Soft Tacos (Linwood North). Our favorite of the bunch: Rose’s Mexican Food (Mexican Village, $4).



29 thoughts on “Fair Food Scramble 2012 RESULTS

  1. I’m a great eater and deserve to be on the team. With multiple sclerosis, I can be quick at pickin out great bites. Hubby, Sam, is the go-to carry guy. Don’t over look a great two-for-one team players.

  2. Dear Biteclub and Sonoma County Fair goers,
    My name is Lisa Thompson and I am the owner of the Sonoran Hot Dog stand at the fair. My sister Debra and I want to thank Biteclub for honoring us in the Food Scramble this year, we are very proud and thankful. The media attention certainly brought people to the fair to try our Sonoran Hot Dog. We would also like to thank everyone who ate with us. As a consumer I put alot of thought into what I buy, especially in these tough economic times, so knowing that you read about us, looked for us, and spent your hard earned money with us means so much. As home town girls it has made the experience even sweeter. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you. Sincerely, Lisa & Debra

  3. Ok, the #1 on the list – the hotdog wrapped in bacon with beans and jalapenos? TO DIE FOR!!! Sonora Dog was FANTASTIC! Do NOT SHARE THIS ONE WITH FAMILY like I did. Have an entire one for yourself.

    Location of Sonora Dog – the main food court area almost on the corner of going into Mex Village. Across from that. Hope you can find it and it’s great! I went when it first opened, I should have come back here to let people know where it is. When it’s HOT it can be hard to find the food vendors you’re looking for.

  4. The best by far has to be the frozen chocolate dipped banana on a stick. It’s the one thing I get every time I go to the fair. That and the pineapple on a stick. Not fried but fresh, sweet, natural and delicious. The cinamon roll in the main pavillion isn’t too bad either.

  5. I have been to the fair several times since it opened and had the Sonoran Hot Dog each time. I LOVE it! Plenty of bacon, great toppings, and awesome service. The ladys that own it are from Santa Rosa! Nice to see something new and different at the fair.

  6. The Sonoran hot dog was off the charts! I did not expect to like this funky creation. Yum! Also, the fried pineapple was delish. Rose’s street tacos were amazing as usual. Surprised there has been no mention of the brick of curly fries…those are a must have topped with sour cream and tapatio (sp). Also the Gyros are a big hit!! Food Coma right now! 🙂

  7. Thanks for another fun and helpful Scramble! Can’t wait to try the df pineapple. Sounds like there are more local food choices this year–am I reading that right or were scramblers just naturally drawn to them? 🙂

  8. This fairgoer/foodie wants to know what happened to Mackinaw Fudge? That was my go-to sweet during the fair. So sad they weren’t there last year — what about this year?

    I enjoy this article every year, thanks! I sort of plan my fair day around it. :o)

  9. Gluten free treats at the Fair? Turns out wheat-free (suitable for people with mild sensitivity to wheat) options are pretty common if you can tolerate dishes made with cornmeal or legumes. If so, you can try delicious polenta from Pasta King, Falafel from Sleek Greek or tacos from Pepe’s. Or go with meat that doesn’t come on a bun like Garlicky’s kabobs or Willie Bird BBQ turkey leg. If you have celiac disease or are otherwise severely sensitive to even a trace of wheat, you’ve probably already learned how to proceed with caution. I spoke to vendors and they were very helpful telling me about their ingredients, even double-checking on items for me. Stay away from anything deep-fried! 🙁 For a sweet treat, the frozen chocolate banana with nuts might work for you.

  10. Wow couldn’t wait to try sonora dog. What was the judes thinking? I order a dog asked how long 5 min/ they said no 2 mins. 10 min later I got a dog that was all shrunk up and no bacon. i said where the bacon they said oh you go a short piece. I took it to my table and the people laughed. no bacon i took it back and they gave me a new dog with bacon. these people are not nice never again

  11. There is a reason you can’t get Fair food anywhere but the Fair….and its not that each of the vendors is opposed to gay marraige, is a national chain or wants a drive-thru. To paraphrase the immortal bard “Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair”. What you have done is truly a community service and I salute you. You have spared us all the selzer and pepto but none of the vicarious joy and unsated curiosity.

  12. Is Polenta really healthy? Given that it’s corn, it has to be really high in carbohydrates. “Vegetarian” and “healthy” are necessarily synonymous.

        1. I just looked it up. Each 100gm serving of Polenta has 68gm of carbohydates, however they are complex carbs which take longer to get converted to sugar. So it’s relatively better than carbs which are simple sugars.

        2. peter get over yourself– it’s italian comfort food and delicious –hate it when certain people try to act smug–

          1. I never questioned the “deliciousness”, and I don’t think I was being smug, just questioning whether an item is actually “healthy”.

            I don’t think your slam against me was called for. Have a nice day anyway, Pat.

  13. A friend purchased the died watermelon. I had a bite and could not swallow it. Ugh! Some things are not meant to be fried!!!!

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