A little over a month ago, after a delicious but entirely too filling ten-course meal at Soma Sushi, I made a pact with myself: no more multi-course meals. A giant part of me had broken inside -- both philosophically and physically. No one is supposed to eat that much food in one sitting. We aren't Romans -- we have better ways to occupy our time now than grand food orgies, and we don't expend the energy afterward marching or pillaging or whatever physical activities Romans did to burn off those calories either.
I held fast to my pact throughout February. "Oh, poor, poor, pitiful you," you may be exclaiming to yourself. But exercising dietary restraint when you are paid -- at least in part -- to write about food on a daily basis can be considerably difficult. It's akin to avoiding watching television if you're an entertainment writer, or beating up Johns if you're a pimp. Easier said than done.
Yesterday, my feeble pact was brought to a crashing yet glorious demise at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's Gold Buckle Foodie Awards. Ten-course meals of delicate bites of fish paled in comparison to the cornucopia that was brought in from the Rodeo's many food vendors for an assortment of Houston's media personalities to judge: deep-fried cheeseburgers, chicken-fried meatballs on a stick, baked potatoes covered with five pounds of meat, cupcakes the size of a chihuahua, chocolate-dipped fried Twinkies and something ominously called "Millenium Chips."
The men and women of the Commercial Exhibitors Committee came up with the idea last year to feature a contest between the Rodeo's various food vendors; the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards are the result. Not all of the vendors are local -- some, like Harlon's Bar-B-Que, come from small towns like Nacogdoches -- so the stakes are higher for those out-of-towners who've brought their wares to put up against some of Houston's more established rodeo food vendors like Sudie's or Saltgrass.
Over the course of 12 categories and close to 125 different entries, the judges consumed countless calories. I began to feel greasy, sluggish, dazed and defeated only two hours into the nearly four-hour ordeal. Our table had already worked our way through two burrito entries, two baked potato entries, a corn dog, chicken-fried meatballs, fish tacos, five different kinds of barbecue and sausage, pizza on a stick and even a few bites of deep-fried cheeseburger. And dessert still loomed ahead like a dark, chocolate-covered storm.
The group consensus at our judging table -- which included Jenny Wang from 1560 AM, Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle, Jane Kremer from My Table and John DeMers of 650 AM -- was that most of the food we tried wasn't very good. Far from being discomforted by this fact, though, we were excited to single out the good food from the bad, and this is why: If you're going to pay $12 for a baked potato at the rodeo (which is highly likely), you should know that you're going to get something that tastes good for the price.
And that's the great thing about the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards. Aside from the friendly competition between vendors, the results function as an unbiased guide to rodeo food for the uninitiated. Sure, that chocolate-dipped cheesecake sounds delicious, but will it live up to the hype? (For the record, the answer is YES.)
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At the end of the ordeal, winners were presented in each of the 12 categories. Pay close attention to this list and use it as your map to finding the best food at the rodeo -- some good should come of the nearly lethal cholesterol levels that were reached in the process of gleaning the winners, after all:
- Best Breakfast Food: Stubby's Cinnamon Rolls' breakfast sandwich
- Best Taco/Burrito: Texas Skillet's trailboss burrito
- Best Seafood: Sudie's fried shrimp
- Best Baked Potato: Harlon's Bar-B-Que brisket and turkey potato (this baked potato received a rare perfect score from the judges, so you know it's worth the price and the calories)
- Best Burger: Paradise Burger's bacon double-meat double cheeseburger
- Best Food-on-a-Stick: Granny's Cheesecake's chocolate-dipped strawberries (another perfect score from the judges)
- Best Fried Food: Berryhill Baja Grill's crispy fish tacos
- Best Barbecue: Saltgrass Steakhouse's chicken and ribs platter
- Best Dessert: Crown Cinnamon Roll's cinnamon roll
- Best New Flavor: Sudie's shrimp BLT
- Most Creative Food: Sudie's ceviche
- Favorite Food: Crown Cinnamon Roll's cinnamon roll
In short, anything you purchase at Sudie's is likely to be good, and Crown's might make the best cinnamon roll in all of creation (watch out, Cinnabon). Also for your consideration: Fried Pop Tarts are not as good as they sound, pizza on a stick comes on a paint stirrer, which should give you some indication as to how heavy and terrible for you it is, and you should come equipped with plenty of Maalox before you begin hitting up the food stands at the rodeo. Your stomach and esophagus will thank you for it.
For photos of all the food and even more descriptions of how likely it is to kill you and/or taste awesome, check out our slideshow.