fry it up
State Fair food: What you've absolutely got to try this weekend (and what you might want to miss)
Someone’s suggestion to put chicken in a pancake was a little too plain and simple for Allan Weiss.
“I said, ‘Let’s spice it up a little bit.’ So I decided I’d do it with buffalo chicken strips and then I’d take a stick and put it in, dip it in flapjack batter or pancake batter and then roll it in jalapeno bread crumbs, deep fry it and serve it with a little syrup. That way you get the sweet and the spicy, which, that’s the big deal now,” Weiss said.
Buffalo chicken in a flapjack won the Big Tex Choice Award for Best Taste this year.
Whether you’re stress-eating to calm nerves before the big game or looking for something to sop up the beer in your belly, the almost 200 food locations and carts at the State Fair of Texas have plenty of fried, grilled, baked and frozen treats to satisfy your palate.
Weiss, a food vendor at the fair since 1972, is somewhat of an expert on the topic of fried food. His inventions have made it to the Big Tex Choice Awards finals for the past five years.
“There’s just so many different things you can do. I mean you can fry anything. We did fried black-eyed peas and people said I was crazy. I said, ‘No, It’s good.’ And it is,” Weiss said.
Concessionaire and fair veteran Lydia Turner decided to create something new after more than two decades selling funnel cakes at the state fair.
“We wanted it to have a little bit of healthy, although at a state fair that’s very hard to have something like that because people will not buy it. So we thought,ok, we’ll insert something in there that’s healthy, and yet it’s fried,” Turner said.
El Bananarito was the result. A banana is wrapped in a flour tortilla and then deep fried and topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
The dessert was a finalist for this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards, along with Deep Fried Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Deep Fried Texas Salsa, Fried Autumn Pie, Hans’ Kraut Ball and the Walking Taco. Only one of the finalists is not a fried dish.
“…let’s face it, there’s something about fried food that people just love to have at least once and they can say, ‘Well, this is a fair and I can go back to my regular diet afterwards, but I’ll have one now’,” Turner said.
To encourage all that fried food to make its way through your belly, there is a new beer garden serving Texan and international beer on tap.
The Magnolia Beer Garden on Grand Avenue near BigTex features garden seating with a second-story patio, according to a fair news release. It will be open from 10 am to 10 pm on game day.
If your stomach is full, but you still can't get enough food, visit the Creative Arts Building to see a sculpture celebrating the fair's 125th anniversary. In true State Fair style, it's made from a 1,000-pound slab of butter, according to a fair news release.
For the serious fair foodie, prepare before you enter the park. In the food section of BigTex.com, there is a link to a map that shows eaters where concessions are located and allows you to sort by type of food or concession name.
The map also shows restroom locations, should your adventures in gastronomy go south.
Smartphone users have access to an easy-to-use website, TexasFairGuide.com, which showcases a special food section.
In the meantime, while you’re taking the trip north on Interstate 35, know that the vendors will be ready and waiting.
Jack Pyland IV owns one of the oldest food concessions at the State Fair. His father started Jack’s French Frys after getting out of the U.S. Navy in 1945 and Pyland now works multiple stands with his son.
Pyland said the Red River Rivalry weekend is the biggest for his concession that sits on a corner in Cotton Bowl Plaza, just outside the main gates to the big game.
“The team that wants to stay out here and party is my team,” Pyland said.
Pyland plans to pick up about 15,000 pounds of potatoes before the weekend. He and his employees will start slicing and dicing the spuds at about 4 a.m. on Saturday.
“We’re ready to feed ‘em. Tell ‘em to come hungry.”
Don't know where to start? Here's our guide to State Fair snacks:
Buffalo chicken in a flapjack in the Thrill Way (12 coupons)
It is a buffalo chicken strip that is dipped in flapjack batter, coated in jalapeno bread crumbs and then deep fried. It’s served on a stick and syrup is on the side. This dish took the 2011 Big Tex Choice Award for Best Taste.
Review: “Overall, it’s really good,” said fair-goer Elizabeth Flores, 25. “It’s sweet and spicy.” She added that there was a lot of breading and it was pretty crumbly.
Fried bubblegum at Granny’s Funnel Cakes behind the Gateway Pavilion (9 coupons)
Three marshmallows that taste like bubble gum are battered and fried. Blue frosting and pieces of gum decorate the top. This pink treat won the 2011 Big Tex ChoiceAward for Most Creative.
Review: It was hard eating more than one of these in order to nail down a taste.The inside of the dessert is like the consistency of gum that melts when you start to chew because it was left in your car on a boiling August day. The aftertaste, however, was just like bubblegum. -TM
El Bananarito at the Funnel Cake stand on Fun Way (10 coupons)
A banana wrapped in a flour tortilla is deep fried and then topped with whipped cream, powdered sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract and a cherry. El Bananarito was a 2011 Big Tex Choice Award finalist.
Review: The banana was really big and mushy and kept its flavor. Despite the sugary toppings, the dessert isn’t too sweet thanks to the tortilla jacket. -TM
Deep fried chicken skin at Crispies on the Midway (12 coupons)
Seasoned chicken skin is deep-fried. BigTex.com said it’s a new snack this year.
Review: Fair-goer Amy Hollaman comes to the fair looking for tasty treats. She compared the chicken skins to pork skins and said they were spicy and too salty.
Fried naked tamales at Ruth’s Tamales in Cotton Bowl Plaza (9 coupons)
Three tamales are deep-fried and served with or without chili. BigTex.com said it’s new this year.
Review: You get what you ask for. Frying the tamale adds crunch and even more grease than your standard tamale dish