When the expected 2 million fairgoers — or more — stream into the State Fair of Texas in Dallas in September and October 2023, many will head straight to the concession stands. History is made here, where concessionaires deep fry stuff we never thought possible.
On Aug. 9, 2023, more than seven weeks before the gates at Fair Park open, fair executives named the 10 finalists of the Big Tex Choice Awards. These 10 new noshes often bring in big bucks for the concessionaires who spent months — or years — perfecting the recipe.
They’re fair food royalty. As in: If the State Fair were a high school, these 10 finalists are the class president, the homecoming kings and queens, the drum majors, the stars of the football team and the leads in the high school musical.
On with it, you’re probably thinking!
Below are the 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists at the State Fair of Texas in 2023. The list includes five savory items, five sweet. One is a drink.
Deep Fried Cheesy Crab Tater Bites
Crab meat, shredded potato and cheese are formed into tater tots, fried, and topped with cheesy Cajun sauce. Isaac Rousso, one of the winningest concessionaires at the State Fair of Texas and one of its most creative, is the chef behind Deep Fried Cheese Crab Tater Bites.
Deep Fried Pho
How do you fry soup? We’re just about to ask first-time concessionaire Michelle Le. The dish promises noodles, beef, herbs, bean sprouts and pho broth in each bite. Each plate comes with a side of broth as well as lime, jalapeños, cilantro, hoisin and sriracha.
Loaded Fries Pizza
Is it loaded fries or pizza? It’s both. Concessionaire Tom Grace ladles ranch dressing on top of dough, then layers shredded mozzarella, French fries, cheddar cheese and bacon.
OX’cellent Soul Roll
Here’s a first: We have never seen beef oxtail as a Big Tex Choice Awards entry, a State Fair team rep confirms. Oxtail is beef, cut from the tail of cattle. In the Soul Roll, created by Kerston and Shawn Thorns, the oxtail is simmered, chunked and combined with crumbled cornbread, butter, celery and sweet onions. This mixture is then put into a spring roll and fried.
A friendly face in fair food, Abel Gonzales, is back with another finalist entry. (You might know him by his nickname, “Fried Jesus,” as he’s the winner of the inaugural Big Tex Choice Awards for his fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich — which he still sells at his restaurant near Love Field.) Gonzalez says his turkey ribs are “the best part of the turkey you never knew you loved.” They’re fried, served with stuffing-seasoned fries (clever), gravy and salsa.
This sweet treat is New York-style cheesecake with Belgian chocolate and Biscoff cookies. It comes from concessionaire Stephen El Gidi, a first-time Big Tex Choice Award winner.
Bourbon Banana Caramel Sopapillas
Concessionaires Lauren and Cody Hays combine Tex-Mex and New Orleans influences with their sopapillas topped with vanilla-caramel-infused bananas, bourbon syrup, candied pecans, sweetened mascarpone cheese and crumbled Nilla Wafers.
Fernie’s Fried Cherry Pie in the Sky
The family who created Fernie’s deep-fried peaches is back with another sweet treat they call “the best rendition of America’s favorite pie.” The fried cherry pastry has shortbread cookies and a butter-almond-shortbread crumble. It comes with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream and sugared cherries.
Concessionaires Tony and Terry Bernard spent six years trying to get a booth at the State Fair of Texas. They finally secured one in 2021, and their Sweet Encanto is their first Big Tex Choice Awards finalist. This loaded waffle is topped with a swirl of caramel dulce de leche; a cream with slices of strawberry, kiwi, peach and shredded coconut; raspberry jam and family-recipe condensed milk.
A drink! Ruth Hauntz — famous for her fried JELL-O — created a non-alcoholic drink that blends a blend of fruit, cucumber, mint and lemonade. It’s served in a cowboy boot cup.
Although fried foods have been part of State Fair conversations for years, they took center stage in 2005, when the Big Tex Choice Awards began. Since then, fried Coke, chicken-fried bacon, fried bubblegum and fried Thanksgiving dinner have become State Fair celebrities.
The fair also hosts generations of concessionaires — those who remember the 24-day event long before it had a fried-food contest. Long-timers include Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs, which has been selling fried franks since 1942; Nevins Concessions since 1948 and Sutter’s salt water taffy since 1950.
The 10 finalists this year were chosen from 36 semifinalists. The larger list included a surprising and sensational list of culinary treats like a pickle coated in Fruity Pebbles, a cotton candy margarita and deep-fried Vietnamese coffee. Some of those semifinalists will still be sold at the State Fair, some will not; that’s the concessionaires’ choice. Details will be released by the fair at a later date.
For now, you’re left to dream (or shudder?) over the atypical and alluring items bound to attract crowds at the 2023 State Fair of Texas.
The State Fair of Texas runs Sept. 29. 2023 through Oct. 22, 2023 in Dallas’ Fair Park. All 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists will be sold at various locations around the fairgrounds. Locations and prices to come.
For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.