Yesterday afternoon, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo held its annual Gold Buckle Foodie Awards in which the dozens of carnival food vendors enter their yearly over-the-top culinary creations to be judged by a ravenous pit of on-air media personalities and journalists.
"I've been doing this five years and I never get the bacon table!" cried out a distraught Roula Christie, better known as one-half of The Roula & Ryan Show on 104.1 KRBE, as the table of judges next to her own was presented with a Styrofoam container of chicken-fried bacon. Christie's demand for more pork was answered in quick succession when full-frontal face assault of massive midway dishes featuring bacon, bacon and still more bacon entered the judging area.
See also: - Strapping on the Feedbag: 2010 Gold Buckle Foodie Awards - Meat Sundaes & Deep-Fried Moon Pies: 2011 Gold Buckle Foodie Awards - Fried Red Velvet Cake & Pterodactyl Wings: 2012 Gold Buckle Foodie Awards
Bacon-flavored (and -- disturbingly -- colored) cotton candy. Bacon-topped cinnamon rolls. Chocolate-covered bacon. Bacon breakfast burritos. Bacon-topped baked potatoes. A bacon cheeseburger with two patties, four strips of bacon and four glazed donuts for buns. The Rodeo has clearly figured out a way to weaponize bacon in the form of food.
"Who wants a salt lick-sized Lipitor delivered to their table?" yelled Harry Miller, the Commercial Exhibits Committee member who serves as genial emcee for the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards each year. A few judges half-heartedly raised their hands. The rest of us barely moved, our arteries thumping with pork fat and our limbs slowly turning to bacon.
Kimberley and Tony Revis, the husband-and-wife team who run popular Cypress-area food truck Custom Confections, were surprised by the sheer number of bacon-based entries in this year's Gold Buckle Foodie Awards -- even though they were responsible for one of them: chocolate-covered bacon.
"Our bacon is different, though," Tony assured me. "We use thick, center-cut maple bacon and degrease it. Almost all of the fat is removed." Tony and Kimberley described the painstaking process of grilling the bacon George Foreman-style so that the fat drips off, Kimberley patting each strip dry and hand-painting on the dark chocolate that envelopes the smoky bacon.
I realize that these steps are meant to assure me that the bacon is healthier, but it's still bacon. Covered in chocolate. Nevertheless, if you can't eat chocolate-covered bacon during Rodeo season, is life really worth living?
I'd take the Revis' salty, smoky, sweet treat over the bacon cotton candy any day. Ditto the other bacon confections, most of which ranged from hamfisted (har har) to downright weird.
"There's no sense in being weird for the sake of weird," Tony agreed. "If it doesn't have a good flavor profile, what's the point?"
Unsurprisingly, very few of the bacon entries netted a Gold Buckle Foodie Award. The donut-bunned bacon cheeseburger slipped in there with a second place finish in the Most Creative Food category, but it was another of the Revis' creations that took first place: an ice cream-filled red velvet cupcake.
When asked how they create the specialty item -- which also took first place in last year's Most Creative Food category, albeit in a different flavor -- Kimberley was mum.
"That's a secret," she said, grinning like a Cheshire cat. "But no -- we don't freeze the cupcakes, and we obviously don't bake the ice cream."
A few of my other favorites from the day made it to the top of the pile, including a Fletcher's corny dog -- my platonic ideal of the genre, encased in salty-sweet batter with a light crunch -- and Harlon's Super Baked Potato topped with beef brisket, sausage and turkey that could be split between two or three people.
I admit to being a little glad that most of the bacon-based dishes didn't go all the way, as bacon is quickly becoming a crutch across the food world. The midway vendors at the Rodeo are typically far more creative than this, and definitely better than such entries as the bland, three-foot long sausage topped with two doughy rolls in a weirdly suggestive placement.
The chipper afternoon radio hosts from 89.3 KSBJ ("God listens.") sitting across from me at the judging table didn't seem quite as amused by this pointedly phallic entry as I was. But they agreed at least that not only would the sausage be terribly awkward to walk around gnawing on, it was underwhelming in the flavor department as well.
"As with all things of that nature," said one astute fellow judge of the giant sausage, "it's relying on its size to do all the work. And failing."
Best Breakfast Food: 1st: Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls - Big Stone Breakfast Sandwich 2nd: Texas Skillet - Breakfast Cowboy 3rd: Burton Sausage Company - Breakfast Taco
Best Value Food: 1st: Saltgrass Steakhouse - Ribs & Chicken Platter 2nd: Swain's Pizza on a Stick - Pizza on a Stick 3rd: Harlon's BBQ - Harlon's Super Baked Potato w/ Beef, Sausage & Turkey
Best Food-on-a-Stick: 1st: Berryhill Baja Grill - Shrimp Diablo 2nd: Swain's Pizza on a Stick - Pizza on a Stick 3rd: Biggy's - RCS Carnival - The Big Rib
Classic Fair Food: 1st: Saltgrass Steak House - Pulled Pork Loaded Baked Potato 2nd: Fletcher's Corny Dogs & Funnel Cakes - Original Corny Dog (*New Vendor) 3rd: Ranch House Meats - Turkey Leg
Best Fried Food: 1st: Fletchers Corny Dogs & Funnel Cakes - Original Corny Dog 2nd: Custom Confections - Fried Brownie Ball with Ice Cream 3rd: Sill's Funnel Cakes - Fried Oreos
Most Creative Food: 1st: Custom Confection's - Red Velvet Frosty Bite 2nd: Texas Sized Pizza - Donut Double Bacon Cheeseburger 3rd: Fried What! - Do-E-Oreo
Best New Flavor: 1st: WITH A PERFECT SCORE! Aunt Edmoe's - Cookie Dough Parfait 2nd: Bum's Blue Ribbon Grill - Grilled Pork Ribee's with Dirty Rice 3rd: Fried What! - Do-E-Oreo
Best Dessert: 1st: Go Nuts and More - Cinnamon Glazed Pecans 2nd: Carmelot - RCS Carnival - Apple slices with caramel 3rd: Holmes Smokehouse - Award Winning Apple Pie & Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla