Friday, July 9, 2010

Cart Food on the Calendar: Thoughts on, and a Schedule of, Upcoming Oregon Fairs

One thing I love about Lane County and greater Oregon is that this place is serious about not only its fairs, but its fair food. Since today is the hot, hot, hot kick-off of Oregon Country Fair, I thought a little guide to Great Fair Food might be in order. But first, a few rules:

  • Try at least one new, strange thing. Oregon fair food is famous not just for its portability (meat on a stick!) but for its variety. So no matter which festival you try this summer, you'll have your choice of traditional and wacky. Someone's going to have tea made from dragonfruit or a basket of Thai street snacks or a French almond pastry that you haven't heard of before. Try it.
  • Make your sample your meal. Most festivals require a certain amount of stamina and hydration; if you spend all of your fair-going money on wacky things and only end up liking half of them, you'll be broke, hungry, and thirsty long before your friends who stuck to funnel cake and basket-o'-chicken.
  • Understand that the fair circuit in Oregon is exactly that -- a circuit. The vendors you'll see at Country Fair are quite likely to reappear in a few weeks at the Lane County Fair or at Saturday Market. So:
  • Treat the fair, any fair, like a one-time only chance to eat as much random fried crap as possible. The occasion will come again, and again, and again. You'll enjoy it more if you aren't in the hospital for cardiac bypass the next day.
So having said all of that, what's worth trying? Here are my favorites of the "regulars," but I'm sure others have suggestions (and I'd be glad to hear them):
  • Maty's Peruvian. I used to wait impatiently for the UO Street Fair to bring Maty's, and their tasty plantain chips and vegeterian tamals, back to me every year. Now, though, I don't have to; they show up at most major fairs (saw them at Art and the Vineyard last weekend and at Country Fair last year). They also seem to be experimenting with participating in the small alternative Saturday Market held in Crescent Village. Very tasty.
  • Dana's Cheesecake Bakery. Available at Saturday Market, Holiday Market, and Country Fair, this place sells cheesecakes that make Sweet Life disappear from my mind. They also have decent coffee, on the rare days that an outdoor fair is a little too cold for the average summer fair-goer.
  • Springfield Creamery. They have dairy and non-dairy treats. Anything they serve that involves fruit is going to be delightful, sweet, sour, wonderful, cold, creamy... mm. Springfield creamery is better known as the home of Nancy's Yogurts and treats, but at Oregon Country Fair, at least, they let their frozen delights come out to play. Worth a try.
  • Cafe 26. Another OCF-only booth, I believe, this one is the only booth I've ever seen that serves an entire steamed artichoke. (I once watched C eat most of this, ah, treat. It's best with mayo, I think, or butter, or at least assistance).
  • Suzy Q's Kettle Korn. If you're looking for a treat to take home, give Suzy about $5 for a medium bag and you'll have just enough sweet, crunchy popcorn to get you through until the next fair... unless you share.
    chipper swirl.jpg
  • Tippaleipa Funnel Cake. Well, Tippaleipa and I have only just met, but we're already fast friends. You may think all funnel cakes are created equal -- and, ok, I'm with you. The feature that makes Tippaleipa stand out is that it's funnel cakes and more, and the and more includes something called a "Chipper Swirl." It's a gigantic paper cone filled to the brim with potatoes that have been shaved, in curls, and then deep-fried. You can get them flavored or not -- I tried the garlic-parm version, and while it was tasty, the potatoes themselves were the stars of the show and they didn't need the addition.
  • Finally: Thai food. Or a burger. Or, oh yes, French Fries. Many Eugene restaurants (Three Forks comes to mind) find their way onto the fairgrounds -- and there's no good reason not to enjoy their wares. Just because you could get Coconut Curry any day of the week doesn't mean it's not more fun to eat it from a paper basket while you're walking around staring at shirtless hippies. It really does add something.
So those are a few of my favorites. I'll be adding more, I'm sure, as summer wears on. Here's a little schedule of events:
July 9-11: Oregon Country Fair (Veneta)
July 15-18: Bohemia Mining Days in Cottage Grove.
July 16-18: Springfield Summerfest, celebrating 125 years of Springfield. Admission: $5.
July 16-18: Corvallis Da Vinci Days.
July 16-18: Coburg Golden Days
July 24: Bite of Eugene. Alton Baker Park
July 30-August 1: Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home
August 12-15: Junction City Scandinavian Festival
August 18-22: Lane County Fair at the fairgrounds in Eugene
August 27-September 6: Oregon State Fair in Salem
August 27-29: Eugene Celebration
I won't make it to all of them (or probably even half of them), but if you go, let us know what food stole the show!


  1. I'm actually going to try to get to Da Vinci Days this year. I need to get out more, and that seems like a good opportunity. Since I completely failed to get a review of King Tin up, I'll try to make up for it by visiting/writing about the Da Vinci Days thing.

  2. It's not too late to do King Tin.

  3. Sign me up for the Lane County Fair. Wanna?