The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire's unofficial tagline could be "Come for the jousts, stay for the artichokes." In a world of events being taken over by food trucks or grills with tents, the Faire is a bastion of real food.
The wooden booths set in a semicircle around the food court take several weeks to build, with hand-painted signage and a deliberate break between kitchen and ordering area. Most of the mini-restaurants are decades old, some owned by a second generation, and many dating back to the 1970s.
Talking to the vendors you get the most amazing personal stories, like how the artichoke booth was purchased by the person who was the manager of the booth in the 1990s and has the same amazing, never-reproduced recipe as it did when I first had one back in 1992. The fairly new Apple Tree is the brainchild of one of the longtime performers, Broon, who was interested in investing in his favorite performance space. Fish & Chips was just taken over by the son of the founder and now has an oyster bar in addition to the classic dishes of yore. And, of course, you can't write about Faire food without mentioning the turkey leg, an item that became famous because of Ren Faires. This turkey leg is the granddaddy of all the other turkey legs at all the other Faires.
Below is a breakdown of the food of the Faire, perfect for foodies or any of us who get a little hungry while watching a Maypole Dance or a Queen Progress. But you'd better hurry — this is the Faire's last weekend!
The Quail Inn: From my first visit to my 15-plus years working at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire a lot of things changed. We moved from Devore to Irwindale. The Faire was sold, we became a port town, and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out. What never changed was that every day, rain or shine, if I was at Faire, I was going to have an artichoke. Almost 30 years since I had my first Ren Faire artichoke and it is still a rspecial treat. Made with a special blend of spices not known to anyone outside the booth, the Faire artichokes make me happy just to think about. Even finding a tiny dead caterpillar in the heart of one of the ’chokes last year didn't stop me from finishing the goodness.
The booth also serves fried artichoke hearts, cheese fritters and all manner of poultry.
Ice Cream: Named simply Ice Cream, this booth has the most amazing strawberry shortcake, sure to please on a hot day. They call it pound cake à la mode — but don't be fooled, it is strawberry shortcake. They also serve floats, sundaes and waffle cones.
Acropolis: Vegetarian, don't like artichokes and going to Faire? Then this booth is for you. Along with the gyros you'd expect from a place called Acropolis, it also serves half a dozen vegetarian items and a vegan Greek tea. The portions are large, so don't be afraid to share with friend.
Sausage, Bread and Cheese: Guess ... and it also serves smoothies.
Turkey Legs: Not just for turkey anymore — now you can have ribs, corn or pork chop on a stick.
Tri-Tip Sandwiches: Serves one of the best pulled pork sandwiches in California.
Brats & Bangers: Hot dogs are for the weak. They are for the county fair; they're the lesser-loved dish served at your backyard cookout. At the Faire they serve bangers, just like you would get in England. Bigger, spicier, better, Bangers. Also served are bratwurst and spicy links, with your choice of toppings: onions, sauerkraut, relish, mustard or ketchup.
Steak on a Stake: OMG do I love the sauce they use at Steak on a Stake. The homemade marinade makes the entire dish just so much better then some poor loose-meat sandwich I might get at Topanga Days. Pair a steak sandwich with curly fries and you will be full for hours.
Willow’s Fare: Soup, baked potatoes, pizza, crepes and apple juice. All the comfort foods for when Faire starts to be a little too noisy, a little too confusing. Especially popular with kids are the fresh-made potato chips or the familiar pizza.
Fish & Chips: The biggest news coming out of the Fish & Chips booth is the new oyster bar, featuring oyster sliders, and the sushi menu, featuring your choice of ceviche, rolls or sashimi. With all the new stuff, it is easy to forget the classic fish and chips, but don't. These fish and chips are so good they almost make me forget that I really don't like fish that much. If you ever see me eating fish, it will most likely be fish and chips at the Ren Faire because it is just so good!
Cafe Lafitte: It serves frog's legs — just saying. Otherwise the fine beignets make a wonderful snack.
Heritage Meat Pies: Outside the food court, Heritage Meat Pies serves mac and cheese and fine meat pies. We've heard they are great, but honestly I didn't try a bite since I was so full and this is a fairly new booth for the Faire.
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Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (Booth 505): As long as I've been coming to Faire, these freshly dipped strawberries have been there. Sometimes you want something to take home to the one you love a lot but not enough to buy a ticket to Faire, and this is the perfect take-home delight.
Fruit Ices: All the fruit flavors are served in their own skins (insert evil laughter) with the exception of the strawberry ice, because its skin is too small and delicate.
The Apple Tree: Owned by performer Broon, the Apple Tree offers caramel apples, for when you're hungry and don't want to walk back to the food court. On a hot day, try one of the fruit smoothies, or if you want to keep on the straight and narrow with your diet, you can also buy wholesome fruit served as fruit.
Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, 15501 E. Arrow Highway, Irwindale; (626) 969-4750, renfair.com/socal. Sat.-Sun., May 19-20, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.