By Ravin Lee
Fried carrot cake, fried alligator eggs, bacon margaritas: all clear signs that the Texas State Fair is gearing up for yet another year of eclectic delicacies and family fun.
A panel of guest judges tasted the creations to award the “Best Tasting” and “Most Creative” among finalists. This year’s contest was narrowed from 51 entries to eight finalists, Donovan Lewis, host of this year’s contest, said.
The Big Tex Choice Awards began in 2005 as a food competition in which State Fair concessionaires fried up tasty and unique foods for a chance to become a finalist, according to bigtex.com.
Fernie’s Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly, a creation by Christi Erpillo and the Fernie’s team, won “Best Tasting.” Johnna McKee, co-creator of the dish, said Fernie’s team came up with the idea to fry carrot cake while eating it for dessert. McKee said the cake is a piece of cinnamon toast with carrot cake, julienned carrots and raisins in the middle, then rolled tight.
The roll is battered with egg and a cinnamon and panko breadcrumb crust. It is deep-fried and served with caramel sauce and caramel macchiato cream sauce. Fernie’s team has served up fried food at the State Fair for 47 years, McKee said.
This was the eighth time they have been in the finalists in the Big Tex Choice Awards. “My heart is still racing inside,” McKee said. “The nerves come up, and when you hear them say your name, your heart continues racing and racing. Right now, I’m just in wonder and awe.” Fair-goers 21 and older who like bacon can opt to try the Smoky Bacon Margarita, winner of the “Most Creative” award. “It’s a blessing for me and my family, and I feel so fortunate,” Isaac Rousso, creator of the Smoky Bacon Margarita, said.
The Rousso family have been finalists on six occasions. Rousso said the Smoky Bacon Margarita is made by sprinkling bacon onto a classic lime margarita to add a hint of smokiness. The drink is served in a souvenir to-go cup.
In 2013, Rousso won “Best Taste” for his Deep-Fried Cuban Roll, inspired by the Cuban sandwich sold by the Taste of Cuba food truck.
Guest judge and Dallas Mavericks point guard Devin Harris said his favorite fried foods at the contest were the Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy and the Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso. Brookhaven College student Noe Puentes said new food is what kept him going to the fair for the last nine years.
He said some of the new foods caught his eye more than others, such as the Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy. It is a lobster tail “breaded like a chicken fried steak,” creator Abel Gonzales, said.
It is served with corn relish, fries and champagne gravy. Harris said he was able to appreciate each ingredient of the Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso on its own. Other finalists were the Deep Fried Alligator’s Egg Nest and the Cowboy Corn Crunch. All of these creations can be tasted at the State Fair of Texas