When the State Fair’s Big Tex award winners and a slew of finalists were selected in late August, the announcement seemed to cause hardly a ripple across our collective breaking-news saturated landscape.
The problem isn’t that we don’t care about fried food, I’d like to think. The issue is that this year’s lineup is somewhat underwhelming — there’s no clear-cut Insta-favorite in the mix. No Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger or Cotton Candy Taco to see here!
The stakes were higher — much like the temps when we visited last weekend — but I like to think I rose to the challenge … and then collapsed on the couch when I got home. Here are my awards for the best of the best.
Best Item Tied to a Food Trend: Fernie’s Fried Burnt End Burrito
Cost: 30 coupons/$15
What it is: Created by the same family that brought us fried Texas sheet cake and fried black-eyed pea fritters in past years (Winter Family Concessions), this finalist consists of a tortilla, smeared with cream cheese and stuffed with pepper jack cheese, bacon, jalapenos and burnt ends. Then, it’s all fried, split in half and served with approximately four panko-breaded onion rings. A cup of barbecue sauce and a cup with a couple of meager slices of dill pickle accompany.
How it tastes: Crunchy, cheesy and smoky, it is not unlike a chimichanga, one of my guests keenly remarked. The cubes of meat were nicely spiced, too, and yield a flavorful bite.
Can you eat it and walk? Sure. The burrito halves are smallish. The onion rings, tasty yet unremarkable, are nice for value’s sake.
Worst Way to Serve Something Frozen on a 95 Degree Day: Fla’mango Tango
Cost: 25 coupons/$12.50
What it is: A fried mango pie covered with whipped cream and accompanied by mango sorbet. This entry, from the Garza Family, won the Most Creative award. It is supposed to be drizzled with a mango glaze, but the serving we had lacked that element.
How it tastes: Sweet as pie, and sweeter too, thanks to the hefty serving of whipped cream. The filling has nice chunks of the fruit, and somehow, doesn’t escape the crust. And the sorbet is about the best thing you could wish to have on a hot-as-blazes day.
Can you eat and walk? Not if you want to enjoy the sorbet in frozen form. Ours was melting so badly that it mixed in with the pie (They are served side by side.). This dish might be creative, but it’s not exactly practical.
Best Portrayal of a Carbohydrate in a Lead Role: Southern Fried Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Ball
Cost: 28 coupons/$14
What it is: In all honesty, I ordered this only to make fun of it. Instead, it ended up being one of the best things I tried all day — and I’m not even a fan of fettuccine alfredo. Greg Parish’s concoction is a massive mound of fried pasta, fried chicken bites and mozzarella.
How it tastes: Topped with alfredo sauce and served with asparagus spears and two tiny slices of parmesan bread, the hulking dish has great texture. I loved the little strands of fried pasta that peak out of the ball, crunchy, yet somehow not over-fried. I couldn’t see or taste any of the chicken pieces, but the mozzarella was there, and in fine melt-y form. The portion I was served also did not have the alfredo sauce on top, and for that I was forever grateful. I think it would have just rendered the whole thing a soggy mess. The tiny asparagus garnishes were puny and laughable.
Can you eat and walk? Not a chance. You’ll be lucky if you make it to the table, carrying this unsteady behemoth.
Worst Use of Sunglasses, Ever: Big Red Chicken Bread
Cost: 17 coupons/$8.50
What it is: From the minds of Brent and Juan Reaves, Big Red Chicken Bread is an anthropomorphized sunglasses-sporting fried chicken wing floating inside a Big Red-infused donut.
How it tastes: While there is something inherently weird about the whole sunglasses thing, the chicken tasted fine. I wished there had been a better crunch to the skin; our piece likely needed to be fried at a higher temperature, because it was just plain oily. So was the donut, which seemed to have been soaked in a vat of Big Red. Pliable and dry, it was terrible — way too sweet and dense.
Can you eat and walk? The chicken is easy to handle—especially once you throw away the donut.
Most Deserved Winner: Ruth’s Stuffed Fried Taco Cone
Cost: 18 tickets/$9
What it is: Longtime concessionaire (and 2016 winner for, who can forget, fried jello) Ruth Hauntz has gifted us a fried taco cone, filled with cilantro lime rice, black beans, barbacoa and queso fresco.
How it tastes: Like perfection. This one checked off all of the boxes: The shredded meat was tender, the rice and beans in good proportion, and there was no stinginess with the cheese. A dollop of pico de gallo and salsa verde gave it all a welcome spiciness. The fried cone had parts that were soft, too, which reminded me, happily, of a Jack in the Box taco.
Eat and walk? It tastes even better this way.