The California State Fair is big in Mark Shahan’s family.
“It always is, every year,” the Antelope resident said. “All the food, all the rides, the excitement.”
This year, the annual summer spectacle that typically draws tens of thousands each day was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Shahan and hundreds of other fairgoers still got their chance to eat some classic fair foods Friday night by picking up dinner from a drive-thru, to-go meal event at Cal Expo.
“’Course I was bummed like a lot of other folks when the fair was canceled, but highly excited one morning when I was watching Fox 40 news, it was probably 7 o’clock in the morning, and they announced the food festival and I thought, ‘Oh yeah,’” Shahan said.
The family-style meal on offer for pick-up included smoked barbecue brisket, country baked beans, macaroni and cheese and funnel cake fries.
Andrew Guerere, executive chef for Cal Expo, said the event was a way to give back to people and help ease their minds.
“Usually what we turn out for the State Fair — people are expecting the big concession stands and the kiosks and the lights and the fun and the prizes and stuff like that, but with that obviously not happening this year, this is kind of a way to get them the food that they would usually experience when they come here,” he said.
Tickets were offered in advance for $20 a meal, with a two-meal minimum. The event sold out, selling meals to 500 people.
“We’re happy to be back working and giving back to people and trying to ease their minds a little bit,” Guerere said. “And even if it’s just for a couple seconds, take their minds off of what’s going on in the world.”
Shahan said his family usually gets one of everything they can get their hands on at the fair — favorites being the turkey legs and deep-fried items.
This year there was only one meal on offer, but Shahan said it was still worth it.
“It’s a great diversion, a great way to do something different,” he said. “I understand eventually this will all be done and we’ll look back on it.”
Shahan said he’s been lucky to maintain his job during the pandemic and work from home, leaving an office where he says he’s pretty sure there are still St. Patrick’s Day decorations hanging.
He said like anyone, he’s experienced some cabin fever, but on Friday night he was happy to drive 20 minutes to have a little taste of tradition.
“The big thing we miss are the rides. And we miss the free concerts at night with admission — a lot of great acts,” he said. “I’m hoping that the fair will offer more items in the upcoming weeks.”
And in fact, the fair does have a second meal event planned for May 29 — with a menu that includes deep fried donuts. Details can be found at calexpostatefair.com.
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