The Gold Buckle Foodie Awards celebrates its eleventh year separating the cream from the milk when it comes to carnival fare at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Yesterday, scores of local celebrity judges spent hours muscling through creation after creation—some of them exceeding our wildest expectations. By the fourteenth plate, each and all were reminded that this event was indeed a marathon and not a race. Especially since the two-thirds of judges that DID show up had to carry the weight for, ahem, the one third that did not. You know who you are.
Four hours later and after much deliberation, the jury was in and winners were announced for the following eight categories: Best New Flavor, Most Creative Food, Best Fried Food, Best Specialty Food, Best Food-On-A-Stick, Best Dessert, Classic Fair Food, Best Valued Food. To quickly find the top three of for each go ahead and skip to the end.
This year a new judging format was introduced. Of the four tables of judges, two would pair up to tackle a specific category—meaning each team of tables would cover four categories total. Let’s name them the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere.
To the southern hemisphere it became apparent very quickly that the northern hemisphere of judges were the Ferran Adrià to our Guy Fieri, the Air France to our Spirit Airlines, the Black Card to our Gift Card. Ooh’s and ahh’s were heard as “Nitro Churros,” and “Scorpion Pizza,” and, “Shrimp On A Stick with Fruity Pebbles,” graced their tables. Quickly hopping up from time to time, the Houston Press was able to try bites here and there thanks to a few generous members of the northern hemisphere. In fact, it began to feel a little bit like Oliver heading into the second round of categories. (Can't wait to read Timothy Malcolm of Houstonia's accounting who landed luckily on the Northern side of things.)
For the southern hemisphere, the first category, “Classic Fair Food,” resembled an episode of popular soap opera All My Meats, while next door the northern hemisphere starred in Chef’s Table with “Best Specialty Food.”
Some Texas shaped nachos, three different baked potatoes, two Turkey legs, a roast beef sandwich, and a few soggy fries later is when a big plate of sliced corn dogs hit the table. “Yessss,” was heard by all, cameras were live and DJ Kyle King of 100.1 KILT admitted, “this is life, right now.” Though fried foods have a hard time holding up at these events, (don’t worry contestants, the judges know that), everyone hit those corn dogs hard, remarking on the Thousand-Island-ish dipping sauce served alongside. “Corn Dog Thirty” came and went and as momentum returned to steam, the next dish that would become our lifeline was the “Hot Crunchy Cheeto Cotton Candy.”
Just like the 2019 Super Bowl, a majority of judges routed for Fruity Pebbles to steal the show, but alas, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos won by a little in the fourth quarter.
As spun sugar hit the bloodstream, all were delighted by the savory and spicy crunch that the Flamin' Hots afforded. Megha Tejpal of Houston CityBook kept a plate close by that we all used as palate cleansers slash Adderall from time to time. The bag of cotton candy would continue to disappear just to reappear in the right moments serving as clean water rations on the lifeboat that with each passing category floated further and further away from the northern hemisphere.
As the lengthy second category “Best Valued Food” came to a close our partner table starring the High Tech Texan Michael Garfield and Cleverley Stone announced the nickname of their lifeboat; the “baked pa-table.” At that point, seven baked potatoes had come our way— most of them had braised meat duos and trios, all of them had sour cream, and not one didn’t deserve to be there.
Drowning in a sea of meat and potatoes when the Fried Oreo life preserver hit the water we reacted with a standing ovation and audible delight filled the room. Twenty-two dishes in and as our inner diva clawed its way out, attendant Stewart Gagnon could only roll his eyes as he resigned to portioning our food for us because clearly, we couldn’t handle it ourselves.
“Paradise Fries” by Paradise Burgers was instantly dubbed, “College-In-A-Box,” by the Houston Press and DJ Mo of 100.1 KILT, who were pleasantly surprised by the chicken nuggets garnished with Frank's sauce on top of: pulled pork, jalapeños, cheese sauce and French fries.
Green beans hit the table as merely a garnish and were gone in a flash as it became evident many were now considering the Vegan lifestyle. Gagnon, who sounded rather stern ten dishes ago, was now the one laughing at the look on our faces as yet another dripping Styrofoam box was opened to reveal half a chicken garnished with a whole can of corn.
Street tacos in Jell-O shot containers, crawfish pistoletes, machete quesadillas. Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle cried, “we, need fruit!!!” but all it sounded like was a faraway voice from a faraway jail cell that fell upon the deaf ears of the sleeping jailor. “We just drank a Care Bear,” said DJ Sarah Pepper Mix 96.5, of the Unicorn Float by The Candy Factory that served as yet another defibrillator.
Morago continued to keep us positive when it was announced that, “we’re going to need y’all to stay and help with Best New Flavor.” Having attended the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards every single year, he was very much a big brother to all. But at one point, even he gave a heavy sigh, “y'all, keep me honest.”
Deep fried brownie, mystery slider’s— until finally it was over after more than 40 dishes later. The Houston Press would definitely be late for work, but upon release, all at the table took a moment to look at each other— like we had all just finished serving hard time.
Members of our table-turned-tribe included: DJ Mo 100.1 KILT, DJ Kyle King 100.1 KILT, DJ Sarah Pepper Mix 96.5, Pooja Lodhia ABC 13, Katherine Whaley ABC 13, Mai Pham Freelance Extraordinaire, Megha Tejpal Houston CityBook, Greg Morago the Houston Chronicle, and signing off for the Houston Press, me (with a misspelled nametag calling me Kate McLan.)
And a special thanks to the diligent table helpers; Jill Coble, who kept our millions of papers together and didn’t get frustrated when we would constantly forget to circle the category. And Stewart Gagnon, I feel like you grew to love us. And for the stellar emcee entertainment: Harry Miller and Carson Joachin, thanks for keepin' it real.
Without further adieu here are the winners and finalists for the 2019 Gold Buckle Foodie Awards:
Best New Flavor:
1. Smoorcookie by Totally Baked Cookie Joint $14
2. Fried Red Velvet Cupcake by Sills Funnel Cakes $8
3. BBQ Poppers by Ranch House Meat Company
Most Creative Food:
1. Unicorn Float by The Candy Factory $8
2. Nitro Churros by Cowboy Kettle Corn $7
3. The Ultimate Minneapple Pie by The Original Minneapple Pie $10
Best Fried Food:
1. Minnechocolate Pie by The Original Minneapple Pie $8
2. Deep Fried Oreo’s by Sweet Cheeks $8
3. Deep Fried Brisket Balls by Yoakum Packing Co. $8
Best Specialty Food:
1. Chocolate Cobbler by All Of Us $8.95
2. Pecan Roux by The Great Texas Pecan Candy Co $6.95-$27
3. Cinnamon Roasted Pecans by Sweet Feed $9
1. Bacon Wrapped Pecan-smoked Sausage by Holmes Steakhouse $7
2. Steak Dinner On a Stick by Texas Steak Out $16
3. Bacon Wrapped Boudin On A Stick by Harlon’s BBQ $12
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1. Cookie Dough Parfait by Aunt Edmoes Cookies $8
2. Dippin Dots $6-$9
3. Dole Whip Taco by Nitro Treats $9
Classic Fair Food:
1. Hot Crunchy Cheeto Cotton Candy by Candy Factory $7
2. All Meat Potato by Harlon’s BBQ $15
3. Texas Bucket Of Nachos by Texas Tater Twister $13
Best Value Food:
1. Ribs and Chicken Platter by Salt Grass $12
2. Paradise Fries by Paradise Burgers $13.95
3. Chopped Beef BBQ Stuffed Baked Potato by Yoakum Packing Co. $10.50