Tamia Lee and her grandmother Brenda Mendoza had already picked up McDonald’s food to-go Friday when they spotted the Fair Food Drive-Thru across from the Kern County Fairgrounds.
They immediately decided the McBurgers would have to wait as they pulled into the sprawling parking lot on South P Street and, without even getting out of their car, began ordering caramel corn, tacos and the sort of crazy desserts one expects to find at the Kern County Fair.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” the 17-year-old said of the fair food festival. “But my grandma said, ‘Oh, let’s get some funnel cake.’”
Friday kicked off the second weekend of the Fair Food Drive-Thru, which drew enthusiastic crowds in September after COVID-19 restrictions shut down the annual county fair.
It’s one thing canceling the fair, but it’s quite another to cancel the food, too, said 75-year-old Jean Kleinknight, who drove through in her tiny Chevy Spark and drove out minutes later with more than $100 in savory foods and sugar-sweet confections.
“I got falafel,” she said of the rolled and fried Greek mainstay she purchased from the Sleek Greek.
She was thrilled to take home fresh warm cinnamon rolls from Pismo Beach-based Old West. “Have to have!” Kleinknight said of the fair favorite.
By the time she was done, the self-described “foodie” also hauled away two buckets of cotton candy, lobster fries — “I’ve never had them,” she said — tri-tip and pulled pork.
“It’s expensive,” she added, “but it’s fair food.”
It appeared no other explanation was necessary.
The event continues Saturday and Sunday also featuring Big Bubba’s BBQ, which smokes and grills its pork ribs, tri-tip and turkey legs right there on-site. Sharky’s serves fish & chips, calamari and the aforementioned lobster fries, Noel’s Foods adds some Mexican spice to the mix and food stand manager Sequoia Schoonover was serving up hand-dipped corn dogs, funnel cakes and lemonade.
Traffic was light around mid-afternoon Friday, but Schoonover said he expected business to improve after working hours.
“We’re hoping it’ll pick up,” he said. “I think they’re a little scared of the weather.”
Jeff Parkhurst, whose 91-year-old grandmother, Betty Clemens, developed the recipe for Old West Cinnamon Rolls in 1972, was working the stand Friday. He estimated Old West sells as many as 20,000 cinnamon rolls during a normal fair run.
But for the time being, nothing is normal, and Parkhurst was just glad to be in Bakersfield, where support for the sticky-sweet rolls has long been loyal and strong.
“People in Bakersfield definitely want their cinnamon rolls,” he said.
The South P Street parking lot across the street from the fairgrounds is again hosting the event. And according to Manager Ady Hermosillo, customers should remain in their vehicles. A cashier and helpers will take your order and provide dry foods like popcorn and candy apples.
By the time you drive to the end of the course, runners — all wearing masks and gloves — will have collected your food order.
For Kleinknight, part of the attraction is connected to nostalgia.
“This food, it takes you back to days gone by,” she said.
“If you’re going to go for it, go for it!” she said.
“I will enjoy every bite.”
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.