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Nature Index
(My hiking and camping adventures in Northern California.)

Culture Index
(NorCal cities, highways, restaurants, museums, architecture, historic attractions, vintage neon signs, roadside attractions, etc.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

California's Carnival and Fair Foods

I love everything about county fairs--the livestock, the art work, the pig races, the rides, the lights at night, and, of course, the food. Growing up in Montana, I was excited to go to the Yellowstone County Fair each year, with my favorite food being the Viking on a Stick from the Sons of Norway booth. It is a Swedish meatball on a stick--and it might have been deep fried. I'm not sure--it has been quite a few years.

Now that I live in Sacramento I'm lucky enough to get the small Sacramento County Fair over Memorial Day Weekend, and the enormous California State Fair for 17 days ending on Labor Day (and it used to be 24 days). But that doesn't stop me from visiting other county fairs in the area--I try to combine visits to those fairs with hiking/camping trips, or with excursions to photograph vintage neon signs and historic buildings.

At first I took to photographing the typical carnival foods--corn dogs and caramel apples and the like. But at fairs these days there are always people selling over-the-top food, like a deep-fried White Castle hamburger. I'm willing to give those a try too, no matter how unpalatable and unhealthy the concoction might sound.

So here, just for your amusement, are some photos of foods I have eaten and the fairs in Northern California that I ate them at.

20070602 Deep-Fried Twinkie
Deep-fried Twinkie on a stick
Contra Costa County Fair (Antioch)

This was surprisingly good--certainly better than what I remember an unfried Twinkie tasting like. I've seen that at other places, though, they top the Twinkies, with powdered sugar, or chocolate syrup. Discovering that, I felt like I had been cheated with a plain old deep-fried Twinkie.

20070602 Cheese-on-a-Stick
Deep-fried cheese on a stick
Contra Costa County Fair

The melted cheese is contained by the fried cornmeal batter. The cheese was not of high quality, and this really didn't work too well as stick food.

20080626 Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs
Bacon-wrapped hot dogs
Mother Lode Fair (Sonora)

I'm afraid I didn't get to try these. I had eaten a very large meal at a barbecue restaurant while waiting for the fair to open. I've looked for them at other fairs since, but haven't had any luck in finding them. I'm very anxious to give them a try.

20070817 Cheesecake on a Stick
Cheesecake on a stick
California State Fair

Frozen and dipped in chocolate. You know they couldn't go wrong with this one.

20070817 Foot-Long Corn Dog
Foot-long corn dog
California State Fair

A classic. The only corn dogs I had as a kid were from the school cafeteria, and they were not good, so it came as a surprise to me later on to find out how delicious a well done corn dog is. As for the meat--I've seen booths boasting that they serve 100% turkey corn dogs, and ones boasting 100% beef corn dogs. I love them both, as long as they are either "jumbo" or "foot-long."

20080819 Totally Fried White Castle
Deep-fried White Castle hamburger and fries
California State Fair

Between this and the unusually greasy fries underneath it, I felt a bit queasy when I finished eating, but soon recovered. There was no way I wasn't going to try this after reading about it in the Sacramento Bee.

20090619 Twister Dog
Twister dog
El Dorado County Fair (Placerville)

When I couldn't find a bacon-wrapped hot dog, I had to settle for this. It's a spiral-cut potato wrapped around a hot dog and deep fried. It was not good.

20060529 Smoked German Sausage
Smoked German sausage
Sacramento County Fair

Mmmmm, I wish I had one right now.

20080522 Caramel Apple on a Stick
Caramel apple
Sacramento County Fair

A classic I used to enjoy at the Yellowstone County Fair in Montana. I need to also get a photo of a candied apple, which is something I never saw growing up. I don't really understand that one either--the hard shell makes it a bit of a challenge to eat. The caramel apple is no problem.

20070602 Frozen Banana
Frozen banana dipped in chocolate
Contra Costa County Fair

Always a favorite of my mother and sister.

20090823 Turkey Leg
Turkey leg
California State Fair

Awfully pricey compared to the turkey legs at Sam's Hof Brau, but the seasoning was delicious.

20080821 Totally Fried Pop Tart
Fried Pop Tart
California State Fair

Topped off with syrup and sprinkles. I don't really remember this, but in my comments on the posting of the photo on Flickr I said that it was surprisingly good, and I don't lie about these things.

20070907 Funnel Cake
Funnel cake
Gold Country Fair

Topped with cinnamon and sugar. I think I need to get one with more impressive toppings to photograph, not to mention getting a shot without shadow on the corner.

20070825 Fried Peanut Butter & Banana
Fried peanut butter and banana with honey
California State Fair

If it's good enough for Elvis . . . .

20080819 Swirl Cone
Swirl cone
California State Fair

20080522 Eggroll on a Stick
Egg roll on a stick
Sacramento County Fair

You'll have to take my word for it that they shoved a stick up into it. A poorly conceived photo. I like the idea, however, of putting food on a stick for no reason. I mean, an egg roll is convenient finger food anyhow. I've been looking for pizza on a stick, which I have seen photos of on Flickr, but not yet found for myself.

20060829 Beignets
California State Fair

The New Orleans classic.

20090524 Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob
Sacramento County Fair

One of my favorite things about summer growing up in Montana was all the roadside stands selling sweet, juicy, golden corn on the cob, usually 8-12 ears for $1. I think it will set you back more like $3-$4 for one ear at the fair.

20090523 Italian Sausage Sandwich
Italian sausage sandwich
Sacramento County Fair

German sausage, Italian sausage . . . it's all good.

20080826 Totally Fried Frog Legs
Fried frog legs
California State Fair

They tasted more like cod than chicken to me, and were served with lemon and tartar sauce like fish would be.

20090801 Frito Pie
Frito pie
Yuba-Sutter Fair (Yuba City)

Cheap and filling--fair food tends to be pricey, so this was a nice find. It's just Fritos, chili, and cheese. I added the onions, which were set out for topping hot dogs.

20090801 Gourmet Caramel Apple
Gourmet caramel apple
Yuba-Sutter Fair

Ooh, much too sugary. I'll stick with the regular caramel apple next time.

20090523 Deep Fried Artichoke Hearts
Deep-fried artichoke hearts
Sacramento County Fair

I love artichokes, but was disappointed with these--far too greasy.

20080826 Funky Monkey Waffle Cone
Funky monkey waffle cone
California State Fair

The server took out a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, put fresh banana slices, bits of chocolate, and peanuts on it, then folded it all together with two spatulas before putting it all in the waffle cone. Delicious

20070817 Hawaiian Shaved Ice
Hawaiian shaved ice
California State Fair

Strawberry, banana, and grape. Looking at all of these photos together, I know now how I SHOULD have shot this subject.

20090826 Churro
California State Fair

We didn't have these at the fair in Montana, but they are the classic carnival/fair/festival food in California's Central Valley. They're just deep-fried dough with cinnamon and sugar.

There are plenty more foods to be tried, so I'm sure I'll be updating this every year.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Vintage Neon Signs of Marysville & Yuba City

(and the rest of Yuba County & Sutter County)

Marysville and Yuba City are these days essentially one city, but they are separated by the Feather River, and when drawing up counties for California, the Feather River was made the border between Sutter and Yuba Counties. And just to make it a little confusing, Marysville, bordered on the south by the Yuba River, is the seat of Yuba County, while Yuba City is the seat of Sutter County. In the 2000 census, Sutter County was home to 78,930 people, while Yuba County had a population of 60,219. Given that the sparse population of these two counties is mostly centered in this urban area right on the border, the area is often referred to as Yuba Sutter, and they have one combined county fair called the Yuba Sutter Fair.

Both cities are on the historic path of U.S. Route 99E. U.S. 99W went from Sacramento to Davis, then Woodland, and from there generally followed the route of current Interstate 5. U.S. 99E went from Sacramento to Roseville, then followed the path of current CA-65 through Lincoln and Wheatland on its way to Marysville. It crossed over to Yuba City--I'm not sure if that would be on current CA-20, or farther south on Bridge St. Leaving Yuba City, it headed north on current CA-99 to meet up with U.S. 99W in Red Bluff. The current CA-99 stretch from the junction with I-5 near the Sacramento Airport to Yuba City is not the historic route of the federal Highway 99.

A 1950s postcard that I bought at Red Tire Antiques in Yuba City shows the streets of downtown Marysville lined with dozens of neon signs. Not one in the picture remains today, and many of the buildings are gone too. When I visited Marysville and Yuba City for the first time in 2000, the Sutter Theatre in Yuba City was still open, as was the Marysville Drive-In (actually across the Yuba River from Marysville in Linda or Olivehurst). The State Theatre had just closed a year earlier. Now the Sutter is in the process of being converted to a performing arts center, the drive-in is just a rubble and weed-strewn parking lot, and State Theatre has now been closed for a full decade.

But here are the signs I managed to get to with a camera before they were destroyed. If you know of any that I have missed, please drop me a line (check my profile for my e-mail).

Marysville, Yuba County

20090801 Plaza
232 1st St.

This sign was my most recent discovery in the area. The address is now the site of the Chinese Museum of Northern California, opened the first Saturday of each month.

20060702 Quick's Glass Service
520 3rd St.
Quick's Glass Service

I'd guess that this mixed plastic and neon sign dates from the 1960s.

20080906 Cortez Room
315 5th St
Cortez Room
20051219 Cortez Room

20051219 Cottons Cowboy Corral
320 5th St
Cotton's Cowboy Corral

20051219 Matthews Music
425 5th St.
Matthews Music

I'm guessing that this isn't vintage, but it has the right look, and it could be vintage, so for now I'll keep it in this list.

20090613 Bossen Bros. Laundry
221 B St.
Bossen Laundry

In the 1947 city directory, this business is advertised as the "Wife Saving Station."

20090801 Travelers Hotel
229-231 C St.
Travelers Hotel

The hotel was built in 1912. The neon must have come later, since neon tubes were not used for commercial signage until the 1920s.

20001104 Tower Theater
103 D Street
Tower Theatre

I believe this theater was built as the Liberty Theatre, and then remodeled to become the Tower Theatre. The Liberty, which opened on January 11, 1927, was built on the site of the National Theatre, which burned down on January 28, 1926. (A new National Theatre was built on E Street, which then was later remodeled to become the State Theatre, which still stands, but without its original neon marquee.) The Tower Theatre opened at the same site as the Liberty on January 17, 1941, and like the Liberty, its advertising logo was "The Family Theater."

The shot above is how I first saw it in 2000. The shot below is how it appears now--the theater space has been converted to offices, but the marquee remains, as well as the terrazzo floor. Here's a lovely image of the place in full swing back in the day.
20080906 The Former Tower Theatre

20080810 Mogheli's Furniture
530 E St.
Mogheli's Furniture

I'm not sure about this sign. The design certainly looks vintage, but I don't remember seeing it in my early visits to Marysville. But it may have just been moved--I found a listing for Mogheli's at 430 D. St.

20080810 Bob's Lock & Key Shop
509 G St
Bob's Lock & Key
20051219 Bob's Lock & Key Shop

20090704 The Walnut Tree
North of Marysville on CA-70 at Ramirez Rd.
The Walnut Tree

Yuba City, Sutter County

20080906 Sutter Orchard Supply
573 Bridge St.
Sutter Orchard Supply

20080906 Westbridge Village
Bridge St.
Westbridge Village

20001104 Hal's Grubstake
440 Colusa Ave
2000 Hal's Grubstake

It was in business when I first visited the area, and I ate one of their Dude Burgers. Now one sign is gone entirely, and the other has been drastically modified and has no neon.
20001104 Hal's Grubstake

20080906 Liquor & Deli
724 Colusa Ave
EZ Bentprob Liquor & Deli

With a name like that, it has to be good.

20080810 Sutter
754 Plumas St
Sutter Theatre

Below is all the neon that was working on it in 2005 when it was still operating as Sutter Cinema 3.
20051219 Sutter Cinema 3

20080810 Spur The
758 Plumas St
The Spur

Below is all that was lit when I checked it in 2005. Since then I have never seen any part of it lit.
20051219 The Spur

20080810 Town Pump
760 Plumas St
Town Pump

In the 1970 Yellow Pages they advertise, "Cook Your Own Steak to Your Liking." Man, I can do that at home.
20090814 Town Pump

Linda, Yuba County

20090801 Anton's Apartment Motel
Riverside Dr.
Anton's Apartment Motel

This sign was quite a discovery for me. It certainly didn't seem like an area that would have an old neon sign, and I'm not even sure why I was on that road, but I happened onto this rusting beauty in a fenced-off vacant lot

Live Oak, Sutter County

20010414 Pasquini's
6241 Live Oak Blvd.

20080818 Liquors
Liquor Store

I'll have to get the name and address (and hopefully a better picture) next time I'm in Live Oak.