Living

Something everyone can agree on

Politics can be a messy business.

One example: the grilled onion-laden Demo Burger made by Thurston County Democrats to help line their coffers – and a favorite food item at Olympia’s Capital Lakefair.

The annual festival, under way through Sunday, is bringing crowds downtown to ride rides, play games, see shows, and take in the Saturday evening parade and Sunday night fireworks.

But the food – sold by local nonprofits to raise money – is sometimes as much of a draw as the activities: the brownie sundaes, the strawberry shortcakes, the elephant ears, and the Demo Burger.

“It’s the thing I focus on getting when I go to Lakefair – the Demo Burger with cheese,” said John Baldwin of Olympia. “It’s why I go.”

He’s a Democrat but said that isn’t why he’s devoted to the burger. “It’s freshly cooked,” he said. “I like that it has grilled onions, although sometimes it’s more onion than burger.”

And that’s where the messy part comes in. “It’s really hard to eat without turning yourself into a mosaic of ketchup and mustard and onion juice,” he said.

The booth is staffed by a crew of about 10 at any given time, said Jerry Muchmore – three taking orders, three relaying and delivering the orders, three cooks (one for onions, one for burgers and one for the buns, which are also grilled) and then the brave soul who spends hours at time quartering onions and putting them through a manual French-fry cutter.

“If this were a business and everybody were getting paid, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” said Muchmore, who served as the party’s “burger king” – not, you might notice, the most democratic of titles – from 2005 to 2009. “But everyone is donating the time. It’s fun.”

He offered a behind-the-scenes political tidbit about Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is not planning to seek a third term.

“Christine always had the best shift,” he said. “They were really drilled and always on top of things. But she’s not running this year, so we don’t know what it’s going to be like.”

How popular is the Demo Burger? Last year, the Thurston County Democrats sold 8,000 patties at the five-day fair, said Liberty Ryder, vice chair of the Thurston County Democrats.

And the burger stand even has reviews on Yelp.com, although it’s open only a few weekends of each summer: at Capital City Pride, at Lakefair, and, this summer, at Harbor Days.

This year at Pride, the Dems tried hot dogs – perhaps fortunately because a shortage of buns left them scrambling for alternatives for about an hour after the parade. But this week, the party is back to basics – burgers, double burgers and veggie burgers.

“It’s the burger with the onions that everybody’s looking for,” Ryder said. “We’re just going to stick to what we do best, and that’s the Demo Burger.”

If you want fries with that, though, you’re going to have to cross party lines: The Thurston County Republicans’ booth this year is debuting garlic fries, inspired by the ones sold at Seattle’s Safeco Field.

For years, the GOP has offered barbecued beef sandwiches, but this year there’s a new strategy on the table. Besides the garlic fries, there will be chili bowls, chili cheese dogs and chili cheese fries.

It’s about the budget, said party secretary Tom Watson. “We were at an executive committee meeting, and we were talking about how we were barely breaking even,” he said.

So the party bought fryers and a heat lamp, ordered up chopped garlic from the company that supplies Safeco, and has brought the pungent side dish south.

Watson and Debbie Koepp, the party’s first vice chair, are both fans of the fries. “We go to the Mariners games whenever we can,” he said, “and we always get the garlic fries.”

HIGHLIGHTS

Today

9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. 50s-Plus in the Park, Heritage Park

3:30-5 p.m. Hook Me Up (jazz)

5:30-7 p.m. Freckles Brown (classic rock and originals)

6:30-9:30 p.m. Car Show, Marathon Park

7-8:30 p.m. Square in the Jimi’s (rock)

9-11 p.m. Sour Owl (funk originals)

Saturday

8 a.m. 3k and 8k runs, beginning at Heritage Park

8:30 a.m. Kit car races, Capitol Way between Seventh and Ninth streets

9:15 a.m. Volleyball tournament, Capitol Campus

Noon-4 p.m. Kids Day, Sylvester Park

Noon-1:15 p.m. Tangle Foot Cloggers

1:30-3 p.m. Joey James Dean (country)

3-4 p.m. Evergreen Country Dancers

4-5 p.m. Honkey Tonk Angels Dance Group

5-7 p.m. Lakefair Grand Parade, Capitol Way from 24th Avenue to downtown

7-9 p.m. Idol on the Lake

9-11 p.m. Motor Car (rock)

Sunday

9:15 a.m. Volleyball tournament, Capitol Campus

Noon-1:30 p.m. Slow Roller (country rock)

2-5 p.m. Rhythm Fire Kids (kids rock)

5:30-7:30 p.m. Rhythm Fire Band (funky blues)

8-10 p.m. Billy Farmer, “The Neil Diamond Experience”

10 p.m. Fireworks

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