On the Road

The Texas State Fair: Specializing in Fried Crap, 125 Years and Counting

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.

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.

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Katharine Shilcutt