Fairest foods of them all

Frialator freak show of the Midway

Sharky’s lobster fries—it’s lobster, on fries!

Sharky’s lobster fries—it’s lobster, on fries!

Photo by Jason Cassidy

There might not be a Lobster Boy on display anymore, but they're still doing bizarre things with lobsters at the county fair. The real freak show these days takes place behind the steamed-up windows of the gaudy trailers along the food corridor of the midway, where meats, vegetables, candies and more are dipped in batter and hot oil before being put on display under the hot orange lights. This past Sunday (May 24), I visited the Silver Dollar Fair, and I bring back these tales of the wonders I encountered.

Egg roll on a stick: I’ve been eating/craving oversized egg rolls fried onto corndog sticks since my mom let me try a bite at the Shasta County Fair back when I was in grade school. After that, regular, puny, egg rolls just made me angry. And I was overjoyed when the first fried food that I saw on the midway at this year’s fair was a banquet pan filled with a glowing pile of chicken egg rolls in the window of the “I Love Orange Chicken” trailer.

Dipped halfway into a golden-yellow sweet-and-sour sauce and presented to me molten hot, the crunchy roll slid down the stick and onto my hand as I took the first messy, painful bite. It was insanely good; maybe the best egg roll on a stick I’ve ever had. It was perfectly crispy and the chicken-and-veggie filling actually was prepared with some care, with soft and lightly caramelized onions intermingling nicely with the shredded cabbage.

Sharky’s Fish Fry: The huge trailer was topped with giant blue billboards and a row of floodlights advertising its cornucopia of fried options, the most popular being a couple of offerings featuring lobster: the lobster corn dog and lobster fries. In fact, a couple of days prior to my visit, camera crews from the Cooking Channel had visited Sharky’s to film a segment on those two dishes for Carnival Eats. I had to try one. The lobster corn dog—with a “dog” made of lobster—looked impressive, but I followed my cashier’s endorsement and went for the lobster fries, which featured a basket of fries, covered in lumps of lobster meat, plus a thin chipotle aioli and a little chopped parsley. The aioli was pretty flavorless and the fries weren’t very crispy, but the combo worked as a refreshing twist on fish and chips.

As I dug into my lobster pile, I was distracted by what looked like very crispy foods on sticks coming out of the window, and had to try something from Sharky’s with a little crunch. Even though it was against my better judgment, I gave in to the grinning mustache on the poster and ordered the Cap’n Crunch shrimp on a stick and … damn, if it wasn’t really, really good. Reminiscent of fried coconut shrimp, the Cap’n Crunch breading added a sweet butteriness that complemented the shrimp well. But, the kicker was just how crunchy the captain’s little yellow nuggets became after frying. Too good. Too good to ever put my arteries through that again.

Funnel cake: The longest food line at the fair, any fair, is undoubtedly in front of the funnel cake trailer. And such was the case this night at Funnel Cake Express, an Orland-based business that travels the fair circuit every spring/summer.

If swirled/poured—from a funnel, or pitcher with a spout—into the very hot oil correctly, the pancake-like batter of the funnel cake turns into a knotted-up mass of interwoven strings of fried crispiness. It’s then immediately coated in something sweet, usually powdered sugar or cinnamon-and-sugar blend (or a number of gooey toppings that you can have piled on top). And Funnel Cake Express did it right. The granulated sugar in the cinnamon/sugar blend soaked up the residual oil and lent a caramelized finish to the crispy edges. I could’ve eaten three.

According to owner Hyrum Allen, he serves more than 1,000 funnel cakes each day of the fair. Which means Funnel Cake Express is churning out one funnel cake every minute! Which begs the question: Why aren’t funnel cakes available year round at every establishment with deep fryers? Selling funnel cakes in downtown Chico between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. would be like printing money.