The Fern family, who has put the fried in fair fare for decades, has done it again.
The family introduced the pinnacle of fried food — the funnel cake — to the State Fair of Texas 1981. They've made it to the finals of the Big Tex Choice Awards nine times out of 11, last winning in 2009 for Fernie's Deep Fried Peaches and Cream.
On Sunday, they did it again. Fernie's Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly bested a lineup of seven other concoctions to win the Best Taste prize in the 11th annnual food contest.
"It's fantastic," said family matriarch Wanda Fern Winter, 89, whose family has been part of the State Fair since 1967.
Once again, the family will now have to prepare for the long lines that follow the big win.
So will Isaac Rousso, whose Smoky Bacon Margarita won the Most Creative Award.
"We know America is infatuated with bacon and we thought no one has made a margarita with bacon," he said.
"It's a full-time job," Rousso said about entering the contest. "The bar gets raised every year."
Rousso was especially happy to have two entries make the final eight. His Cowboy Corn Crunch combines sweet corn, minced japaleño, rich cream cheese and a hint of smoky bacon in a palm leaf cone.
"It's pretty spicy," said judge Bridget Russell.
Most judges raved about all the entries and said it was hard to choose a favorite.
Dan Rodo, YouTube personality and host of a new local television show called Let's Go! DFW, said the winning entry was like "carrot cake in a spring roll."
The mouth-watering description: "Golden-baked bread swirled with cinnamon has been flattened and filled with moist carrot cake, plump raisins and crunchy julienned carrots. It's rolled with a light coating of cream cheese and then breaded in a mixture of panko, graham crackers, cinnamon and nutmeg."
Joanne Czerwinski, whose sister Christi Erpillo created the carrot cake treat, said the dessert will be served at the family's stand and also at its restaurant, The Dock.
She said they're ready for a crowd.
"When we offered fried macaroni and cheese, we had to have 18 people in the kitchen to keep up with demand," she said of the 2006 finalist. "We also have many regulars every year."
Many concessionaires enter the State Fair of Texas' food contest year after year.
Abel Gonzales created the Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy this year. He's won several times, and most recently in 2012 for Fried Jambalaya.
This is the fourth year for Justin Martinez to enter the contest. He's made it to the top eight three times and won twice. He grabbed the Most Creative Award in 2013 for his popular Fried Thanksgiving Dinner and in 2014 for his Funnel Cake Ale.
"I love the competition," Martinez said.
Another repeat entrant, Allan Weiss, offered Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso this year. He won the top prize in 2011 for Buffalo Chicken in a Flapjack.
And James Barrera, who operates Barrera's food booth on the midway, cooked up Fried Beer-Battered Buffalo for his entry this year.
First-time entrant Cassy Jones said she really hoped to win with her Deep Fried Alligator's Egg Nest dish.
"I wanted to think outside of the box," she said of her "alligator meat with cheese, chopped jalapeños, onions and garlic" resting on a nest of shoestring potatoes and drizzled with chipotle sauce.
But making the finals the first time was still a treat.
"I've been cooking since I was 10," she said.
And, like the others, she said she'll be back for another swing at first place.
The eight fried finalists:
- Chicken-fried lobster with Champagne gravy by Abel Gonzales
- Deep Fried Alligator's Egg Nest by Cassy Jones
- Fried beer-battered buffalo by James Barrera
- Lone Star pork handle by Justin Martinez
- Pretzel-crusted pollo queso by Allan Weiss
- Cowboy corn crunch by Rousso
- Fernie's Holy Moly Carrot Cake by Erpillo -- best taste winner
- Smoky bacon margarita by Rousso -- most creative winner
Read the ingredients in each fried finalist here.
- Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks point guard and member of the 2009 NBA All-Star Team
- Drew Pearson, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and host of "Big Game Sunday"
- Dan Rodo, YouTube phenomenon and host of new TV show "Let's Go! DFW"
- John Tesar, renowned chef and owner of local restaurants Knife, Oak and El Bolero
- Tiffinni Young, Dallas native, community leader and Dallas City Councilwoman for District 7
Audience member Bridget Russell, who was chosen to serve as a judge via a random drawing at the event
By DEBORAH FLECK, Metro reporter for The Dallas Morning News