|Christi Erpillo, her Mother Fernie, Johnna McKey|
This year eight items were selected as finalists to compete in the Big Tex Choice Awards. Making the finals virtually ensures a huge payoff because of the press surrounding this event. Winning the contest can take a vendor into the six figure mark and earn them an annual salary over the 6-week course of the Fair!
This year (according to the judges), the Best Tasting award went to Christi Erpillo for Fernie’s Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly, while Isaac Rousso took the title of Most Creative for his Smoky Bacon Margarita.
|Isaac Rousso with his family|
In addition to their winning titles, both champions received a set of Michelin Defender LTX tires as an added bonus. I arrived hungry and eager to bring you back all the scoop on which foods are worth your coupons at this year's State Fair.
Clearly, the judges had voiced their opinions on the two best dishes, but I wanted to weigh in with my thoughts on which items are worth your hard-earned dollars.
FERNIE'S HOLY MOLY CARROT CAKE ROLY by CHRISTI ERPILLO
A finalist in nine of the past 11 competitions, Christi Erpillo is no stranger to the Big Tex Choice Awards – or the State Fair of Texas for that matter. Serving as concessionaires at the Fair for 47 years now, Christi’s family is known for first introducing the funnel cake to the State Fair of Texas in the early 1980s. They deserve a lifetime achievement award or something just for that!! Taking a unique spin on a traditional dessert, Fernie’s Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly turns carrot cake into a heaven-filled roll. Golden-baked bread swirled with cinnamon has been flattened and filled with moist carrot cake, plump raisins and crunchy julienned carrots. Rolled with a light coating of cream cheese and then breaded in a mixture of panko, graham crackers, cinnamon and nutmeg.
The judges named this dish the BEST TASTING for 2015. Personally, I'm more of a savory than a sweet person, but this dish did earn two thumbs way up from me. Moist and delicious on the inside with a slight crunch on the outside and a yummy gooey caramel sauce to dip it in.... oh yeah. If you love carrot cake, this item is a MUST for your Fair visit.
SMOKY BACON MARGARITA by ISSAC ROUSSO
The judges thought that Isaac Rousso hit home with the Smoky Bacon Margarita, naming it MOST CREATIVE in this year's awards. According to Rousso, this drink takes an unconventional pairing of flavors adds a subtle smoky taste to a traditionally tangy drink. With just a hint of smoke, this creation still captures the zesty citrus flavor of a traditional margarita. Finished off with a pinch of bacon crumbles on top, this thirst-quenching drink is served in a collectible souvenir cup for an added funky flair. Fairgoers can sip on this refreshing beverage and cool off from the Texas heat! Contains alcohol – must be 21 years of age.
I am not a huge margarita fan to begin with. I don't like tequila and can't stand that manufactured mix taste. This one fell right into that category for me. It's basically a frozen margarita made from some awful mix with bacon bits sprinkled on top. I didn't taste any of the "smoke" infusion Rousso was talking about. It really doesn't matter if it's any good or not... it's a frozen margarita and it has bacon in it. He will sell a kajillion of them. Is it worth the coupons? Not in my book.
CHICKEN FRIED LOBSTER WITH CHAMPAGNE GRAVY by ABEL GONZALES
Adding a flair of Fair to a traditionally sophisticated dish, this seafood spread includes an entire lobster tail, breaded and deep fried to perfection. Served with a rich sauce combining lemon butter and champagne gravy, the Chicken Fried Lobster is not your typical carnival concoction. With the lavishness of a lobster dinner and the fried factor of a traditional fair food, this dish will satisfy both a fondness for fanciness and a craving for the classics.
Oh my freakin' goodness to high heaven. I could have eaten 10 of these. Definitely one of my favorite dishes of the day. The lobster was cooked to perfection with a light breading so the crust didn't overpower the taste of the lobster and the gravy on the fries was a delicious accompaniment. I asked Abel how much this was going to be - I mean, it's an entire tail of lobster! - and he told me that while he was in negotiations with his seafood market, he had been waiting to see if he won so he could gauge demand and lock in a price on lobster. I can assure you that this will be the most expensive food ever sold at the Fair but for those of you who want to wear your fancy pants to parade around Fair Park, it is well worth however many coupons Gonzales ends up charging.
PRETZEL-CRUSTED POLLO QUESO by ALLAN WEISS
With a hint of Tex-Mex in both its name and its flavor, the Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso is just the right amount of spice. Shredded chicken is combined with a rich blend of cream cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, cilantro and Sriracha sauce. Rolled into a ball and crusted with a crispy pretzel breading, this item is then deep fried to golden perfection. Served with a jalapeño ranch dipping sauce for an extra kick, this dish is crunchy on the outside while keeping its center perfectly soft and gooey for the ultimate savory experience.
Hold on. I can't talk with my mouth full of such delicious, ooey-gooey goodness!! This is one of those dishes that I wasn't at all excited to try and then I took a bit and - WHAM - it was love at first bite. If you are a fan of hot dips with crackers, you will love this. It's totally worth the coupons and you will NOT want to share.
COWBOY CORN CRUNCH by ISAAC ROUSSO
In a state known for its cowboy culture, this creation captures the quintessential taste of Texas – all in one bite. A kickin’ mixture of sweet corn, minced jalapeño, rich cream cheese and a hint of smoky bacon, the Cowboy Corn Crunch is the perfect blend of savory and spice. This flavorful tot is fried to a golden, crispy brown and served in a unique palm leaf cone, proving especially convenient when walking while snacking around the fairgrounds.
Where Rousso totally failed me with the Bacon Smoked Margarita, he won me back over with this dish. Get your taste buds ready because the first bite will knock your boots off! The texture is very similar to a hush puppy. More of a side dish than an entree, this is definitely up there in my top dishes because of the sweetness of the corn combined with the punch of the fresh jalapeño. It will have you hollering' "Yee haw!"
DEEP FRIED ALLIGATOR'S EGG NEST by CASSY JONES
Also making its Big Tex Choice Awards debut this year, alligator throws a whole new flavor into the mix. Giving fairgoers the true Cajun experience without having to travel all the way to the swamplands, the Deep Fried Alligator’s Egg Nest blends rich alligator meat with Monterey Jack cheese, chopped jalapeños, onions and garlic. This flavorful mixture is then rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried to the perfect golden brown. Served atop a “nest” of shoestring potatoes and drizzled with a chipotle sauce, this dish will make you feel like a real ragin’ Cajun!
Meh. It wasn't good. It wasn't bad. There are just so many better things to try that I don't recommend you wasting coupons on this mediocre "egg",
LONE STAR PORK HANDLE by JUSTIN MARTINEZ
The Lone Star Pork Handle takes a hand-cut bone-in pork chop, marinates it with a rich pork rub, then dips it in batter made from Texas' own Lone Star Beer®. The seasoned pork chop is then smothered in toasted bread crumbs and deep fried to a crisp, golden brown. Finished off with a coat of bourbon barbeque glaze, this savory dish will leave you nothing short of satisfied. As defined in its name, the bone serves as a handle, making this item convenient and easy to carry!
I found the pork chop to be dry and I would imagine that this will be a problem they maintain throughout their run of churning these out in high quantities. I am also not a fan of sweet sauces on my meat, so this dish didn't wow me. It was just... okay.
FRIED BEER-BATTERED BUFFALO by JAMES BARRERA
Sweeter and richer than the highest quality cut of beef, buffalo meat is another “first” on the Big Tex Choice Awards’ list this year. This dish takes lean ground buffalo and gives it the Texas treatment – flavored with a Mesquite smoke and rolled in Pequin chili pepper, known as our state’s official native pepper. The meat is then crusted in crushed Corn Nuts® and dipped in a batter made from Shiner Bock Beer®, also native to the Lone Star State. Lightly dusted with bacon bits and served with a chipotle cream sauce, the Fried Beer-Battered Buffalo is a tiny taste of Texas.
No. Hell no. This is nothing more than a meatball that's been deep-fried in batter. Save your coupons for a Fletcher's Corny Dog.
So, there you have it: the amazing, the okay and the Bacon Smoked Margarita. I hope that everyone makes it out to the State Fair of Texas this year. It's always one of my FAVORITE outings. Enjoy and bon appetite!!