Cindi Ail’s fair food stall, Sinful Treats, is a landmark for devotees of the Oregon State Fair (OSF)—it’s where you score your fried Oreos and Snickers bars, maybe an elephant ear for the completists among us, and some fried (yes, fried) Dr. Pepper to wash it all down.
Not a fried foodstuff or turkey legs fan? Do not despair. Fair food has always tended toward a no-holds-barred, the-weirder-the-better, maximalist direction, and while you’ll certainly find those at this year’s OSF, there are some foods that lean a little lighter.
OSF spokesperson Kimberly Jacobsen says the concept of fair food is changing. For proof, look no further than this year's new "Homegrown Oregon Area," a respite from the beautiful chaos of Ferris wheels and gamified horseshoe throwing. “It's an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the fair where families can sit and enjoy a meal. There's live music, green grass, and a great selection of Oregon wines and beers,” says Jacobsen.
For example, this year for the first time, the fair will feature sushi from Monmouth-based Sushi Roll’n, just one example of the more wholesome options coming for the 2022 celebration.
Dee’s Lush Kitchen, just off a stint at Pickathon, is a traveling stall touring around the festival and fair circuit, offering an approachable vegan- and gluten free-friendly menu of rice bowls and sandwiches. Deeda Schroeder, owner and operator of Dee’s Lush, says she is excited to bring her seasonal vegetable-focused cooking into the fair landscape. This will be her first year at OSF, but she’s not tweaking her menu to fit in with traditional fair fare. “We cater to folks who might actually want to have some fresh vegetables while they’re here,” says Schroeder.
Another landmark in the fairgoer vernacular is the Red Barn. This is where the Future Farmers of America and 4-H fundraising organization Oregon Dairy Women’s “Dairy Princesses” sling scoops of Oregon ice cream for charity.
Or perhaps your fair journey leans more to the eternal search for novel items to batter and deep fry? Ail’s Sinful Treats and a slew of stands from bacon-obsessed Brian Bradbury (the aptly-named “Deep Fried Sweets” and “Hog Daddies”) are the big names pushing the can-you-fry-it conversation at OSF. As noted, Bradbury’s got a bent for bacon, like his signature bacon-wrapped, deep fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Ail, on the other hand, keeps her sweets sweet, for the most part. S’mores are new for this year, which feels a bit like a deluxe upgrade of the now-classic Oreo sandwich-cookie fry-up. But what we’re still trying to wrap our heads around is how she’s managed to batter and fry beverages. Coffee, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper somehow all get turned into doughnut-like fritters and dusted with a bit of sugar—as if fried liquids are business as usual.
Ail doesn’t blink at such things. “It comes in a 16-ounce cup for $7,” she says.