By BRENNA GRITEMAN
Amid the funnel cakes and French fries, egg rolls seem a strange hero to emerge at the county fair.
And yet on opening day, as its neighboring blooming onion and elephant ear carts sleepily served up a customer here, a customer there, Betran’s Egg Rolls had a strong line formed by 11 a.m. If history serves, that line will verge on an hour’s wait daily, with customers more than happy to make the investment of their time.
“We’ll be up in the grandstand and they’ll send me over. I’ll stand in line for 45 minutes and come back with a dozen of them,” says Mike Patterson of Findlay, who helped make up a rare short line outside Betran’s.
Patterson and his family come out just about every day of fair week to catch whatever’s in the grandstand, with emphasis on the rodeo and the calf scramble. He hits up the egg roll stand “every day,” adding there’s just something about the cabbage that sets Betran’s apart from the rest.
“It just has a twang you can’t get at any other place in town,” he says.
Thien Tran, one of the stand’s owners, is also a little bewildered by the egg rolls’ popularity, hypothesizing that their traditional Vietnamese preparation is perhaps just a little different and tastier than what Americans are accustomed to. He notes they do serve entree items like almond chicken and sweet and sour chicken or pork but still, he can’t deny the egg rolls: “We’re famous for that.”
And it’s something about the Hancock County Fair that brings out the most devoted customers.
Tran says he and his family used to operate a small carryout restaurant on East Sandusky Street, which they sold in 2005.
Their traveling stand appears at both the spring and fall craft festivals at the fairgrounds, and also at the McComb Cookie Festival. They also visit four other county fairs each summer: Wyandot, Seneca, Allen and Logan counties. But do people stand in line for 45 minutes just to buy a couple — or a couple dozen — egg rolls?
“No,” Tran says with a laugh. “We’ve got a following. But not like this. So if they don’t want to wait in line, they could just go to those other fairs.”
Nancy Wenner of Findlay says she likes to sample other things from the stand, but clarifies “it’s really about the egg rolls.”
She and her husband, Steve, were at the fair Wednesday morning watching their grandson, J.J., show pigs. Since they were there anyway, the couple meandered over to Betran’s.
“They’re just delicious,” Nancy says. “It’s a have to, have to when you come to the fair.”
Ellen McKee agrees it’s just not a day at the fair without an egg roll. She’s been representing Flag City Flagpoles and Flags for 15 years and says, “Every year, after I get set up, this is the first place I go.”
And some people think nothing of driving in from neighboring villages and standing in line in the hot sun, just to get their hands on a few egg rolls.
Such was the case for David Roberts of Arcadia, who was buying three Wednesday: two for himself and one for the village utilities clerk.
“I told her how good they are,” he says, adding if she didn’t like hers, he would be more than happy to finish it.
Roberts says he’s been coming to the fair since he was about 10 years old. Now he drives in just to grab lunch or dinner and leave.
As morning turned to mid-afternoon, the line outside Betran’s gained in strength and began curving to accommodate the stand’s adoring fans.
“We couldn’t do this all the time,” Tran says, gesturing toward the crowd. “More than one week would kill us.”