The end of the line for Angelenos. The Desert. Not quite LA. The last stop for the metrorail at the edge of a metropolis. Lancaster California.
Californians have been migrating here since the early eighties from the other side of the hill, compelled by attractive real estate prices and the promise of lower crime and less traffic. Farms and engineering firms peppered the desert plains filling the air with the pungent scent of onion and alfalfa, fighter jets and rodeos. Over time, this once small town on the other side of nowhere grew up. Old timers grew old. Track homes appeared. Lancaster suddenly became a destination with a bustling downtown boulevard and diverse restaurants to boot, and not by accident.
And then there was the fair, a mix of rustic county farm fest and concert venue, carnival rides and fried food. But this too has changed, evolved, vendors have been forced to adapt to the ever changing landscape of creative food culture and craft beers. The fair you once knew is gone, buried and scattered into memory. There’s something going down in this city of Joshua Trees and engineers, and it’s happening one dish at a time.
Toothless Dragon Wings – Eggroll on a Stick WINNER “Best Fried Food”
The Bay area (San Francisco) is known for 2 things, 3 if you count hippies, sourdough bread and Chinese food. The latter being more prevalent across the greater 48 as many of the recipes adapted by the Chinese (due to the limited availability of spices and other ingredients from “home”) are staple foods at take-outs and buffets everywhere. The savory sauces of the orient embrace the wary traveler like a warm blanket on a cold day, sweet and spicy, savory and subtle and sometimes everything, all at the same time. But much of the skill and art in making great Chinese has been lost, diluted, mass produced by quick serve restaurants and franchises and executed without the single most important ingredient every great chef imparts into each and every dish that leaves his kitchen, love.
And then I bit into a double fried orange chicken wing drumstick and wanted to slap my momma. OMFG YES. Change gears, stop the bus, I just checked a box on my bucket list.
Super crunchy, saucy, sweet, savory, juicy, can I find more words? The sauce is crafted, carefully, from actual oranges and compliments the wing without overpowering the palette. Double fried to perfection, not to dry overkill, and lightly breaded. These little “toothless” wings don’t pack a bite (thus the toothless part) so your spice hating friends can hit the gluttony button without lighting on fire.
Follow that with noodles and fried rice cooked in the old school cantonese “Wok hay” style by an actual Cantonese chef and I guarantee you that your next Chinese delivery will fall flat, deflate, and disappoint. The slightly smokey flavor of the noodles, fried rice that isn’t crunchy and overcooked, authentic. If you love your local take out spot, don’t eat here, stay happy ordering an imitation of Chinese Cuisine.
Hot Cheeto Chicken on a Stick – Bishop Concessions WINNER “Grand Prize”
You can’t argue with stupid, no good deed goes unpunished, and hot Cheetos belong on fried chicken. These are the facts of life my friends, accept it.
I have to admit, at first glance that Cheeto chicken stick looks very, phallic. I heard the snickers from the teenagers walking by as I crunched into what can only be described as “stupid delicious chicken on a stick.”
For some people it’s all about the process, for others, just the end result. A giant fresh chicken breast is threaded on the skewer, breaded, then deep fried. Once brown, the skewer is pulled from the smoky oil and rolled around in a bed of smashed hot Cheetos. Interestingly, eating the Hot Cheetos alone can get super spicy but once its used as breading on a piece of fried chicken, it just seems to fit right in. The crunch from the Cheetos, the extra sugary spice, elevate the fried chicken in a way that is both creative and unique. The two actually mesh together so it doesn’t feel like your eating chicken and Cheetos, more like super crunchy seasoned breaded deep fried chicken. Dipped in ranch, this behemoth of fried heaven is more than enough for one person to chow down on and once your done, you can use the massive skewer to pick clean the bones of your enemies…
Old West Cinnamon Rolls – Old West Cinnamon Rolls WINNER “Tastiest Dessert”
Its 1972. Mom’s trying get her bread business off the ground but the loaves are turning faster than she can sell them. Giving away a whole sample loaf to every customer just isn’t an option and she needs to start baking smaller goods that are easier to sample and sell to make ends meet. She opens her baking cabinet and looks around for ideas… Biscuits? Too plain. Dinner rolls? Cupcakes? Where’s the middle ground? A dessert that can be eaten for breakfast, a lunchtime snack that can be carried in your purse… Cinnamon Rolls.
Time to get to work.
Fast forward 45 years and one generation and you might find yourself staring at a man named Jim holding a rolling pin at a County Fair. His hands are strong, a lifetime of kneading dough and handling heavy sheet pans has kept him lean. He’s a veteran, a kid from a family whose mom was a baker that sent her wares across the oceans so he might have a decent taste of home in ‘Nam while he served his country during the war. He’s been in the business for the past 37 years, the family business, baking.
Old west cinnamon rolls are as simple as they sound, simple ingredients for a treat that has withstood the test of time. Flaky, crunchy, chewy, sweet, buttery, rich. He works half the year on the road, alongside his wife, and travels the county circuits across the country. The rest of the year is spent at their bakery in Pismo Beach, “Old West Cinnamon Rolls.”
Extra large and savory, each cinnamon roll is as big as a large mans fist and cooked perfectly, moist and chewy. The recipe hasn’t changed in 50 years because it hasn’t needed to, whole slabs of butter melt inside each giant roll in the oven. Perfection. Layered with icing and topped with nuts or cherries, the old school hand crafted cinnamon roll is far superior to the packaged grocery store knock off in the regrigerated section, they just cant compare.
Watching him mix and fold, knead and roll, experiencing the art which is this mans life is something to be truly appreciated. You’ll understand with that first bite, that first tear into the bready goodness, made the same way since mom showed him how. Delicious.
The quality of the performers is definitely top notch. From Banda Limon and Metalachi to Cameo, John Pardi and the Eli Young band, even Gabriel Iglesias “Fluffy” made it through the door. Monster trucks and rural Olympics, destruction derby’s and several other headliners pushed the high water mark up a notch including the Doobie Brothers!
Add the carnival, tons of vendors both indoors and outdoors, and a handful of events rolling out daily, the AV Fair has really taken to moving on an upwards line this year. With only this afternoon left to check it out, it’s definitely worth stopping in. If you’re a foodie, you can’t miss this years fair food, it’s awesome.
Cheers! - Nicholas Vela (AKA Nick the Gastronaut)