OXFORD — A couple weeks ago, my editor gave me what may very well be the most consequential assignment of my short-lived reporting career.
“You like fair food?” he asked.
As it turns out, no, not really.
But not even this picky eater would turn down the chance to head to the Oxford County Fair and taste the food under the guise of “working.”
I’ve got to tell you, everything I tried at the opening day Wednesday was glorious. Cheap, tasty and, five hours later, I can report that my stomach and I are still on good terms.
Forget the rides, the animals and the displays. Save your money for a mini food tour at the fairgrounds on Pottle Road off state Route 26.
But you better get a move on. The fair runs until just Saturday. Tickets are $5 per person Thursday, $8 Friday and $10 Saturday, with a $5 parking fee during the week and $10 on the weekend.
Here’s a short guide to some of the finest cuisine the fair has to offer.
THE ‘BEAR BURGER’
If you eat just one thing, make it the Norway Firemen’s Relief Association’s special, the Bear Burger.
Offered in honor of former Norway Fire Department Capt. David Millet who died of a heart attack just hours after responding to a structure fire in 2015, the burger is a decadent double-bacon cheeseburger — one of Millet’s favorites, according to Deputy Fire Chief Matt Buckley.
With bacon cooked to perfection and a shockingly affordable price of $6.50 each, I almost want to drive back over and stock up.
Even more, by treating yourself, you can help feed local firemen. All of the proceeds go straight to supporting the Fire Department.
Beyond the Bear Burger, the association is selling classic fryer and grill food, including fresh-cut fries and sausages.
“Our grill (is) the only place we start fires,” the association’s menu board says.
Buckley said the food stand is about more than fundraising. It’s important for community members to meet the firemen in a public setting to see what kind of “oddballs” they are, he said.
When a couple kissed in front of the food stand Wednesday afternoon, one of the association members shouted for the men to grab the fire hose. “There’s no smooching allowed here,” a woman from the department said with faux sternness.
MORE THAN JUST APPLE CRISP
Look to the left of Norway’s stand and you’ll find the Paris Firemen’s Relief Association.
You might expect to see a competitive spirit brewing between the associations’ food venues, but volunteers say it’s just the opposite.
The Norway association specializes in all things grilled and fried. Paris, on the other hand, offers some of the same but with breakfast, dessert and a mean seafood chowder.
The firefighters collaborate in extinguishing fires, and, as it turns out, in selling fair food, too.
Dana Dillingham from Jackson Sugarhouse down the row told me to get the apple crisp. Who was I to argue?
The apple crisp was topped not just with vanilla ice cream, but also whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top.
Warm and cold, smooth and crunchy, the dessert was a mix of gooey, cinnamon-y contradictions, creating that perfectly content sensation not unlike sitting by a warm wood stove on a cool fall day.
Just as with Norway’s association, all proceeds from the Paris association’s sales will go towards supporting their hometown heroes.
TENDER MEAT, HOMEMADE SAUCES
I never knew horseradish mayo could be so good.
Ask me what I wanted on my sandwich Wednesday and horseradish probably would have been last on my list.
Boy, did Route 7 Smokehouse prove me wrong.
I tried one of its most popular dishes, a brisket sandwich with Swiss cheese and horseradish mayo on a brioche roll, and now I have to ask the owner, Chris Garcia of Naples: do you sell that in a jar?
What might have been a normal, albeit scrumptious, sandwich was elevated to something special, just with a swipe of that savory sauce.
Everything at Route 7 Smokehouse is as homemade as it gets: the meat is barbecued, smoked and cooked on site, and the spice blends, baked beans and sauces are all made by Garcia and his employees.
But the most important thing you should know about the business, according to Garcia? “The cook is a really good looking, handsome guy,” he quipped.
FRIES, FRIES, FRIES
Did someone say fries?
Well, I’ll just take another order then, please.
With a carton of fries piled high from Steve’s Fries and my pick of toppings, I almost fought Sun Journal photographer Andree Kehn when she wrapped up the remaining fries, reminding me we had more food to try.
Delicate with thin, crispy edges and that sweet tang of salt, Steve’s fries are everything you can ask for in a quick, tasty snack. Add the cheese, gravy and bacon bits on top, and you just might understand my brief violent urge.
Steve’s Fries additionally offer an array of vinegars, some of which are homemade. These toppings are self-serve, meaning you’re free to deck your fries out with whatever — and as much topping — as your heart desires.
Co-owners Steve and Kathy Aucoin of Litchfield were serving fries cut from Evo potatoes locally sourced from Bell and Belanger Farms, both in Auburn.
They’ve been selling their tasty snacks at fairs since 1973. The best part (besides the food, of course)? “We get our winters off so we can ski!” Kathy Aucoin sad.
22 FLAVORS, ALL SUGAR
Dear reader, you may laugh at this aspiring food critic for taste-testing a humble cup of shaved ice. You might even ask, “how different can it be?”
But the real question I must pose: have you tried Chrissy’s Shaved Ice?
Seven years ago, Chrissy Wood of Scarborough got her start in the fair food business selling shaved ice with her beloved aunt. When she passed away, Wood broke out on her own.
She serves sugar, sugar and even more sugar, with some ice thrown in for volume. There’s 22 flavors to pick from — each roughly 99% sugar, mind you — with more to be added next year.
I tried the blue raspberry and passion fruit, half and half. Blue on blue. I can’t tell you how each flavor tasted individually, but I can tell you it was good. Really good.
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