In the Sticks 

At the county fair, if it isn't deep-fried or on a stick, it sings.

Not all of the food at the Alameda County Fair is fried. Some of it comes on a stick.

Among the fifty-plus food stalls scattered over the fairgrounds you can find Thai kabobs on a stick, corn dogs, candy apples. The husks of grilled corn on the cob are pulled away from the kernels and wrapped in foil for some stick-like dining.

Sticks are supposed to make it easier to eat your food as one wanders, I suppose, but really all it does is hold the food vertical so that the juices race down one's arms. On my spin through the county fairgrounds last week I spent a lot of time last hunched over my food, back bowed, holding it away from my clothes as if it were radioactive. Several trees died so that I could wipe my hands.

My fat jag started around the corner from the Court of Four Seasons plaza, where John Lee Hooker's daughter was heading up a rollicking blues band. From the fish and chips wagon I got a deep-fried vegetable combo, lifted straight out of the oil. You can't get much healthier than big mushrooms, a long wedge of zucchini, artichokes, and potato dipped in a thin, crunchy batter and fried in fresh oil. Unless you dip them in ranch dressing. For the thirsty, the stand also sells a 64-ounce plastic mug with an American flag printed on it. Refills aren't cheap.

Next to the commerce tent, I picked up a big glass of sweet and not particularly strong "fresh-squeezed" lemonade. I asked the counterwoman, "What do you think is the best thing to eat here?"

"Honestly, I don't eat fair food anymore," she said conspiratorially. "Save your money."

Alas, I was on assignment, so I forged on. Following the smoke, I stopped at the biggest, best-populated stall near the midway. Big Bubba's Bad BBQ sported a spotlighted spit turning massive chunks of beef. Overhead a sign read "Bubba's Is Smookin." A counter worker in a Holstein shirt handed me a tri-tip sandwich, a mess of soft, smoky, pink-rimmed slices of steak on a fluffy white bun. Not bad, especially with a dollop of barbecue sauce. I sat and ate it on the lawn while listening to Christina Medina, the next Tiffany, sing about world peace over a canned soundtrack. Then I strolled a couple feet over to the "Pennsylvania Dutch" funnel cake stand and had a big lump of fried dough.

I finished off the trek with a fresh bag of cotton candy and a tour of the livestock barn. I petted a few goats, waved at the farmers playing cards and drinking beer in the cow pen, and stopped at the stall next to the entrance to down a deep-fried Snickers bar on a stick before the stomachache kicked in.

The Alameda County Fair is held on the county fairgrounds in Pleasanton until July 7. Visit www.alamedacountyfair.com for information and directions.

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