Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Common Ground Fair Tips

At the center of the Fair is a Common. It is an oval. There is a Sundial on one side. This should be your meeting place. Not the Common, it’s about an acre in size, and on a busy day might have 1000 people sitting or standing on it, and another 1000-2000 people milling around it. The Sundial is unique, usually has kids all around it, on it, climbing over the rocks near it.  “Meet me at the Sundial at 12.” Try it, you won’t be sorry.
There is a loop road that runs through the middle of the fairgrounds. Like orbiting the sun, it is the long way, but it gets you there. A walkway around the sundial connects to the road like spokes on a wheel. On two of these spokes will be found just about every kind of food you could want.
Some of Our Favorites
I'm going to cover the best places we've found to get good food - but there is always something new to try. Remember though, just because there is a huge line at one place does not mean the food is awesome - I've never been in a line longer than 2 people deep for the crab roll place, and they serve some amazing food. 

People like to complain about high prices of the food, myself included, but I’m a Reformed Bumble now. Go to any other fair, and that fried haddock is still going to set you back about $9. And at the Common Ground Fair, it’s made with organic flour, milk and eggs to boot. 

Stand in the Common with the Sundial on your left, and face the Exhibition Hall. This is your 12 o clock. If you are looking at the fair map, rotate it slightly to the left so the train station is at the top and the Show Ring is at the bottom.

1) To the left of the hall, straight ahead is a spoke that runs to the Unity railway stop. On the right, near the end of this path is the Country Kitchen Demo tent. A good place to get free samples - one year, I got a whole turkey leg! During Kids Cooking Organic, you can get spaghetti squash and other yummy veggies to try. There will also be a Chef's Throw-down, not to be missed. Rhonda manages that area and she is wonderful.
2) The next spoke to the left, your 10 o clock, is also the way to the Children’s area. There are a number of food places this way. Pie Cones are usually here. Plan out your strategy – they will run out of blueberry by the end of the day, and Sunday may be slim pickings unless you love Indian Pudding. Flatbread was down here last year, they gave me two slices of pizza for the price of one because of holes in the crust. Ahh, the quest for perfection – it sure tastes good. 

As you get near the road, on Friday only, on the right is the Youth Enterprise Zone tent - a great place to stop in the morning. They usually have baked goods – ham and cheese croissants last year and homemade sodas, at very reasonable prices. Support the next generation!  On Saturday and Sunday, this may be an empty tent with chairs. A good place to get out of the sun/rain and take a break.
3) The next spoke, will be at your 9 o clock, points toward the large Amphitheater in the distance, and is where you can find some great hot drinks from the Solar Cafe (a solar/wind/biodiesel powered bus). Or they might be to the right of the Exhibition hall, things change.
4) The next spoke, at your 7 o clock, leads toward folk arts and crafts. If you want to experience open flame cooking, the Maine Guides who are out this way will set you up. Wisdom, stories and yummy samples will be had, they ask for a $1 donation. Cinnamon rolls and maybe donuts this year?
Farther down along this spoke, on the left, is the bean hole beans area. It sounds plain wrong, but these may be the best baked beans you ever will eat. It’s a tiny cup, so I went for the beans with pork last year. Again a $1 donation is suggested. Watch the blacksmiths work while you enjoy your yummy treat.
5) The next spoke, your 6 o clock runs between Agricultural Products and Crafts. Follow this and you will reach the road, across the road on you right (with the Common behind you) are all of the animals and livestock demo areas.
6) The next spoke, your 4 o clock, is the left half of the second major food area. The food area goes all the way to the road, wraps around and comes back again. Right on the Common is the Seafood place. You can’t go wrong. The haddock is light and juicy, shrimp are flavorful and scallops are heavenly. I’m not a huge fan of their tartar sauce, but you can enjoy all of their seafood with or without. You will want to go back for more. Plan carefully.

Just as you start down this spoke there is usually a French fry place. Definitely worth a try, the fries are unlike any you can get anywhere else.
About halfway down on the left should be the crab roll place. They toast the rolls first – that’s how you will know you are at the right place. It’s usually just two people, selling only crab rolls – the meat is sweet and juicy without very much mayo. The rolls are smoky and crusty and soft inside. Use two hands, they pile on the crabmeat and you don’t want to lose any. 
Near the end should be another Pie Cone place. If the first one is out of something, they just might have what you are after.

If you get to the road and cross it near the First Aid tent, you can approach the farm house. Some years there are presentations on baking bread in a wood fired oven, again there are usually samples to be had.
On the very end wrapping around to the next spoke is Caldwell Farms and their amazing burgers. They are usually near the Spotlight Stage. Great burgers and free music - what a great way to feel welcome.
7) The next spoke at your 3 o clock is rest of the food area. 
Local Sprouts is near the Seafood place. Now that the Fair allows coffee, they have one of the best breakfasts going – coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Top that with fresh maple doughnuts, down the spoke just a little bit on the right side and you are good.
Down this spoke on the right, are three top places. Veteran’s for Peace is usually first, with their Pea Soup and Bread special. You get a delicious vegetarian soup with yummy bread for around $5 - a very solid deal. Halfway down is usually the Shitake Mushroom place. Get this early, since they always run out. Lightly battered and fried, it tastes unique and amazing. Farther down is Sal’s Calzone. Get one before early afternoon, because they can sell out. Also I’d recommend Friday or Saturday for the largest selection. Definitely get marinara and parmesan on top.
Tips for Stretching Your Fair Dollars

  • Bring snacks and a sandwich for lunch and have supper on the Fair, both you and your budget will be happy. 
  • One more time, Veteran's For Peace, Pea Soup with Bread has to be the cheapest meal going.
  • I've seen people set down in the Common with a basket, take out a knife and a loaf of bread and start making meals for their friends. All are welcome! Just remember to pack out any wrappers and trash you bring. The Fair strives to be zero waste, and every little bit helps.

1 comment:

  1. Fair update: skip Sal's Calzone and the pizza place next door; they've really dropped the ball on quality. Also, Local Sprouts is awesome, but Rock City had better coffee and the breakfast place up the spoke on the left had better breakfast sandwiches. Also, free food update, get to the Country Kitchen throwdown early and sit up front. You will get a sample of some really really good food if you are patient!