Somehow, carnival food just lends itself to improper jokes. Or maybe it's because I was sitting at a table with CultureMap's Eric Sandler, Zagat's Amber Ambrose, Houstonia's Katharine Shilcutt and freelance beer nerd Joshua Justice. Regardless, our table ended up with a lot of sausage and corn dogs, and we loved every second of it.
This year marked the sixth year for the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards, a contest that judges all the Rodeo fair food in eight different categories: Best Breakfast Food, Best Value Food, Best Food-on-a-Stick, Classic Fair Food, Most Creative Food, Best Fried Food, Best New Flavor and Best Dessert. Each table of local media personalities and food-lovers tasted 14 courses of fair food ranging from ribs to cinnamon rolls.
Throughout the tasting, the hosts, Harry Miller, vice chairman of headquarters on the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest Committee, and Michelle Lilie, vice chairman on the Commercial Exhibits Committee, kept reminding the judges how much unhealthy food they (we) were eating.
They quipped that we'd need some insulin after the dessert round and asked us frequently if we could feel our arteries clogging. Silly? Sure. Helpful? Not so much. Just let me eat a bacon-wrapped turkey leg without thinking about the consequences to my health, would ya?
The various media outlets who were there covering the event were fun to watch, as they'd all swarm one table and then swiftly move on to another as more and more impressive dishes were brought out. Of particular interest were a giant beef rib, huge turkey legs (like, I'm pretty sure they came from dinosaurs), pickle-stuffed corn dogs, a beautiful cookie parfait and, of course, that ever-present but never appreciated bacon cotton candy. It looked like home insulation, and from the expressions on judges' faces, I get the impression it tasted even worse.
Fortunately, it seemed to me that there was much less bacon than I heard was present at last year's event. Yes, the bacon-wrapped turkey legs and sausages on a stick were still there, as were the cotton candy and chocolate-covered bacon. But aside from those, bacon largely played a supporting role -- crumbled over a baked potato or mixed in with a side of green beans.
Speaking of green food ... yeah, those green beans and a few nuclear waste-colored pickles were about it. In fact, my table complained when a dish arrived with a side of green beans. This is the Rodeo, people! Healthy food need not apply!
In all, the food was impressive -- in size, in calories, in creativity and even in WTF-factor (I'm looking at you, bacon cotton candy). There's just as much fried food and just as much over-the-top, borderline obscene eats as one would hope to find at an event as big and bad as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Well done, vendors, well done. This food writer is vanquished.
Read on to see the winners in all eight Gold Buckle Foodie Awards categories.
Best Breakfast Food Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls, Big Stone Breakfast Sandwich
Best Value Food Triple J's Smokehouse, Super J Baked Potato with Chopped Beef, Sausage and Ribs ($13)
Best Food-on-a-Stick Saltgrass Steak House, Grilled Chicken Kabob
Classic Fair Food Saltgrass Steak House, Pulled Pork Stuffed Baked Potato
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Most Creative Food Custom Confections, Lemon Cream Frosty Bite
Best Fried Food Kettle Korn of Texas, Fried Pie
Best New Flavor Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls, Cinnamon Roll Pancakes
Best Dessert Aunt Edmoe's, Cookie Dough Parfait