Dominic "The Midway Gourmet" Palmieri is known as the calorically evil mastermind responsible for weight gain at the OC Fair.
He has a long list of menu items ranging from the 2-pound Big Rib to bacon-wrapped turkey legs, bacon-battered corn dogs and deep-fried peanut butter and jam s'mores. And he sells them at his extravagant concession stand appropriately named Biggy's Meat Market.
But this year, Palmieri — a meat specialist who has a website called MidwayGourmet.com — has added a few more choices to the outlandish menu.
And they are — cue the music — health-conscious options.
"We wanted to bring the alternative," Palmieri said as he rushed over to a Big Chick Stick sizzling on the grill. The chicken, massively sized on a spindly stick, is coated in an herb and garlic marinade that has been reformulated without gluten.
Why the addition?
"We've had a lot of customers ask for gluten-free items," Palmieri said. "There weren't a lot of choices for gluten-dietary needs."
He's correct. A look to the left and there's a cotton candy station. A look to the right and there's a grinning child munching on a funnel cake so large it's spilling over the plate.
"There's something for everybody at the fair," said Palmieri, a commanding presence in his flashy red double-breasted chef's jacket embellished with embroidered words reading, among others, "Candy Factory," "Corn Shack" and "Burger Joint."
Palmieri's quest for serving new food doesn't stop with the chicken. He has a gluten-free version of the beloved Big Rib, 2 pounds of steak stacked on a stick with a toasted gluten-free hamburger bun and a colossal serving of hand-cut gluten-free fries.
"We didn't sacrifice any of the big flavors," Palmieri said with pride as he handed a sample of the Big Chick Stick to people visiting his booth.
A doubter in the crowd took a bite off the skewer and her eyes widened. "It doesn't taste like it's missing anything," the woman said while chewing the meat.
Maybe it's Palmieri's standards. In order for meat to make the Midway Gourmet cut, it has to meet a list of requirements.
"It has to taste great, have a great price point and be appealing to customers," Palmieri said. "And it has to be something that you can only get at the fair."
Palmieri, a 25-year food concession veteran who has been peddling his Midway Gourmet foods from California to Texas, visits all kind of fairs, festivals and rodeos to serve fare that is wild, different and big.
"The goal is to have that customer bite into something amazing and say, 'Wow!'" he wrote on his website. "That's what I try and bring to the gourmet side of carnival foods."
When he's not spinning bacon cotton candy, flipping 4-pound burgers or squeezing lemonade for fair food connoisseurs, Palmieri is brainstorming new products.
Just how does Palmieri think of crazy food ideas?
"It's the evil genius that comes out of us," he said with a laugh.
Though his specialty is meats, he does love his sweets.
A reader may pack on pounds just by reading the description of his hot, new dessert: a deep-fried pecan pie topped with a heap of whipped cream and served on a stick.
"It's absolutely delicious," he said, closing his eyes.
Pecan lovers who want to pass on dessert can opt for the pecan-smoked sausage, which is dipped in batter and deep-fried until it browns.
Palmieri is optimistic about the stand's first year of serving gluten-free choices.
"We've had quite a few people buying," he said.
But, Palmieri added, he has not foresaken all other items. He likes to think of his stand as the one-stop shop for people looking for mouth-watering food items that are fried, sugared or browned.
"We'll take you from meats to sweets," he said.