A lucky few got to taste this year's Big Tex Choice Awards finalists at an event Sunday in Fair Park.EXPAND
A lucky few got to taste this year's Big Tex Choice Awards finalists at an event Sunday in Fair Park.
Kathy Tran

New Dishes at This Year's State Fair of Texas, Ranked

On Sunday afternoon, the State Fair of Texas hosted the annual Big Tex Choice Awards, where a panel of judges tasted 10 new dishes — each a finalist in this year's competition — that will be served at the fair, which opens Sept. 30. This year, there were three awards: best tasting, savory; best tasting, sweet; and most creative.

We sampled all the dishes (and one drink), and we have some thoughts. Here's our ranking, from best to worst, of this year's Big Tex Choice Award finalists.

Fernie’s Fried Texas Sheet Cake by Winter Family Concessions: "Start with a Texas-sized slice of fudgy chocolate brownie cake generously coated in ground cocoa puffs, panko and cinnamon sugar. The coated brownie is fried, giving it an ooey-gooey molten center with a crunch outside. The delicious fresh-from-the-fryer brownie is then glazed with a rich, dark icing made with Dr Pepper®. The chocolatey glaze soaks into the warm brownie while cascading down the sides. The cake is served with chopped Texas pecans, a dollop of whipped cream and garnished with a fresh strawberry carved to mimic a Lady Bird Johnson rose."EXPAND
Fernie’s Fried Texas Sheet Cake by Winter Family Concessions: "Start with a Texas-sized slice of fudgy chocolate brownie cake generously coated in ground cocoa puffs, panko and cinnamon sugar. The coated brownie is fried, giving it an ooey-gooey molten center with a crunch outside. The delicious fresh-from-the-fryer brownie is then glazed with a rich, dark icing made with Dr Pepper®. The chocolatey glaze soaks into the warm brownie while cascading down the sides. The cake is served with chopped Texas pecans, a dollop of whipped cream and garnished with a fresh strawberry carved to mimic a Lady Bird Johnson rose."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

1. Fernie’s Fried Texas Sheet Cake
If you ask us, this chocolatey creation should have won best tasting in the sweet category. A chocolate brownie cake is coated in Cocoa Puffs, panko and cinnamon sugar, deep-fried and slathered in a chocolate ganache made with Dr Pepper. A dollop of whipped cream on top gives it an added dose of creaminess. The chocolate ganache was deliciously warm and gooey, as was the interior of the cake after spending a minute in the deep fryer. This was our favorite treat this year, and it comes from a vendor that's racked up years of Big Tex Choice Award nominations. Of all the dishes in this year's competition, this is the one we'd spend money to eat again.

Fat Smooth by Tami Nevins-Mayes: "Three delicious Belgium mini cream puffs on a skewer are dipped in a Café Du Monde® beignet batter. They are then fried until golden brown, dusted in powdered sugar, and drizzled with a chocolate and caramel sauce."EXPAND
Fat Smooth by Tami Nevins-Mayes: "Three delicious Belgium mini cream puffs on a skewer are dipped in a Café Du Monde® beignet batter. They are then fried until golden brown, dusted in powdered sugar, and drizzled with a chocolate and caramel sauce."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

2. Fat Smooth
This doughy, gooey creation also could have won best tasting, sweet, rather than the judges' baffling selection (more on that later). The beignet-batter cream puffs, filled with a sweet cream filling, explode on the first bite, and the warm, creamy interior mixes with the chocolate and caramel sauce on top to create an incredibly indulgent treat that will leave you pleasantly sticky.

Deep Fried Froot Loops by Gracie and Milton Whitley: "A classic cereal with a State Fair twist! Sweetened Froot Loops® are folded into whipped marshmallow, dipped in a creamy batter, fried to a golden brown, and then topped with a drizzle of glaze and powdered sugar."EXPAND
Deep Fried Froot Loops by Gracie and Milton Whitley: "A classic cereal with a State Fair twist! Sweetened Froot Loops® are folded into whipped marshmallow, dipped in a creamy batter, fried to a golden brown, and then topped with a drizzle of glaze and powdered sugar."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

3. Fried Froot Loops
We thought this dish was a shoe-in for most creative, but alas, the judges disagreed. These sweet pastry pockets are filled with melty marshmallow filled with Froot Loops, deep-fried and topped with glaze, powdered sugar and even more Froot Loops. It was reminiscent of a particularly gooey, indulgent Pop Tart, and it's a fun treat for anyone who loves marshmallows or desserts made with the sugary cereals we all grew up eating.

The Tamale Donut by Justin Martinez: "Take a traditional tamale and turn it into a not-so-traditional donut! Our 'Classic Pork' Tamale Donut starts with slow-cooked pork carnitas, blended with authentic 'made-from-scratch' masa. Each dish is hand-formed into the donut shape and fried until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The 'Classic Pork' Tamale Donut is finished off with a drizzle of homemade creamy jalapeño salsa."EXPAND
The Tamale Donut by Justin Martinez: "Take a traditional tamale and turn it into a not-so-traditional donut! Our 'Classic Pork' Tamale Donut starts with slow-cooked pork carnitas, blended with authentic 'made-from-scratch' masa. Each dish is hand-formed into the donut shape and fried until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The 'Classic Pork' Tamale Donut is finished off with a drizzle of homemade creamy jalapeño salsa."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

4. Tamale Doughnut
This doughnut, made with from-scratch masa and slow-cooked carnitas, was a fun savory take on the tamale. The drizzle of jalapeño salsa gave it a nice spicy, creamy boost, and it's an easy snack to eat on the go while you wander the fairgrounds.

Deep Fried Chicken Noodle Soup on a Stick by Sherry and Chris Howard: "Homestyle, perfectly spiced chicken noodle soup is deep-fried and served on a stick. Each bite-size ball will have an indention for a spoonful of savory broth sauce to complete the harmony of the best chicken noodle soup you’ve ever had, and certainly the first on a stick! Each dish is served with a side of crackers."EXPAND
Deep Fried Chicken Noodle Soup on a Stick by Sherry and Chris Howard: "Homestyle, perfectly spiced chicken noodle soup is deep-fried and served on a stick. Each bite-size ball will have an indention for a spoonful of savory broth sauce to complete the harmony of the best chicken noodle soup you’ve ever had, and certainly the first on a stick! Each dish is served with a side of crackers."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

5. Deep Fried Chicken Noodle Soup on a Stick
As counterintuitive as it seems to dip something deep-fried into a liquid, this dish was a fun take on everyone's favorite cold-weather comfort food. A lot of deep-fried creations at the fair don't really taste like the dish they're based on, but this one definitely had a chicken noodle soup flavor, and the salty broth the balls are dipped in was a nice touch.

Texas Fajita Fries by Nick Bert: "Tenderly breaded deep-fried beef fajita strips are seasoned with a Sriracha spice mix and served in a bread cone. Presented on a bed of Texas toothpicks (fried onions and jalapeños) with a side of pico de gallo and a cool, yet spicy, sour cream guacamole hot sauce. Texas fajita fries can be enjoyed as a sandwich or individually like French fries."EXPAND
Texas Fajita Fries by Nick Bert: "Tenderly breaded deep-fried beef fajita strips are seasoned with a Sriracha spice mix and served in a bread cone. Presented on a bed of Texas toothpicks (fried onions and jalapeños) with a side of pico de gallo and a cool, yet spicy, sour cream guacamole hot sauce. Texas fajita fries can be enjoyed as a sandwich or individually like French fries."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

6. Texas Fajita Fries
Here's where, for us, this year's finalists get pretty ho-hum. The breaded, deep-fried beef fajita strips don't fare well in the fryer, creating a sort of soggy breaded meat that doesn't read as juicy or flavorful as we'd like in a fajita. The toppings are gyro-esque, and the sandwich is meant to be eaten either as a sandwich or as fries, but all the fried foods (including onion and jalapeño) blend together in a big ol' deep-fried mess.

Pinot Noir Popcorn by The Parish Family: "It's a blend of Santa Monica Kettle Corn generously dusted with a pinot noir Burgundy wine powder. The wine-flavored popcorn is paired with savory cheddar cheese flavors to give you the perfect balance of sweet and savory."EXPAND
Pinot Noir Popcorn by The Parish Family: "It's a blend of Santa Monica Kettle Corn generously dusted with a pinot noir Burgundy wine powder. The wine-flavored popcorn is paired with savory cheddar cheese flavors to give you the perfect balance of sweet and savory."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

7. Pinot Noir Popcorn
For this snack, kettle corn is coated in a pinot noir wine powder and mixed with cheddary popcorn to give it a salty-sweet flavor. The pinot noir popcorn (which contains no alcohol, by the way) was sweet and inoffensive but didn't really taste like wine, and the cheddar pieces mixed in tended to confuse the flavors rather than complement each other.

Surfin’ Turfin’ Tator Boat by Melissa and David Harrison: "Succulent lobster meat is marinated in lemon herb butter and partnered with seasoned steak that is grilled to perfection. Both are topped with cheddar and romano cheeses after being stuffed into a piping-hot baked potato with roasted garlic butter melted inside. It is topped off with a single empress cut lobster claw and a side of lemon butter for dipping."EXPAND
Surfin’ Turfin’ Tator Boat by Melissa and David Harrison: "Succulent lobster meat is marinated in lemon herb butter and partnered with seasoned steak that is grilled to perfection. Both are topped with cheddar and romano cheeses after being stuffed into a piping-hot baked potato with roasted garlic butter melted inside. It is topped off with a single empress cut lobster claw and a side of lemon butter for dipping."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

8. Surf and Turf
If there's one thing we've learned from eating our way through the State Fair of Texas, it's to avoid the hoity-toity creations made with premium ingredients and stick to lowbrow fair classics. This lobster- and steak-filled potato is no exception. The small lobster chunks were dry and underwhelming, and even with a side of butter to pour on top, this dish just tasted like a ho-hum stuffed potato.

Gulf Coast Fish Bowl by Clint Probst: "A whimsical beverage featuring all the flavors of your favorite tropical coast, with a kick! Your drinkable aquarium begins with Nerds® candy gravel. Next, the drink is iced and filled with a specially-formulated blue alcoholic punch. Swedish Fish® swim through the ice while a pineapple slice serves as the lid. Each sip brings a stream of crunchy candy and tropical punch up the straw causing a flavor explosion that transports you beachside with every sip."EXPAND
Gulf Coast Fish Bowl by Clint Probst: "A whimsical beverage featuring all the flavors of your favorite tropical coast, with a kick! Your drinkable aquarium begins with Nerds® candy gravel. Next, the drink is iced and filled with a specially-formulated blue alcoholic punch. Swedish Fish® swim through the ice while a pineapple slice serves as the lid. Each sip brings a stream of crunchy candy and tropical punch up the straw causing a flavor explosion that transports you beachside with every sip."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

9. Gulf Coast Fish Bowl
Here's where we disagree, fervently, with the panel judging this year's Big Tex Choice Awards. This boozy bowl of sugar was awarded best-tasting, sweet, and we couldn't disagree more. A fishbowl is filled with saccharine booze accented by blue curaçao, and while this is an alcoholic drink, it packs far more sugar than booze. The bowl is filled with candy such as Nerds and Swedish Fish, and as the candy starts to dissolve in the blue liquid, it creates an even sweeter version of a drink that's too sweet to begin with. If you're trying to get a buzz at the fair, this is not the way to do it. It was supposed to be a take on a beach drink, but it reads more as a low-ABV sugar bomb filled with kids' candy that has no place in our adult libations.

Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger by Tom Grace and Edna Sutton: "Begin with two funnel cakes that are fried to a golden crunch (aka 'buns'). The first funnel bun is topped with a juicy, freshly grilled burger patty, a heaping helping of crispy bacon and gooey queso!! It is completed with another funnel bun and generously dusted with powdered sugar."EXPAND
Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger by Tom Grace and Edna Sutton: "Begin with two funnel cakes that are fried to a golden crunch (aka 'buns'). The first funnel bun is topped with a juicy, freshly grilled burger patty, a heaping helping of crispy bacon and gooey queso!! It is completed with another funnel bun and generously dusted with powdered sugar."
Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

10. Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger
In a bizarre twist, the judges awarded this dish both best tasting, savory, and most creative, and it deserves neither of those accolades. People have been swapping burger buns with novelty foods since the dawn of the burger, and there's nothing creative about it. By using funnel cake as the bun for a dry burger topped with queso and bacon, this dish turns into a soggy mess of conflicting flavors. There's nothing enticing about powdered sugar mixed with queso, which is exactly what happens when powdered sugar is sprinkled on the finished product. The longer this dish sits, the more soggy and sad it gets, and while we liked the thick-cut bacon and tangy queso, those flavors are ruined by stale-tasting funnel cake that turns this burger into a weird bummer of a dish.

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >