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Lodi Grape Festival food is worth every pound

From Lockeford Sausage and cheese curds to chocolate bacon, we take a tasty tour of the fair’s culinary offerings

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Posted: Friday, September 16, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:10 am, Fri Sep 16, 2011.

After three co-workers and I spent $92 and ate an estimated 11,500 calories, I winced at the thought of stomaching the last bite of bacon dipped in chocolate.

“Medic!” Peter Breech yelled.

When people think of the Grape Festival, their mind always flashes to their favorite food item, the one they have waited all year to eat. Maybe it’s a corn dog. Or Lockeford Sausage. Or a funnel cake heaped with dessert toppings.

On Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to splurge on every food whim Lodi residents expect out of the annual festival.

I was joined by avid fair enthusiasts Peter Breech and Amber Dodd, who work in our circulation department, and Bob Bates, our foodie photographer.

We proclaimed how this was the best work day of our lives.

“It’s a celebration of fair food. It’s a party in your mouth,” Amber proclaimed.

We grabbed our liters of lemonade and gawked at several of the food booths before gathering around a red, metal picnic table to devour our first course: the heaping baked potato from the California Corn Roast booth. It was loaded with chili, cheese, sour cream, salsa and fire-roasted sweet corn.

The potato provided the first — and maybe biggest — challenge for Amber, who is a germaphobe and even brought her own cutlery.

As we attacked and our forks mingled and chunks of potato went flying, she was glad to have followed her golden rule in these situations: “Always get an early bite.”

This was our first experience with corn on a baked potato. In true fair fashion, they took what could have been boring as ordinary corn, and made us forget it was a vegetable by soaking it in warm butter.

“I’m speechless. You’ve got all your food groups here,” Peter said.

With my mouth full, I murmured a completely unintelligible, “It’s good.”

“What’s that again?” Peter teased.

In fact, it was so good that we almost ate some of the foil surrounding the potato.

Next up was the almost 12-inch long mega corn dog that was described as both a billy club and a whiffle ball bat.

“I can’t stop talking about how big this thing is. It’s like a baby,” Amber said.

When sliced, the bites were close to the size of a doughnut. The rich, smoky flavor of the meat balanced perfectly with the sweet corn meal.

“A corn dog seems like a delicacy at the fair. When you put it in the microwave at home, it’s just meh,” Amber said.

Next we split up a Lockeford Sausage, which is the item that most native Lodians go crazy for at the fair.

I rarely ever eat sausage, but even I finished my share of what we described as “the adult hot dog.” It was heaped with onions and sauerkraut.

Peter theorized that the fanaticism around the sausage is linked to the fact that you expect to only be able to get hot dogs at the fair, so it’s a nice change of pace. We all commented on the wonderful smoky flavor.

There was an audible groan when I presented the next dish: a vegetable gyro.

I love vegetarian food and will always pick it over a steak or a burger. However, my fellow eaters are all about the meat.

As a Texan, Amber has a healthy suspicion of lettuce, and Peter is not a huge fan of feta cheese.

Yet they still grabbed their forks and dug in to the gyro from The Sleek Greek. The warm pita was piled with lettuce, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, feta cheese and olives.

“It’s got a lot of flavor. Considering I’m not a vegetarian at all, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Actually, I’m surprised how good it is,” Amber said.

“There’s not a bad bite,” Peter added.

As we prepared for our next course, Amber took a minute to critique the lemonade that came from Clint’s Lemonade.

“I’m a harsh critic of lemonade, but it’s not too watered down or too sugary. It’s just right,” Amber said.

We already needed a break. With our leftover plates, we created “Pork Island” featuring the leftover skewer from the corn dog protruding from a piece of sausage with a mustard cup as a sail. Yes, at this point, we were starting to feel the food.

Next up was three tacos from Negrette Enterprise. These little soft tacos pack a big punch thanks to a special salsa recipe. While handing Amber a taco, Lisa Brock said people flock from all over to try the tacos. She could only tell us that they contain beef and lettuce.

We gobbled them down and then we grabbed the BBQ chicken skewer plate from Oriental Food Concessions, which was filled with chow mein, rice and chicken teriyaki. It had a good BBQ charcoal taste and we all heaped the noodles and rice on our plates.

We reached the apex of our eating adventure next: cheese curds. Peter described it as “inspiration from God.” The deep-fried curds made all of our mouths water.

As we each grabbed a handful, we immediately started negotiating how to divide up the rest.

“These gave my stomach a hug. Those are the best things ever,” Amber said.

We then decided our sweet teeth were nagging us, so it was on to the dessert courses.

Strawberry, powdered sugar, whipped cream, fried batter. The combination has caused many people throughout history to mow down slow walkers at festivals around the country.

We were happily munching away on the funnel cake when one of us made a blasphemous revelation.

Bob had never tried a funnel cake.

“It was tasty. It’s very yummy,” he said in between bites.

Other comments included “yummy in my tummy” and “it’s called funnel cake because it’s made in a tornado.”

We then reached what I’m positive will be the highlight of the fair for many — the chocolate dipped bacon. We discovered it is really hard to remove it from the skewer with your fingers as pieces started flying around the table.

I personally enjoyed the combination of salty and smoky. We agreed that it was the first time we have tasted anything like it.

Peter described it as disconcerting at first because the chocolate and bacon flavors were very strong and did not blend.

“It’s confusing. It’s like having dessert and breakfast all at the same time,” Amber said.

But with every bite, it kept tasting better and better.

“As a rookie, it’s not as revolting as I thought it would be,” Bob said.

After tallying up the calories from each item, we each had managed to pack away an estimated 2,800 calories. Did I mention that was less than two hours?

Bob then said something that seemed even more horrific.

“The Lockeford Sausage is probably the most healthy thing we ate today,” he said.

As we left with full bellies, Amber turned and looked at me with sleepy eyes and an exhausted expression.

“I literally feel like I could explode,” she said.

So our conclusions?

We probably should only eat vegetables for the next week or two because our waistlines are hurting.

Bring plenty of cash. The fair can cost a pretty penny if you indulge. Between three drinks and 9 dishes, we almost reached our $100 spending limit.

And if you want to really indulge, be prepared to eat some hearty meals.

“It is a carnivore’s paradise and a wife’s worst nightmare for husbands set free,” Peter said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com.

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