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The Deep-Fried Artichokes of Central California

            Deep-fried artichokes: Intriguing, yes? I simply had to try some while I was out camping up the West Coast. “Stop for deep-fried artichokes in Monterey or we’ll no longer be friends,” the note from an acquaintance said. With this modified death threat hanging over our heads, my friend and I drove through the bay area, the threat becoming more and more a likely reality as we left Monterey Bay behind. But behold, there was a sign on the side of the road! “Deep-fried artichokes-next right!” I shouted. We hooked a louie (translation: made a sharp turn at the last second) and got off at the appropriate exit.

            Though I hadn’t realized it, we’d been driving through the artichoke capital of the world. Castroville, CA is famous for their fresh artichokes (though I don’t imagine there’s a ton of competition), and north of Monterey may be the only place in the world to get deep-fried artichokes. We arrived at Pezzini Farms, walked up to the truck window, and ordered this dish that, just days before, I never knew existed.

            Our battered artichokes looked like, well, slim pieces of zeppole. Doesn’t all deep-fried stuff look and taste the same, anyway? These bits of greasiness were no different. Honestly, if I hadn’t known I was eating an artichoke, I absolutely never would have guessed. There was very little differentiation in the way of color, taste, or texture. They were fairly buttery and nicely chewy, but the only unique part about them was the garlic Dijon dipping sauce. Splitting a small basket of these critters gave me the feeling of having just eaten at a street fair. I really wanted to love these things, but they weren’t as different and amazing as I’d hoped. Next time I’ll give them another try, and I’m hoping for more artichoke and a batter that just brings out the flavor of the unusual goodness inside. And if they’re amazing someplace else, let me know and I’ll give it another whirl the next time I’m out there.

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