The food at the Texas State Fair could be a considered its own culinary subgenre. You can get deeply invested in whether the Bacon Cinnamon Rolls (2013) deserved the top spot in the Big Tex Choice Awards. You can indulge the over-the-top nature of the Chicken Fried Lobster and Champagne Gravy (2015). You can throw your hands in the air and give in to the gluttony of the Surfin’ Turfin’ Tater Boat (2017). The world of (mostly fried) State Fair foods awaits your marvel and judgment, and it’s time to dive in.
The thirty semifinalists in the Big Tex Choice Awards were revealed this week—but just their names. So far, there are no substantial details about the ingredients or concepts behind the dishes, or any indication of what they might look like. Some of them are fairly self-explanatory (“Deep Fried Shepherd’s Pie” is presumably a deep-fried shepherd’s pie; “Southern Fried Chicken Nachos” are probably nachos topped with a whole lot of fried chicken), but there are a number of seemingly more abstract foodstuffs listed among the potential award winners. So we’re taking our best guesses at what this year’s semifinalists have in store for us. Stay tuned for mid-August, when the finalists are announced, and we can see how close we actually came.
Corn Dog Ale
“Corn dog” = State Fair classic. “Ale” = State Fair classic. “Corn dog” + “Ale” = ?
We’re going to assume that “corn dog” is the modifier here, and the beer is the subject of the dish, otherwise this would probably be called “Beer-Battered Corn Dog” or something (which, now that we’re thinking about it, sounds extremely good). Infused beers are certainly a real thing; we’ve heard of suds being mashed up with fruit, tea, or—in one extreme case—Marshmallow Peeps®. So if this is indeed a corn dog–infused beer, it represents an escalation of the trend, which means by 2021 the State Fair will probably be infusing beers with Raspberry Twinkie Stardust Chicken Fried Steak. Or something.
Deep Fried Ranch
This is straightforward—it’s ranch dressing, right? Deep fried? We’ll guess that this involves a generous dollop of ranch, a pouch made out of some sort of breading, and a dip in boiling liquid fat until it’s crispy and golden brown. Deep-frying liquids is pretty standard as far as State Fair foods goes (beer and Dr Pepper have both been tackled), and ranch dressing is such a natural choice that we’re genuinely shocked it hasn’t been a staple since 1998.
Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce
This is more Carolina than Texas, but what the heck? We can expand our horizons here. A Hoppin’ John Cake is a mix of rice, black-eyed peas, bacon, and onions, smooshed into a cake-like patty. That’s easy enough. But what, we ask, is “Jackpot Sauce”? A quick Google search yields results referring specifically to this list of finalists. So we’ll just guess that this rice and pea patty is topped with a sauce that makes us feel like we won the lottery! How about cheese? Yes, cheese, of course. But this is the State Fair, so we’re going to guess said cheese is combined with something unusual like, uh, champagne. This is a Hoppin’ John Cake with a queso-and-champagne sauce. And if it isn’t, well, try that out for next year?
Texas Fried Hill Country
Okay, this one is ridiculous. You can’t fry the Hill Country! It’s enormous. You would need a deep fryer that was several hundred square miles wide, and probably at least a few hundred feet deep. Where would you even put such a thing? And who would you be feeding this to?
We’ll assume that this is not the actual Hill Country, then, but rather an item that involves some iconic Hill Country foodstuff (maybe peaches?), with a little bit of chicken-fried.
This sounds nonsensical, but it’s probably just a Texified pun on “Twinkie,” which frankly sounds kind of like pandering to us. We’d anticipate a spongy yellow cake, with a more-Texas-than-usual filling of some sort stuffed inside. It sounds fine, if you like to eat puns.
Gonna go ahead and guess that this is just some hard sugar candy with bacon pieces where the nuts usually go, and we’re here for it.
Cherish Erbert Champagne
Okay, we’re stumped. We thought maybe “Cherish Erbert” was a person’s name—but a quick glance at Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Google tell us no such human being has ever walked the Earth. It could be a dog, we guess, but what’s that dog doing with champagne? Drink water, dog, it’s better for you.
We’ve got two possible scenarios:
- “Cherish” is a verb meaning “to protect and care for.” “Erbert” is a not-particularly-common surname, most often referenced in the name of the small Eau Claire, Wisconsin–based sandwich chain, Erbert & Gerbert’s. They do not serve champagne, and the only Texas location we could identify during a cursory search was in San Marcos, four hours from Fair Park. That seems like a dead end to us.
- If you say “Cherish Erbert” quickly it sounds sort of like cherry sherbet. Is this cherry-flavored frozen champagne?
This does fall under the “sweet” category, rather than the “savory,” so maybe it’s mixed with something fruity or sugary? It could be a cake with champagne in the batter, or it could be a champagne gussied up like a sangria. Who knows? Your imagination is the only limit in the land of Cherish Erbert.
Cotton Candy Taco
First off, yuck. Second . . . okay, we’re intrigued. What kind of tortilla do you use for this thing? If it’s corn, flour, wheat, etc.—get out of here and never come back. If it’s, say, a waffle or something, though, we could talk ourselves into this.
Given that this passed a panel of qualified judges to make it into the semis, we’re going to assume it’s not actually disgusting, so our money’s on the waffle stuffed with cotton candy and maybe some other sugary confection to provide some crunch.
Fruity Dessert Nachos
We’ll guess that this is crispy wedges of fried dough, like a churro, arranged in nacho-like fashion, with fruity toppings in place of beans/meat/cheese.
Orange You Glad We Fried It?!
We would be, but we have no idea what “it” is here.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s probably orange. Within that, though, the sky’s the limit: It could be orange fruit snacks. It could be Orange Julius, tucked into a ball of dough and deep fried. It could be actual orange slices. It could be carrots, and the pun is just on the color, rather than the flavor? (What kind of a monster would do that, though?) Either way, we expect something fruit-flavored and orange in color, deep fried and indulgent. Our hasty assessment is that the real star of the show here is the interrobang at the end of the title.
State Fair Fun-L Cake Ice Cream
The puns continue as we get the “fun-l” cake. Hard to pretend that this one needs a pun, though, honestly—we’re talking about funnel cakes and ice cream, we get it.
The Roll Tide
This is, er, not a particularly Texas-themed title. We chased down a hunch that maybe this was a top prize winner at the Alabama State Fair, and its chef decided to take the creation to Texas, where the true agony and ecstasy of state fair food is in full effect. But nope, it does not appear that this is the case.
While investigating that, though, we did learn that the food at the Alabama State Fair is, er, rather pedestrian compared to the spectacular innovations here in Texas. Check out this list of the “Top 5 Eats at the Alabama National Fair“—it starts with deep-fried PB&J, and only gets more boring from there. Regular old cheese curds! “Pork on a Stick,” which are literally just chunks of pork, served on a stick! Friggin’ peanuts! Get it together, Alabama.
With that in mind, we’re going to assume that “The Roll Tide” is a ham sandwich on Wonder bread, with mayonnaise. Take it back to Alabama, buddy—this is Texas.