Lakefair returns with its fun and festivities, but minus VFW’s shortcake and mud pie

Lakefair opens Wednesday, offering a five-day buffet of carnival rides, music, people watching, fireworks, a parade — and, of course, the food that lures otherwise-sensible eaters to indulge and sometimes overindulge as the week goes on.

The fair’s dozen food booths benefit local nonprofits as they tempt the taste buds of not only fairgoers but also plenty of people who come by Water Street just to grab a bite — or several.

At the 62nd annual fair, offerings include the usual burgers, fries, hot dogs, German sausages and elephant ears, those delicious mounds of deep-fried dough.

To quote food-row organizer Joyce Rommel: “It just isn’t Lakefair without an elephant ear.”

This year, though, some fair-food fanatics will be mourning the loss of two sweet staples: the strawberry shortcake and the mud pie, both served for the past several years by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 318.

The post, dissuaded this year by the high cost of insurance, plan to be back in the booth next year, said Karen Griggs of Lakefair.

“We know their fans will miss them this year,” Rommel said.

Post officials could not be reached for comment.

One shortcake fan who’ll feel the loss is Lynn Hicks of Olympia, who grew up in California loving strawberries so much that she always chose shortcake as her birthday cake.

“I was so thrilled when I went to Lakefair for the first time when we moved here in 1989, and they had this big old strawberry-shortcake booth,” she said. “I was so happy.”

That was before the VFW served the shortcake. The post has been dishing out shortcake and mud pie for the past six or seven years, Rommel estimated.

Fortunately, those feeling empty at the prospect of a Lakefair without their favorite treats can soothe their sorrow with other goodies.

Besides the aforementioned elephant ears, dessert options include Dippin’ Dots flash-frozen ice cream and crepes in flavors including strawberries and whipped cream.

Further consolation is that there’s something new on the menu: paella, a Spanish rice dish that might appeal even to those who forgo the usual fair fare.

“I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching paella,” said Tony Judah of Paella Pro, cooking in cooperation with Gull Harbor Lutheran Church, which will donate proceeds to the Family Support Center of South Sound. “It goes back hundreds of years to Spain, where laborers were cooking it in the field, and it’s gone all over the world. We try to cook it as true to form as we can considering the fact that we’re not in Spain.”

Though it’s new to Lakefair, Paella Pro has been serving up its specialty — in several varieties, including a vegan version and a classic one with chicken, chorizo and shrimp — for eight years at festivals and fairs and last winter at the Olympia Farmers Market.

“It’s great,” said Jim Slosson of Gull Harbor Lutheran, who connected Judah and his specialty with the church. “When he was at the farmers market, I went there every Saturday for lunch.

“He imports his rice from Spain and uses real saffron,” Slosson added. “It’s a long way from elephant ears.”

Don’t get the idea that Slosson is a food snob, though. He admits a penchant for Demo Burgers, the caramelized-onion-laden offerings of the Thurston County Democrats.

To offer balance, the Thurston County Republican Central Committee has its own long-running booth, serving hot dogs and garlic fries.

Also on the Lakefair menu: barbecued pulled pork and chicken, Philly cheesesteaks, Hawaiian specialties, and Cajun delights including po boy sandwiches, gumbo and beignets, a Louisiana variation on the elephant ear.

That’s right. At fair time, it seems that deep-fried dough is hard to beat.

Lakefair president Jeff Hunt said elephant ears, along with German sausages, are his essential eats this time of year — though nothing, for him, compares to the Sunday fireworks show that ends the fair.

“I was born and raised here,” he told The Olympian, “and my all-time favorite thing is the fireworks over the lake. I don’t think I’ve missed a fireworks show in 51 years.”

And then there’s Judah, who said, “I haven’t eaten at Lakefair for years and years,” but later admitted that even he has been known to purchase a pachyderm-part pastry.

“I’m not a fair burger kind of guy,” he said. “You have your annual elephant ear, and that kind of did me in.”

Capital Lakefair

  • What: The 62nd annual Capital Lakefair, held on the shores of Capitol Lake, is a five-day festival packed with music, carnival rides and fair food, plus fireworks and a grand parade.
  • When: Noon-11 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
  • Where: Heritage Park, Olympia
  • Cost: Admission is free; take money for rides, games, food, etc.
  • More information: 360-943-7344, lakefair.org
  • Wristbands: Good for one day of unlimited rides from noon-10 p.m. They can be ordered at lakefair.org for $32 through midnight Tuesday or purchased at the event for $42.

HIGHLIGHTS (in Heritage Park unless otherwise noted)

  • Battle of the Bands: 6 p.m. Wednesday
  • Royalty Night: 7 p.m. Thursday
  • Lakefair 50+ in the Park: 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday near the entertainment stage

  • Car show: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Friday at Marathon Park, 1011 Deschutes Parkway SW, Olympia
  • Lakefair races: Saturday
  • Kids Day: Noon-4 p.m. Saturday in Sylvester Park, 600 Capitol Way S,, Olympia
  • Capital City 3on3 basketball tournament: Saturday and Sunday on the Capitol Campus, 416 Sid Snyder Ave. SW, Olympia
  • Volleyball tournament: Saturday and Sunday at the Regional Athletic Complex, 8345 Steilacoom Road SE , Lacey
  • Lakefair Parade: 5-7 p.m. Saturday, from Capitol Way and 20th Avenue to Fifth Avenue and Simmons Street
  • Grand Finale Fireworks: 10 p.m. Sunday