Take me to the Denver County Fair -- but on a full stomach, please

fairfood.jpg
This kid was not excited about the culinary choices, either.
The beer at the Denver County Fair is $8 for 20 ounces -- that's nearly ten bucks for a big cup of Coors, Coors Light or Blue Moon. Yes, those are the only options (but at least the brews are local). I was so stunned by the cost that I didn't even ask if there were orange slices for the Blue Moon; that could depend on where you're buying your beer. If you're in the Cattleman's Grill, a permanent fixture inside the National Western Complex that serves a fourteen-ounce. Cattleman's Cut steak with a side of "dinner salad, whipped cheddar potatoes, fresh corn, roll and butter," you could probably find an orange slice. But you'll have to fork over $18.95 in order to search.

The fair may be all about natural, local and homemade, but that's not represented in most of the fare at the fair. Some of the vendors offer local products, ranging from a pomegranate-based reduction (called Pomegranate Splash) to chocolate, and some even let you sample them, but that's the only way you're going to eat local.

Aside from the samples and Cattleman's Grill, the options were typical carnival food: nachos, hot dogs, pizza, a couple places called "Big Bubba's Bad BBQ," funnel cake and a lot of fruit smoothies that cost $5 for a very small cup. A vendor with Fancy Tiger mentioned he'd heard about food trucks, and though he hadn't actually found one, he was hopeful. When I asked a woman working the ticket booth about it, she responded, "Food, in a truck? What's that?" Bad sign.

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Don't let the photo fool you, this was not good.
Like the beer, the food at the County Fair is expensive. And don't bother shopping around for bargains: All the stands sell the same items at the same prices.

My evening started at the Nathan's booth in the National Western Complex. When I asked the guy behind the counter what he thought was his best item, he looked up and said, "Well, it's expensive but the brisket will actually fill you up." I should have taken that less-than-ringing endorsement as another bad sign. He pulled out a squished Sara Lee bun from a plastic bag (the bread wasn't bad for being processed bread from a bag), lifted a lid and plopped a few slices of a saucy brisket onto the bun. He added some baked beans and fries that were suspiciously colorful -- covering the entire spectrum of browns from beige to coffee -- and charged me $8.50, before tax, for what looked like cafeteria food.

It tasted like it, too. While some of the fries had a little crisp left in them, they were salty and nearly inedible. The blandness of the baked beans actually paired pretty well with the vinegar-heavy brisket -- but it didn't take long for me to not want to eat more of that. I also wanted to wipe off all the artificial flavors and high-fructose corn syrup still dancing on my tongue.

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Next, I tried that fair staple, the corn dog. Like the hot dogs at the fair, the corn dogs were not satisfied with being normal sized. These were jumbo, about a foot long. At $5, the price was okay, and so was the corn dog, which had been sitting in a warming case for who knows how long. The breading was surprisingly crisp, and while the sausage had a peppery kick, it basically tasted like a cheap wiener.

The funnel cake, which I got at a stand on the Midway, was legitimately good. It was made to order and sent off great smells as it cooked. When finished, the outside was crisp, the inside soft, and the dough bland -- although a dusting of powdered sugar perked it up. But be warned: The girl in front of me in line shrieked and walked away when she saw the $6 price tag.

In general, the Midway was the best place to go for food, at least in terms of selection, since it had multiple stands selling burgers, hot dogs and the like. Big Bubba's Bad BBQ's open grills were cooking giant turkey legs.

But ultimately, the most appetizing and local food items I saw were the heirloom tomatoes on display in the Farm & Garden Pavilion. They were there to demonstrate what could grow in the Denver area -- but they weren't for eating, unfortunately. There were also pies in cases from the pie-making contest, which looked pretty tasty but were off limits to the public.

For an event meant to showcase everything local and homemade in Denver -- with a strong focus on food and food agriculture -- the dining choices were disappointing. As I went from booth to booth, looking for something interesting to eat, I kept dreaming about food trucks. Those would have been great. And a $5 Great Divide beer.

Location Info

Map

National Western Complex

I-70 and Brighton Blvd., Denver, CO

Category: General

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18 comments
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Tracy
Tracy

Thanks for all the feedback!! We actually invited pretty much every food truck we knew of, also a ton of other food vendors we thought would be perfect.  Most said "we want to see how it goes this year" - understood, hopefully they will see what a fabulous full community event we put on and will decide to join in the fun! 

Denverfoodie6
Denverfoodie6

The food u should be talking about are the amazing entries in the kitchen..... did u see those pies? And yes the funnel cake rocked!

Stealth2
Stealth2

"A vendor with Fancy Tiger mentioned he'd heard about food trucks, and though he hadn't actually found one, he was hopeful. When I asked a woman working the ticket booth about it, she responded, "Food, in a truck? What's that?" Bad sign"

Bad sign? Why? Are food trucks now the epitome of food excellence?

sigh...hipsters...

epl
epl

You're attacking a strawman here.  The writer did not say that food trucks are the epitome of food excellence.  Rather, she complained that the food was over priced and noted that Denver's food truck scene (which generally does provide quality food at somewhat decent prices) would have been a good alternative. 

You can sigh all you want about "hipsters," but, in my opinion, $10 for the BBQ sandwich pictured above and $8 for a Coors Light is far worse than any ironic t-shirt wearing bike kid with a courier bag. 

GFTW
GFTW

Went to the fair today and the food is an outrageous ripoff. $9.75 hamburgers, $12 lemonades, $28 pizzas, etc.

eaturface
eaturface

wow, what a scoop-"food vendors at county fair suck". how about some results of the food competitions?     

Mark123
Mark123

I might be wrong, but I think for the Fair to use the facilities they must use the existing 'catering' companies. If the Fair brings in different vendors they still have to pay the existing food vendors. This similar to Pepsi Center or Mile High Stadium.

idamosley
idamosley

I found a site where you can get coupons for restaurant called "Printapon" they are on all over the news, search online

Allen
Allen

otherwise, this is a brilliant event. hope it becomes another proud denver tradition!

Allen
Allen

this is not a trad county fair. it's all about geeks, and denver's food geeks are ahead of all the other geeks here, imo. local yummy needs to be part of the fair. next year, right?

TheMan
TheMan

I was at the Fair today and this review is right on.  I was expecting some decent food options in addition to the standard carnival fare.  Wrong!  The whole thing was actually pretty disappointing.

GFTW
GFTW

Jeez, sounds like a disappointing ripoff there.

AllAmericanVet
AllAmericanVet

What kind of comi writes a bad food review on an all American, good ole' fashion fair!?!

Jennifoodie
Jennifoodie

Did you really just call the author a truncated pejorative for "communist", and then spell it wrong? She's not a communist, but you are a f-f-f-fuckwit.

No
No

it is spelled how it is spelled.  And i was correcting allamericanvet, he (I assume) did not correct it himself.  Is this all too much for you little bitty brain and its complete lack of reading comprehension? 

As to your name calling, perhaps you shouldn't be throwing stones from your glass house, hmmmm?

No
No

Commie, not comi

Googs
Googs

Have you been to a fair before? Funnel cakes, beers, and hot dogs is what the experience is all about!! If you want fine dining go to a restaurant...

Kimberly
Kimberly

Agree 150%. Food doesn't always have to revolve around the "Denver Five" or food trucks or Frank Bonanno in order to be acceptable.

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