I’ll cut to the chase: I’ve ~never~ been to the State Fair of Texas.

 I have lived in Texas over 20 years, and I’m technically a Yankee. (I got here as fast as I could!) But what I am above all is claustrophobic. That means elevators are bad and I avoid big crowds, especially when it’s warm outside. Bad enough so that if I’m forced, I can get to the passing-out stage.

Bonus Fun Stuff:Movie House & Eatery Delivers .

I get that a lot.

 I am usually in search of an air conditioned, low-key, mostly solitary adventure! (Introverts unite!) It also means that I’ve watched years go by without trying the Fair food. Back in 2006, I did pay a co-worker to bring me back a deep fried Twinkie. After her long day at the Fair, let’s just say it’s better to eat this sooner rather than later.

And then… thanks to getting the word out to you Funzies, I am in a constant state of “HOLY CRAP! THIS AWESOME THING IS HAPPENING!” And, I got to go to this:  The 2015 Big Tex Choice Awards at Fair Park, now in its 11th year. This could be the answer to every introvert’s pining call: how do I get to try the deep-fried Fair food without going outside of my comfort zone??

So I ordered tickets: $100 each. I tell myself I’m helping fund scholarships for high schools in the Fair Park vicinity and not just stuffing my face. 

We had several sets of directions and still had to ask two groundskeepers to direct us at the gate. Driving through the Fairgrounds when there are no people is freaking creepy, ya’ll. It was like a 5-mile-an-hour procession to a clown’s funeral. But we finally found the Tower Building.

Cue tumbleweeds & slo-mo calliope music.

New this year was the opportunity for attendees to put their names in the hat to be a GUEST JUDGE. I admit, I really wanted this, and I was feeling lucky. I toss my ticket in after giving it a good-luck hug.

We find a seat somewhere toward the center. There are hanging flags displaying winners of years past. Deep fried Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Praline Something Something. Deep Fried Peaches & Cream (I’d so eat this). Too many to write them all down, but they were successfully making us hungry.

You tease.

We dig through our swag bags while we waited.

A grownup sippy cup with Big Tex’s head on it. It’s so silly, it’s perfect. Inside is a one-day pass to the Fair and…a pencil? Whatever. But there was also a nice boxed coffee to-go mug with Michelin (a sponsor of the event) on the side. In five years I went from never needing a to-go mug to never having enough of these around. How did that happen?! But I digress.

This room was PACKED by the time food was ready.

Michelin gets their minute or so of commercial time. Someone introduces the emcee Donovan Lewis of SportsRadio, then he starts introducing other people. The echo made it a bit hard to hear. Plus I’m waiting for them to pull the Guest Judge Ticket! Come on, already! THE GOLDEN TICKET!! IT’S ALMOST TIME! Yes! The tickets have 18 numbers, did I win or not?? … and then he called the ticket number OF SOMEONE ELSE!!

This is terrible for all of us. My hopes were super high. I couldn’t catch her name, but Guest Judge was Every Texas Mom, tan and smiling. We could have been friends except that she TOOK MY JUDGING SEAT! DANG IT.

I would have been an AWESOME judge.

I’ll leave out the detailed mumbo jumbo of judges and creators because who cares at that point. In a nutshell: It was Chef John Tesar, a local chef celebrity; Drew Pearson, a retired football player with razor wit; a YouTube celebrity who had a cool hat, someone named Tiffany, some other guy, and the Guest Judge who everyone hates. She was a cool cucumber, I’ll give her that. She didn’t seem nervous AT ALL. I would have been so nervous that I’d have made a complete butt out of myself and grabbed the microphone and laughed real loud and smiled with stuff in my teeth.

And I would have been AWESOME.

The right amount of aggressive yet fun-loving! Photo credit: Reddit

I got over it. Eventually. So we sat through the judges enjoying themselves, eating MY fried food.

An hour goes by then they started cooking for 500. You can walk into a lot of fast food places and get a greasy experience but this made everyone excited. It fills the hall. People are smiling and wiggling in anticipation. The room went from impatient to giddy (ok, maybe that was just me). This, my friends, was the smell of DEEP-FRIED NOSTALGIA.

Following the scent of deep-fried nostalgia

And then (finally) the judging is over and we are dismissed to the line for The Tasting. There are easily 500 people in there, but the line moved pretty swiftly. The vendors must have teams of seasoned pros. We took some pictures with a guy in a Big Tex costume who I will now affectionately call Little Big Tex. I find Big Tex kind of disturbing, and Little Big Tex was too. Just sayin’.

Renee and Little Big Tex.

We get our cute trays with a flyer that gives us pics of the Finalists. Nice touch actually; it made me feel important and welcome. Each vendor had a booth, each booth had a pic and a “model” of the entry with their award (a deep-fry basket plaque ha – so cutefully cheesy!) and everyone was like a kid at Christmas.

So hard won. All mine.

So I present to you:

  • Pretzel Crusted Pollo Queso (with sauce you squeeze on) 
  • Deep Fried Alligator’s Egg Nest (with fries and a cup of dipping sauce)
  • ​Fried Beer-Battered Buffalo (cup of dipping sauce)
  • ​Smoky Bacon Margarita
  • ​Cowboy Corn Crunch
  • Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy (w/ side of corn relish and fries)
  • Lone Star Pork Handle

No salads allowed.

Hey, there’s one missing! Yes. They ran out of Best Taste Winner Fernie’s Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly right as I got there. Not kidding. I actually felt like the little girl who Santa forgot. The creator and her team were apologetic and did some inventory to see if there was any way to drum up ingredients, but there was not. It still makes me sad. So close!! But I soldiered on. I’m not bitter hardly at all.

So my two cents:

A couple things surprised me. I figured I’d love the Pollo Queso, but it was too cream-cheesy rich with a soft center and the spice overpowered the chicken. It had a nice crispy crust, though.

I thought I would dislike the Alligator but it was my second fave – hearty and savory but not too spicy. They reminded me a bit of my grandmother’s Thanksgiving stuffing.

The Cowboy Corn Crunch were too spicy for me (I’m kind of a wuss), but were Renee’s favorite. Think corn nuggets from a place like Chicken Express but not as batter-heavy.

My personal favorite: Chicken Fried Lobster      with Champagne Gravy

I know how it sounds: OF COURSE THE LOBSTER. I really am not a huge lobster fan but this was far and away the winner in my book. The gravy was light and yummy, the batter on the lobstah complementary and not heavy; the meat tender and not rubbery (how they pulled it off with this kind of “foodie speed-dating” soiree, I’ll never know). 

Hello, my delicious friend!

I ate every bit of that corn relish, too.

The creator seemed in good spirits. “Hashtag FryKing!” he said, as he handed us our gondolas of goodness.

Neither of us cared for the Buffalo – too many onions and they tasted like batter-dipped meatballs. BUT with a dip/ketchup this would be a nifty way to get a mini-burger taste and still walk around. 

Most Creative Winner: The Smoky Margarita was virgin (family event) and I kind of liked it. It was neon green and it reminded me of a slush drink. Not thirst quenching, but it was a good sweet to all that savory. It comes in a souvenir cup. Fake bacon all the way, though.

The Lone Star Pork Handle is just a sample, but based on the model, you’d get a really nice chunk of meat at the Fair. It’s good. More of an oven-baked coating than battered. I’d eat this again.​


ARRIVE EARLY: There are two “camps” of foodies here. Those who come as early as possible, ready to walk in at 1:30p and get to the seats up front, close to the judging. They get the attention of the emcee, who hands out food that the judges don’t finish. They got to be first of the eager crowd to sample, and maybe get on camera too (it is a media circus)! 

ARRIVE LATE: In the other camp are those who come LATER, as the judging ENDS about 3:40p. I wondered why so many people were late. They avoided everything but the deliciousness by coming in right as the crowds lined up for food. They also knew where to go and were poised at the curtains, thus being first in line. 

I’m on to you people. 

The creators/vendors take this contest super seriously, and the Finalist dishes reach cult status. We were happy to get caught up in it, and I got a taste of what people love most about the Fair. Literally. And I can’t wait until next year!

Me in line. Me eating. Me photobombing people. Me.

​ I guess I still haven’t been to the Texas State Fair, technically, but The Big Tex Choice Awards definitely count as the next best thing. This is their 11th year — have you ever been? What was your experience?​

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