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Vendors without ribs prosper, provide options at Best in the West
by Garrett Valenzuela
Aug 31, 2012 | 8430 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Patrick Mace, of Fabulous Frickles, takes pride in his fried pickles and bright red wagon, that doubles as a food booth, during a break Friday at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Patrick Mace, of Fabulous Frickles, takes pride in his fried pickles and bright red wagon, that doubles as a food booth, during a break Friday at the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off.
SPARKS — It was a man in North Carolina who corrected Patrick Mace when he was in search of some fried pickle chips, telling him ‘frickles’ were common to most restaurants. Mace, then an employee of Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma, Calif., had the “crazy idea” of selling the fried vegetable on the company’s menu.

Though Mace’s idea was denied by Lagunitas, he was undeterred to bring the bread-covered pickle to the West coast. Three years ago, Mace partnered with a retired baker and the two began concocting the recipe to what is now known as Fabulous Frickles.

“We just find that wherever people are drinking beer, they want some fried pickles,” Mace said. “We use a beer-battered breading with Lagunitas Ale in it and we use tempura rolled in Panko Japanese bread crumbs. Then we deep fry it in canola oil.”

Mace, and the Fabulous Frickles trailer, is back for his second Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off this year, offering fried green tomatoes in addition to his frickles. His three- to four-person crew works directly from its mobile restaurant, a small eye-catching red trailer that draws as much curious attention as their food.

“We are a self-contained trailer, so this is basically a kitchen and we whip everything up ourselves. Sauces and everything are done right on site here,” Mace said. “When we go to festivals we always see everyone has a sausage guy, a barbecue guy and an ice cream guy. So to break into there, no one has a frickle guy. It is kind of a unique niche to get into these festivals. We are bringing something different to the table.”

Fabulous Frickles primarily tours music festivals in California where they have become an attractive, yet odd, alternative to traditional festival food. At the 2011 Best in the West, Mace said his success was “phenomenal” and he has spoken with people who dared to try his pickles and spread the word about them in 2012.

“You look at us and this is a pretty unique looking wagon. It stands out and looks kind of circus-y and we wanted that effect,” he said. “Even in the name “Fabulous Frickles” people want to go ‘what the heck is a frickle.’”

From fresh-sliced vegetables to homemade sauces, Mace said Fabulous Frickles is about daring to try something new. Calling it “a palette cleanser for the ribs,” he said this east-coast food will slowly make its way to the west.

“I remember the first time I tried it. It was kind of weird, but I think the expectation level is really low,” he said. “We like to see that look on people’s faces and that first reaction when they bite into one, because they don’t know what to expect and their faces are fun to watch.”

Fabulous Frickles was not the only non-rib vendor enticing visitors at the rib cook-off. Men Wielding Fire, a local barbecue restaurant, had several of their fire-roasted corn booths along the stretch of Victorian Avenue.

The fire-roasted corn has given visitors a break from ribs for about 10 years, according to Men Wielding Fire employee Emma Smith.

“We leave the corn in the husk and put it straight into the cooker, which has about five flames in it, and it rotates for about 30 minutes,” Smith said. “Then we put it in the cooler and let it steam for a little bit. Then take it out, shuck it, butter it and wrap it up.”

Smith said the restaurant offers a variety of seasonings and sauces to accompany its corn, the most popular being garlic and seasoning salts. Since working at the Best in the West, Smith said she has seen some guests take advantage of their 10 corn toppings.

“A lot of people like mayonnaise, cheese and hot sauce as a combo, and that is something I did not know until I started doing the rib cook-off,” she said.

Smith said Saturday and Sunday would be the busiest days of the event, where crowds throughout the day will resemble Thursday and Friday night crowds. Smith said crowds seem to be heavier than they have in past years at all times of the day.

The Jumbo Onion Rings booth, another ribless booth, offers zucchini, mushrooms, homemade Texas Taters, garlic fries and, of course, onion rings. Reed High graduate Sonya Arnett said employees arrive early each day prepare hand-dipped batter, wash and chop vegetables.

“Our best seller is usually our garlic fries, but the Texas Taters are a close second,” She said. “The favorite of the people in our booth is the fried zucchini.”

Arnett has been working at the Jumbo Onion Rings booth for eight years, saying that she enjoys coming back because it is a fun place to work. She said they have expanded from one booth to three throughout the years, and the owner employs college students, from schools such as Nevada, Gonzaga and Oregon State, to help pay for the students' tuition.

“Obviously there are a lot of options as far as ribs go, but I think it is nice to have a side option other than corn bread or potato salad,” she said.
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