Photo via OC Fair
Photo via OC Fair

The 126th annual Orange County Fair returns to Costa Mesa Friday, featuring new treats like the “French Toast bacon bomb,” cooking contests with spam, craft beer tastings, the Budweiser Clydesdales on parade, and concerts.

“We’ve got some amazing, decadent new foods this year,” said Kathy Kramer, chief executive of the fair.

“And bacon continues to be a popular ingredient” in most of the fair’s fare, Kramer said. “We’ve got a bacon-wrapped, one-pound russet potato wrapped in 10 slices of bacon,” she added. “It’s cooked in a wood-fire smoker for two to three hours, and you can imagine what it does. It caramelizes the bacon on the skin of the potato, which is then topped with butter, sour cream, crumbled blue cheese and drizzled with buffalo sauce. Hungry yet?”

The French Toast Bacon Bomb is another “new bacon delight,” Kramer said.

“It’s a sweet pastry dough stuffed with cream cheese wrapped in bacon and deep fried,” she said. “And another new creation from a familiar face is Chicken Charlie’s chicken-in-a-waffle-on-a-stick.”

Fine-dining chefs and other food experts will judge a new cooking contest featuring dishes made with spam, Kramer said.

The Great American Spam Championship will be July 30. “And all  you have to do to enter is include one can of spam into your favorite sweet or savory recipe,” Kramer said.

The theme this year is “Get Your Fair Face On.” In keeping with that, the finale each evening will be a projection of a photo mosaic of fairgoer faces submitted by visitors. Already many residents intending to go to the fair have sent in digital photos of their faces to be included.

An art installation in the Visual Arts Building will feature an animated, mashup display of faces of fairgoers who enter the exhibit. The interactive photo exhibit uses projection-mapping technology, said fair spokeswoman Robin Wachner.

Toddlers will thrill to the “Crank It Up,” exhibit in the Explorium, which features “old-school tinker toys with spinning gears,” Wachner said.

“The Explorium is so great for the little ones because they’re not going to get lost and there’s a big sand box,” Wachner said. “It’s a shaded, safe haven for little ones, but educational at the same time.”

The kids will also be pleased to know they can pick up Pokemon monsters at the fair for the Pokemon Go app game, Wachner said.

After one-year absences, the Budweiser Clydesdale horses and the Peking Acrobats will return to the fair, Kramer said. The acrobats were back by popular demand, she added.

Newly born piglets will be on display along with other livestock as usual, and the fair will also offer its usual complement of concerts in the neighboring Pacific Amphitheatre.

Performers appearing for the first time at the fair include Empire of the Sun with Hellogoodbye, Andy Grammer, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, UB40, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and comedian Jim Gaffigan.

Fairgoers are encouraged to download the fair’s phone application or check the official website because those are the best ways to take advantage of discounts and promotions, Kramer said.

“There’s a way to save every day the fair is open,” she said. “We want people to enjoy their time here and get a good value.”

As usual, the first hour of the fair features no charge for admission or parking. Fairgoers can save money and time, especially on the busy weekends, by parking just off the Bristol Street exit of the San Diego (405) Freeway and taking a shuttle to the fairgrounds, Kramer said.

Taking the bus to the fair will also save money on parking and admittance. Fairgoers who take the bus, which is $2 each way, from nine locations in the county get a $3 coupon for admission.

Attendance has remained flat the past couple of years — about 1.3 million — but that’s close to the record. This year, vendors reported they saw record-breaking crowds at the recent San Diego Fair, so “we have every reason to believe this is the year we break the record,” Kramer said.

The fair is open noon to midnight Wednesdays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 14.

—City News Service

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