Five words: Fernie's Fried Texas Sheet Cake.
This gooey, chocolatey dessert is the best new food of the 10 Big Tex Choice Awards at the State Fair of Texas this year, if you ask our esteemed panel. (And we feel like we can make that definitive choice, since the Guide and GuideLive staff has taste-tested the Big Tex Choice Awards finalists for years. We've eaten dozens of dishes, all award-winning, many fried and most unhealthy. It's a yearly excursion that's as painful as it is delicious.)
Fernie's Fried Texas Sheet Cake received our top score this year, making it the best dish worth your money this season. This brownie cake comes coated in cocoa puffs, panko and cinnamon sugar before it's fried and drizzled with icing, pecans and whipped cream.
Fernie's Fried Texas Sheet Cake is a delicious ode to Texas: It has Dr Pepper in the icing. And it's made by the family who brought the funnel cake to the State Fair of Texas.
If you're entertaining tourists at the fair this year, they simply must try this dish.
Fernie's Fried Texas Sheet Cake is but one of the many interesting Big Tex Choice Awards foods that are worth your coupons at the State Fair of Texas. (We also tasted several you absolutely should not spend money on.) Here is a ranking of all 10 of those dishes, from best to worst. Want to try them all yourself? We also made a map of the spots we hit.
No. 1 best dish: Fernie's Fried Sheet Cake
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Price: 14 coupons, or $7
'Scuse us while we lick the disposable plate. The family that brought the funnel cake and fried peaches and cream to the State Fair of Texas is back again with a winner at the State Fair of Texas. Fernie's Fried Sheet Cake is an intensely sweet piece of chocolate cake that's perfect for a person with a serious sweet tooth or great for a group to share. Don't miss it.
No. 2: Funnel cake bacon queso burger
Score: 3.8 out of 5
Price: 24 coupons, or $12
This outrageous, fun burger is going to be the most popular of the whole list of Big Tex Choice Awards because it nabbed two of the three accolades this year, Most Creative and Best Taste - Savory. It's truly both: It's a deliciously silly blend of beef, fake cheese and bacon that's creatively bookended with funnel cakes instead of hamburger buns. If you didn't dribble cheese down your shirt after the first bite, you've done it wrong. "I would run an extra 10 miles for this," said our Brentney Hamilton, an avid runner. (The rest of us? We'd run zero extra miles and still eat it. Because it's "so damn delicious," as beer and cocktails editor Tiney Ricciardi put so well.)
No. 3: Deep-fried Froot Loops
Score: 3.8 out of 5
Price: 12 coupons, or $6, for two -- which feels like a deal
Do you drink the milk in the bottom of your cereal bowl? Then you (and your kids) are going to like the fried Froot Loops, which are like a fried crepe filled with marshmallows and cereal. We didn't come excited to try this one but found it to be a delightful surprise.
No. 4: Tamale doughnut
Score: 3.6 out of 5
Price: 12 coupons, or $6
Is it a tamale or is it a doughnut? It's both: It's a pork-filled tamale encased in masa, deep-fried and curved into a circle. Some of our panel wanted more spice and more sauce. Others thought it was just right, "if a little gimmicky," says copy editor Sarah Kramer. When a gimmicky food tastes this good, we'll let it slide.
No. 5: Fat Smooth
Score: 3 out of 5
Price: 14 coupons, or $7
It's a bad name for a dessert. Let's start there. But this cream puff dipped in Cafe du Monde beignet batter and fried, then covered in chocolate and caramel sauce, is "sexy," as our music critic Kelly Dearmore put it. "It was messy and unrefined, kinda like me," he joked. Truthfully, it was messy, and a terrible dessert to share. But ooh, cream and chocolate and fried stuff tastes right at the State Fair.
No. 6: Surfin' Turfin' Tator Boat
Score: 2.8 out of 5
Price: 60 coupons, or $30!
This stuffed baked potato costs $30, you guys. If you're willing to dip into your savings account for this one, though, it's a seriously filling dish packed with lobster and beef. Here's where it went wrong: Some of the meat was chewy and the cheese tasted cheap. Should you decide to lay down the cash for this one, you'll be rewarded with buttery bites of lobster, making you feel like a Kardashian noshing on fine food at the fair.
No. 7: Texas Fajita Fries
Score: 2.4 out of 5
Price: 26 coupons, or $13
"I don't get it," Dearmore said as he scooped his fork into a bread cone filled with beef fajita, sour-cream-guac sauce and shredded lettuce. Texas Fajita Fries are suffering from an identity crisis: The main event, that cone filled with meat and stuff, isn't very good. The fried jalapenos and onions served on the side are the best part. Reporter Charlie Scudder faulted it for its structure; video game reporter Britton peele wanted more meat; Guide editor Sara Burgos said it was hard to eat. This one needs work.
No. 8: Deep-fried chicken noodle soup on a stick
Score: 2.2 out of 5
Price: 18 coupons, or $9
The idea behind deep-fried chicken noodle soup on a stick is on point; the execution is off, though. What results are squishy orbs of chicken and other bits that lack seasoning and structure. Dunk 'em in the side of salty chicken broth and you're better off, though the bite goes from squishy to soggy. Skip this one unless you really love soup.
No. 9: Pinot noir popcorn
Score: 1.6 out of 5
Score: 20 coupons, or $10
The popcorn's not the problem here. If they called it caramel and cheddar popcorn, we'd gobble it up. Call it pinot noir popcorn, and we go searching for wine -- which just isn't there. Instead, Ricciardi said the purple pieces tasted like "stale grape soda." The rest of us are still waiting for the buzz. Don't pay $10 for purple popcorn.
No. 10: Gulf Coast fish bowl
Score: 1.5 out of 5
Score: 24 coupons, or $12
What even is this? The Gulf Coast fish bowl was shockingly named Best Taste - Sweet by the fair's panel of judges. It's a cup of blue alcohol that resembles the bottom of a dirty aquarium -- or worse, the "algae in Caddo Lake," Dearmore points out. Down in the bottom, Nerds candy and Swedish Fish swim lazily while a circular slice of pineapple sags on top of the glass. "It's a hangover in a glass," says events editor Shannon Sutlief. She is so right.
Big thanks to the taste-testers with iron stomachs: Rose Baca, Sara Burgos, Dawn Burkes, Kelly Dearmore, Brentney Hamilton, Sarah Kramer, Britton Peele, Ann Pinson, Tiney Ricciardi, Charlie Scudder, Shannon Sutlief and David Woo.
Methodology: Each taster is required to give a score for each food, 1-5. Scores are averaged for each dish, then all 10 dishes are ranked based on scores. It's a fun event, to be sure, but please understand: We take State Fair of Texas food very seriously.