You know that smell. It's "fried," when you stand too close to a sizzling basket of fries and the smell soaks into your clothing and hair. The Tower Building in Dallas' Fair Park was filled with a smoky haze, the smell of deep-fried whatever hanging in the air.
For $100 a person, State Fair of Texas food enthusiasts tasted all 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalist foods Sunday afternoon in Dallas' Fair Park. The lingering fried smell we all took home was a party favor.
Of the three potential spots for winning dishes, just two won, much to the surprise of the State Fair of Texas staff and the audience.
A panel of six judges, which included local celebrities and audience member Cali Villacci, a 10-year-old from Grapevine, chose the Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger as both Best Taste - Savory and Most Creative. It's a hamburger topped with bacon and queso, then sandwiched between two small funnel cakes that serve as buns.
Best Taste - Sweet went to Gulf Coast Fish Bowl, an alcoholic drink swimming with Swedish Fish and Nerds candy.
It's the first time the Big Tex Choice Awards has included two Best Taste winners instead of one. Previously, sweet and savory dishes competed against one another.
Gulf Coast Fish Bowl comes from prolific concessionaire Clint Probst, whose penchant for frying has made him known for his fried shrimp, fried meatloaf, and fried chicken and dumplings in past years at the fair. Notably, the 21-and-up Gulf Coast Fish Bowl contains no fried items.
Tom Grace, the creator of the two-time award-winning Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger, has been serving food at the State Fair for 28 years. He's so dedicated to the fair that he continues to run his State Fair concessions business in the off-season, as a catering company.
"It's the craziest thing I've ever put together," he says of the funnel cake burger, which is considerably more outrageous than his other offerings like pizza, lemonade and cheeseburgers. "But it just makes sense."
When Grace was announced as the winner of two awards, he paused, wondering if it was a mistake. (After gaffes at Miss Universe in 2015 and the Oscars in 2017, it could happen.)
"Is that right?" Grace remembers wondering. It was. And it became his first Big Tex Choice Awards win.
For anyone not familiar with the annual Big Tex Choice Awards contest, the winning dishes are the pageant queens in State Fair of Texas food. While all 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists will get special menu markers on their concession stands during the fair, which surely drives business, the winners are the MVPs.
And while frying each dish is not required, most of the 47 entries into this year's Big Tex Choice Awards came battered and dipped in sizzling oil. It's just how it goes.
Aside from the winning foods, the remaining finalists — which will each be sold at the State Fair of Texas, too — are: fried chicken noodle soup; fried Froot Loops; fried Texas Sheet Cake; three mini cream puffs, deep-fried and called Fat Smooth; popcorn topped with pinot noir dust; Texas Fajita Fries; a baked potato stuffed with lobster and steak and called Surfin-Turfin-Tator Boat; and a tamale doughnut.
The State Fair of Texas runs Sept. 29 through Oct. 22 in Fair Park, a neighborhood of Dallas.