Feasting on fair food

Dietician, food writer evaluate dishes at Clark County Fair

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



If You Go

  • What: Clark County Fair.
  • Hours today: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road.
  • Admission: Adults, $11.25; seniors 62 and older, $9.25; kids 7-12, $8.25; kids 6 and younger, free.
  • Parking and transportation: Parking, $6 per vehicle; C-Tran shuttle, free from six main transfer stations; $1 discount on full gate admission with coupon from bus driver. Schedules at www.c-tran.com/clarkcountyfair
  • Carnival: Opens at noon.
  • Free grandstand entertainment: Tuff trucks, 2 and 7 p.m.
  • Pets: Not permitted, except for service animals or those on exhibit or in competition.
  • More information: www.clarkcofair.com or call 360-397-6180.

Elephant ears. French fries. Corn dogs. Funnel cakes.

What’s the fair without the fair food?

And at the Clark County Fair, food sales are as big as the oversized barbecued turkey legs. Last year, commercial food booths accounted for about $1.7 million in sales.

With food clearly a focal point of the fair, I set out to see what the vendors have to offer. But, to get a proper evaluation, I brought along a couple of food-minded people: Robin Hammon, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, and Rachel Pinsky, a Vancouver food writer and regular contributor to The Columbian.

The two don’t share similar views on fair food.

Hammon isn’t a regular fair attendee. And when she does go, she doesn’t typically eat the food. The food she has had came on a stick (as many fair foods do), but instead of a hot dog, she opted for zucchini.

“It was really substandard,” she said.

Pinsky attends the fair every year with her family. Her go-tos are milkshakes from the Clark County Dairy Women and hamburgers.

“I think there’s something about greasy food and nauseating rides,” Pinsky said. “It’s magic.”

We met on a hot and smoky afternoon, with bottles of water and empty bellies, and strolled the midway and food court looking for eats. The Columbian photographer Alisha Jucevic joined to document the outing.

“I’ve never looked at it from the perspective of how many options there are,” Pinsky said. “It’s kind of overwhelming.”

Stepping into the food court, we were greeted by the smell of cooking grease. Deep-fat-fried foods, Hammon pointed out, are particularly problematic. As the vegetable oil breaks down, it produces toxins responsible for inflammation, she said.

In addition, Hammon said, deep-frying leads to calorie bombs. Those fried onion blooms, for example, can carry a whopping 1,300 calories, she said.

With that in mind, the first food we tried came from the deep-fried everything-you-can-think-of booth, Sweet Cheeks Fried Treats. The offerings included Snickers candy bars, Oreos and cheesecake.

“They’re taking stuff with lots of trans fats and sugars and then deep-fat frying them,” Hammon said.

At least the cheesecake, we reasoned, starts as a food with real ingredients. Expecting a crispy-coated triangular slice of cheese cake, we were surprised to be handed a corn dog-like food covered with powdered sugar. Pinsky cut into the spongy exterior to reveal the creamy filling and took the first bite.

“It’s kind of like a doughnut someone shoved a cheesecake into,” Pinsky said. “I think I’m liking this too much. This tastes good. I like it.”

Hammon wasn’t as impressed.

“I wonder if that’s truly cheesecake,” she said. “Is it really cream cheese or is it artificial?”

In an attempt to balance the deep-fried cream-filled doughnut on a stick, we ordered a Greek salad from Greek Cusina. Sliced tomatoes, purple onion and cucumbers topped a bed of fresh romaine lettuce. The salad was finished off with a Greek vinaigrette, olives and a heap of feta cheese.

“It’s a decent salad. It’s tasty,” Hammon said. “I was surprised to get something other than an iceberg lettuce.”

Pinsky agreed.

“I think it’s pretty good,” she said. “The dressing is zesty. Refreshing for a hot day.”

As we split the salad, the family sitting next to us dove into their brick of french fries.

“You can get french fries in a brick?” Hammon asked, amazed.

“You can get them in every size and shape,” Pinsky answered, “garlic, curly, block.”

Even poutine, Pinsky pointed out. Hammon was aghast as Pinsky described the Canadian dish of fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy.

“That is appalling,” Hammon said.

After giving our stomachs a break with the salad, we hit up the Smokehouse booth for a jumbo elephant ear. Hammon inquired about the pastry and learned it was a “giant piece of bread” deep-fried, slathered with butter and coated with sugar and cinnamon.

She underestimated its size.

“Oh my gosh,” she said, eyeing the finished product. “It is ginormous.”

After taking the first bite, Hammon admitted it tasted as divine as it smelled.

“This is one of the better things at the fair,” she said.

“It’s light and flaky,” Pinsky said.

“And it’s not overly sugary,” Hammon added.

After a few bites each, though, it was time to move on from the food court.

“I think I have olfactory fatigue from all of the grease in here,” Hammon said.

Next up: a turkey leg cooked on a giant grill at the Roadhouse booth. Holding the tin-foil wrapped leg bone, Pinsky tore in.

“It’s not falling off,” she said. “It’s almost like turkey jerky. It’s very chewy.”

Pinsky and Hammon agreed they must’ve used a brine on the meat.

“It almost takes like ham,” Hammon said. “It’s very tasty actually. I kinda like it.”

“It’s very ham-y,” Pinsky agreed.

From there, they mused about the under-eating of turkey legs.

“There should be more turkey legs,” Pinsky said. “It shouldn’t be just a fair food.”

“I’m glad we did it,” Hammon agreed. “You just don’t get a turkey leg every day.”

We decided to end the two-hour food adventure at the fair’s most popular food booth: the Clark County Dairy Women. There, we split a marionberry shake — the special of the day. (That produced the ideal portion size, too, Hammon pointed out.)

“It’s really thick,” Pinsky said. “It’s really good. There’s a lot of berries in there.”

“It was nice and creamy,” Hammon agreed. “Real cream and real berries. Probably real sugar, too.”

“Real food is so much more satisfying,” she added.

It was tough to come to a consensus on the best fair food. We hit all of the food groups: meat, vegetables, dairy and elephant ear.

“Everything was good,” Pinsky said. “I was surprised.”

“We had some finds,” Hammon added. But she remained suspicious of the deep-fried cheesecake.

“That was fake food,” she said. “We should’ve got the Oreos.”