If not for the coronavirus pandemic, this would have been the opening day of the Clark County Fair. Hopefully, this time next year, we’ll be chomping on corn cobs and burgers and washing it all down with a fresh berry shakes from the Clark County Dairy Women booth.
To get you through until then, I created a list of places where you can get fairlike food. Create a music playlist of past fair performers like KC and the Sunshine Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Pat Benatar and Brad Paisley laced with the sounds of motocross or demolition derbies to listen to as you munch on your almost-fair favorites. Paint a butterfly or a rainbow on your cheek or carry around an extremely large stuffed animal and pretend that you won it shooting at balloons.
It may make you feel for a brief moment that you’ve arrived at the fair.
There isn’t a single place in Clark County that can recreate the experience of visiting the Sweet Cheeks Fried Treats fair booth that offers deep-fried Snickers candy bars, but there are some greasy goodies that can fulfill your crispy cravings. La Oie Cajun Cuisine (9811 N.E. 15th Ave.) serves beignets — small doughy pockets, deep-fried, then coated with powdered sugar. Burgerville currently has Walla Walla onion rings, sweet onions in a thin buttermilk batter, coated with panko. Shanahan’s Pub & Grill (209 W. McLoughlin Blvd.) has fried pickles. For something unusual and marginally healthy, try deep-fried broccoli tossed in chickpea flour and served with black garlic aioli at Pacific House (819 Main St. and 315 N.E. 192nd Ave.)
The Clark County Dairy Women’s milkshakes are legendary. Every year, a steady line snakes around the booth seeking the creamy dairy treats mixed with fresh fruit. The shakes at Rally Pizza (8070 E. Mill Plain Blvd.) made with the restaurant’s own thick, rich vanilla-bean frozen custard are a good substitute. Sipping one of Rally’s boozy shakes like Bourbon Bramble (with house blackberry syrup, sea salt caramel and bourbon) from the cool comfort of your home may make you forget that crowded booth at the fair.
Head to Hockinson Market (15814 N.E. 182nd Ave.) for a milkshake road trip. Customers tell owner Jim VanNatta that his old-fashioned milkshakes taste like the Clark County Dairy Women’s at the fair. This could be because Hockinson Market’s milkshakes are made the traditional way using a vintage 1950s milkshake machine that swirls Umpqua ice cream and Darigold milk in a big metal cup. Smooth ice cream flavors like chocolate, vanilla and strawberry work best because chunkier flavors jam up this antique machine. Malts are also available. If you sip your milkshake at the market, it comes in a tall milkshake glass topped with whipped cream and a cherry served along with the last bit of shake in the big silver mixing cup.
Top Burger Drive-In (1436 N.E. Everett St., Camas), K&M Drive-In (3414 N.E. Third Ave., Camas) and Don & Jo’s Drive-In (21903 N.E. 10th Ave., Ridgefield) are good places to satisfy fair-food cravings without leaving your car. All three serve greasy old-fashioned burgers, french fries, onion rings, and thick creamy milkshakes that are good substitutes for the burger and shake I typically polish off while watching a clown perform tricks on a unicycle at the fair.
Drive down Vancouver’s Main Street and look for a large hot dog named Wacky McWeiner topping his head with ketchup while holding a bottle of mustard at the ready. You’ve arrived at the Weiner Wagon (1199 Main St.) The owners of the Weiner Wagon had a booth at the Clark County Fair in the 1980s, so this is bona fide fair food. A basic dog with ketchup, mustard, relish and onion or a chili dog with chili, onions, cheddar cheese and Fritos will satisfy any fair food cravings.
MADdogs Gourmet Hotdogs (1900 N.E. 162nd Ave.) serves classics like the Chicago dog, Sonoran dog or chili dog. There’s also unusual combinations like a Mad N Cheese dog covered with housemade macaroni and cheese or the Nacho Dog with cheese, crumbled tortilla chips, olives and sour cream — good approximations of the fair’s decadence without the temptation of getting on a roller coaster after eating them.
It’s hard to beat the Community of Christ pie booth at the fair, but you won’t find a wider variety of fruit and cream pies than at Peach Tree Restaurant & Pie House (6600 N.E. Highway 99). The Diner (5303 E. Mill Plain Blvd.), a project through Meals on Wheels People, also offers slices of fresh baked pies in flavors like chocolate cream, mixed berry and lemon meringue.
From 5 to 8 p.m. every Friday, the popper at the Kiggins Theatre (1011 Main St.) churns out mountains of golden popcorn for carryout.
Killa Bites (510 Pioneer St., Ridgefield) sells caramel corn in a variety of flavors — including salted caramel, caramel apple and sweet-and-spicy It’s a Par-Thai — at Chuck’s Produce, Rosauers and The Birds and The Beans coffee shop in Ridgefield. Or, order at killa-bites.myshopify.com.
The Original Pronto Pup in Rockaway Beach, Ore., is open this summer. If you don’t feel like driving two hours to get a corn dog, The Smokin’ Oak (501 Columbia St.) offers a Texas barbecue-style version of this dog on a stick during happy hour. The corn dog begins with a housemade sausage (a beef and pork blend) smoked with a natural casing and then dipped in cornbread batter.
It’s not fair food without a fair, but maybe this list of treats will tide you over until we can all shake a turkey leg at each other and raise a cup of lemonade in celebration at the Clark County Fair next summer.
Rachel Pinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.