PLEASANTON -- It was the perfect day for fun at a county fair, but the worst time to start a diet.
That was my deep-fried, artery-hardening plight Friday, when I tackled the Alameda County Fair's most bizarre menu choices and lived -- for now -- to talk about it.
The annual fair, which kicked off Wednesday and runs until July 7, has in past years offered attention-grabbing rarities such as crickets and maggot burgers (yes, seriously.) Are they doing it again?
"No, we're back to just plain old heart attack food," said Angel Moore, the fair's interim marketing manager.
She wasn't kidding. This year, there are plenty of "heart attack specials," such as doughnut burgers, hot dog sundaes and lots of deep-fried food. Some people run triathlons or climb Mount Everest. My challenge, in contrast, was to saunter onto the sprawling fairgrounds in 90-degree heat and sample the menu above.
Hero or fool? Later, my stomach would offer a strong opinion.
First up was Sweet Cheeks, a food booth offering all things deep fried: Oreos, Snickers bars, cookie dough and Twinkies, as well as deep-fried bananas and pineapples -- you know, for the health nuts.
For the uninitiated, deep-fried food is cooked by submerging it in hot oil, usually in a deep fryer, giving it a sugary, almost breaded texture similar to tempura. Anything deep-fried is high in calories and saturated fat. Undaunted, I ordered a deep-fried Pop Tart. It was covered with chocolate syrup and a mound of powdered sugar, which, health-wise, is like strapping two hand grenades onto an atomic bomb.
To my astonishment, it tasted really good. It reminded me of pound cake or a beignet, even as I spilled half the sugar on my shirt. Next was the deep-fried bacon, which was simply too much of a good thing. One bite felt like a thousand, and the flavor lingered like an old friend who insists on hanging out until 4 a.m.
I walked over to Cardinali Wood Fire Pizza, a Huntington Beach-based eatery that travels north each year for the fair. There, I had deep-fried watermelon, where the clashing flavors between the sugary, dry exterior and the moist fruit inside were like that married couple you love but just know won't last. Both are great but too different.
"It's a type of food you can't get anywhere else," said Tamee Verdone, a Cardinali employee. "That's what people love about it."
I then went to Stuffie's Char-Broiler and ended my day with a double whammy: a glazed-doughnut burger and a hot dog sundae. Fortunately, the doughnut slices were thin, allowing the burger to dominate the dish. It wasn't bad, making it my second-best best meal of the day, next to the Pop Tart.
The hot dog sundae, in contrast, well ... some things just aren't supposed to happen together -- "Stallone musical" or "Kim Kardashian baby" are two examples. The frankfurter was buried in whipped cream, maybe to hide the dog's alarmingly brown color.
As I ended my day, I came across one fair attendee -- Louie from Hayward -- who eyed the Stuffie's menu with disgust. "It's just gross," he said while declining to give his last name. "This is why America's youth is grossly overweight."
Stacy York, of Fremont, who ordered regular food, was more bemused than put off by the strange menu. "It's a guilty pleasure that happens at the fair just once a year," she said, smiling. "It's supposed to be fun."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
When: Through July 7. The fair is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays through Sundays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. July Fourth; closed Mondays.
Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton.
Cost: Tickets are $6, children ages 6 through 12; $8, seniors 62 and older; $10, general admission. Parking is $8 to $20.