Finally, we’re back at the State Fair of Texas in 2021 after a hiatus in 2020. And our first stop was for fried foods.
This year’s fleet of 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists brought a lot of creativity and flavor. But there were also more disappointing stings than any year we can remember.
It cost $ 139 to buy and taste all 10 of these foods, and one thing was very clear: don’t do this. Use this list as a primer for foods you should buy that you can skip.
Note: We have not categorized all of the new food and drink at the State Fair; there are more than three dozen. This list focuses on 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists only, what we called the frying “royalty” of the State Fair. Find here a list of 25 other novelties.
Use this card to find all the finalists of the Big Tex Choice Awards; detailed locations are not listed for each dish.
# 1: Fried seafood okra balls – $ 25
The fried seafood okra balls were, without a doubt, the best bite we have had all day. I would eat them for dinner and skip all other fried options, if I had to.
And I could: at a whopping $ 25, or 25 coupons, these are by far the most expensive finalists at the Big Tex Choice Awards. We did not take this lightly.
My taste testing partner Britton Peele thinks these okra balls were better than real okra. “I feel like I’m never satiated by soup. These are all the great parts of a soup – but the filling, ”he says. The Big Tex Choice Awards judges also accepted and gave Greg Parish’s okra balls two rare awards this year: better taste (salty) and the most creative.
For $ 25, you get two big balls of okra made with shrimp, chicken, crab, andouille sausage and rice, a dark roux on top and on the side. Squeeze some of the provided Tabasco on each if you want more heat. Or, if you are really ready, bring Crystal Hot Sauce in your bag.
These fried okra balls are the most talked about new fried foods at the fair this year. And this is the most complex bite I have ever had at the State Fair of Texas.
Find them inside, at the Tower Building food court; and outside, opposite the birthing barn. Note that the Tower Building can get crowded and many people are not masked because they are eating.
# 2: The Armadillo – $ 16
The latest winner of the Big Tex Choice Awards was The Armadillo, a delicious cookie-butter ice cream sandwich. We agree with the judges: The Tatou is this year’s best new dessert.
We couldn’t stop eating this generously portioned dessert oozing with caramel and sticky ice cream. We kept wondering why it was so big: An ice cream sandwich twice the size would still delight sweet lovers.
But we are not complaining. Take this delicious dessert with both hands and repeat after me: Everything is bigger in Texas.
Find it on one stand: the Barrera dealerships on the Funway.
# 3: Fernie’s Crispy Coffee and Fried Caramel Cake – $ 10
We almost named this our second favorite dish, it was so good. The family who brought funnel cakes to the State Fair of Texas made a heartwarming new dessert with cake donuts, buttered and mixed with almonds and caramel. It is breaded and fried in panko, then topped with coffee whipped cream. We didn’t get a lot of coffee flavor with every bite, but don’t worry – if not for the name that rhymes adorably, we would have liked it with or without the coffee perk.
Fernie’s Fried Coffee Crispy Caramel Cake tastes like your grandma’s best cake recipe, but with a toss in the deep fryer for fair cooking pleasure. “Absolutely everyone would love this dish,” Peele says.
# 4: Lucky Duck Dumplin ‘- $ 12
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never had duck at the State Fair before. Or that Peele thought the Lucky Duck Dumplin ‘sounded “too fancy.” I tell you to grab a basket of Lucky Duck Dumplins as an appetizer before you dive into the rest of your frying adventure. Make it a progressive dinner! Dumplins are a good start.
Each order comes with three fried meatballs filled with cream cheese and duck bacon. The Thai Chili Glaze Fillet is sweet, spicy, and just the right amount. I could have eaten another portion.
# 5: Pork shots – $ 12
Fat ran down my chin after my first bite of Pork Shots. Each hands-on appetizer is a piece of sausage wrapped in bacon and topped with mac and cheese. Three come with each order.
Pork Shots are savory madness – the kind of food your doctor tells you to avoid. But they taste so fair, and they will appeal to the carnivores in your party.
Note that Pork Shots is only available at one booth, the purple Hans Mueller tent next to Chevrolet’s main stage. They were hard to find, tucked away in the left corner of the tent.
# 6: Texas Pumpkin Poke Cake – $ 10
Pumpkin and spice latte drinkers will surely love the Texas Pumpkin Poke Cake, a simple pumpkin bun covered in vanilla frosting.
We found the fall spices too strong and the cake a bit dry. But they get extra points for the large portion size.
# 7: Crispy Crazy Corn – $ 12
The word “crazy” seems appropriate here, as each kernel of corn is breaded and fried. How do they do this? I’m not sure, but the result earns points for innovation, even if it lacks flavor.
Each bowl of fried corn kernels is topped with smoked pulled pork and coleslaw, making it a bowl of southern ingredients that just didn’t seem to go together. We wanted more personality.
# 8: Fried I-35 – $ 15
The inspiration for this dish is that its dealers wanted to show off some great ingredients that can be picked up while driving north or south on I-35. The base is a fried kolache, although it lacks the chewiness of a large kolache that Czech Texans made so popular. Atop each kolache is a smoked brisket – the star of the dish – topped with Dr Pepper-peach frosting and peach slices. Problem is, how do you eat that barbecue stack? We had a fork but no knife so we tried to pick it up and eat on the side like a piece of pizza. Bad idea, as the peach juice dripped down the side and formed a messy, soggy base.
# 9: Brisket Brisket – $ 12
Breast for dessert? We were in it until the sticky, sweet brittle was stuck in our teeth three hours later. Peele thought the brittle had a strange aftertaste of spice and smoke. I wish they had confit the brisket instead of enclosing it in this difficult to eat dessert.
$ 10: Fried Halloween – $ 15
If you have kids, this will be first on their list. We happily pointed an elementary school child and her mom to the stall, where they bought this giant fluffy pretzel loaded with marshmallow whipped cream, sweet corn syrup, nuggets and a mess of candy. ‘Chocolate Halloween.
But adults: leave that to the children. Fried Halloween is a sugar bomb and a calorie overload, even at the State Fair of Texas.
For more food stories, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.