The Texas State Fair: Specializing in Fried Crap, 125 Years and Counting
Fried sauerkraut balls: a State Fair food that actually makes sense.
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Texas State Fair, held every fall in Dallas at the wonderfully art deco Fair Park. I honestly had no idea until I went to the fair late last week, however. You'd think there'd be some more momentous foodstuffs to mark the occasion.
Alas, the biggest news this year was fried beer. Served with nacho cheese. O Texas, our Texas...
To be fair (no pun intended), fried beer has more or less been the Holy Grail of Texas State Fair food since the fair started giving out Big Tex Choice Awards in 2005. Texans -- especially those in attendance at the yearly State Fair -- love beer and love fried crap, so finding a way to combine the two has been on every competitive food vendor's brain for the past seven years.
The first tough little pellets of "fried beer" showed up at the State Fair last year, where the Dallas Observer's Alice Laussade documented the judges' disgusted reactions to the lager-filled ravioli in "Okay, Who Put Food In My Beer?":
The Dallas Observer's own food critic, Hanna Raskin, takes advantage of the opportunity to try a free fried beer with the same eagerness I had. She bites in and warm beer spews all over Maki's judging table. It's a beautiful fried-beer spit take, complete with bitter-fried-beer face. It reminds me of that fair vomming scene in Stand By Me, only it's fried beer barf-o-rama instead of blueberry pies.
The photo is blurry because fried beer projects a haze of warm, fat-saturated alcohol.
Laussade, who was nominated for a James Beard Award for the article, told me all about the endless struggle to create a tasty fried beer over breakfast this past weekend at the oddly Austin-like All Good Cafe in Deep Ellum.
"You know, those guys are actually using molecular gastronomy," she said of the food vendors who labor to create the endless permutations of deep-fried insanity each year. The key, she explained, is finding a way to keep the beer cold at the same time as its wrapper is deep-fried. That's something that no one has yet figured out, however.
Scott Reitz, the three-months-new food critic for the Observer, was with us at breakfast. But unlike the two of us, he hadn't tasted the fried beer at the fair yet.
"Is it good?" he asked.
"No," we both replied emphatically, at the same time. "It's a pocket of shitty, warm beer," I followed. "And it squirts everywhere when you eat it." I explained the embarrassment of trying to prevent my 87-year-old grandmother from getting fried beer all over herself at the fair earlier that week.
"See?" said Laussade. "No one wants to moneyshot their grandmother."
Perhaps the worst sin that the fried beer committed, however, was being served with a side of pump-action nacho cheese, a shade best described as "Toxic Aveng-orage." But that's not to say that all of the fried food was bad.
The fried Frito pie comes close to being an improvement on the original. But not quite close enough.
For this year's State Fair -- which runs for another 13 days, so you still have two weekends to get your fat ass up to Dallas -- Laussade put together a map of the "fried heaven" to be found at the fair. It includes entries such as fried biscuits and gravy, fried banana pudding and fried chicken skin.
I stupidly did not use Laussade's guide when exploring the fair with my family this past week, and stumbled instead into the withered arms of the soul-leeching fried watermelon, covered in funnel cake batter and musty-tasting confectioner's sugar. It killed what little urge I had left to explore any more fried foods, although I'd managed to at least taste the fried beer -- which, somehow, was not worse than that nuclear pink, microwaved watermelon -- and the dual wonders of fried sauerkraut balls and fried Frito Pie.
I wonder if the architects of the grand, gold-leafed Tower Building envisioned a glorified human feed trough inside their structure when it was built in 1936.
The sauerkraut was by far my favorite, a fried food that almost made sense (especially in the context of our state's German heritage): tendrils of sauerkraut tucked together with diced pork in a nicely thin and crunchy shell that was perked up even more with spicy mustard. And although it's impossible to improve upon the Frito pie, the deep-fried version certainly came close.
Me, I came close to trying the deep-fried chicken skin I kept seeing at every turn, until this DM showed up in my Twitter account, from Laussade: "Pass on the fried Chk skin if it's not already too late-- expensive and nasty."
Next year, I'm hoping for fried kolaches. Someone come through for me, Dallas.
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