The build up was immense and the talk of the town as Texas gears up for its annual State Fair and all the crazy and mostly delicious new fair food items. The wait is over as the judges weighed in and the winners are: “Best Taste – Savory” goes to the Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce by Winter Family Concessions, while the Arroz con Leche (or Sweet Crispy Rice) by the Garza Family wins “Best Taste – Sweet,” and “Most Creative” goes to the Cotton Candy Taco by Justin & Rudy Martinez.
Fernie’s Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce by Winter Family Concessions (SAVORY)
As long-time State Fair of Texas concessionaires, the Winter Family is back for their 48th year at the Fair. They have produced 13 finalists in the Big Tex Choice Awards with their Fried Peaches and Cream winning in 2013. Taking home the title for Best Taste – Savory, this entry is a unique take on a traditional New Year’s Eve “good luck” dish. The classic ingredients of creamy, nutty black-eyed peas, fluffy white rice, spicy smoke sausage, green onions, and a secret blend of special spices are mixed with bread crumbs and eggbeaters to form a Texas-sized cake. Then, the cake is deep fried and topped with a zingy black-eyed pea relish, garnished with pickled okra, and served with a side of Jackpot sauce.
Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) by the Garza Family (SWEET)
The Garza Family has been introducing new food to the Fair since 1983, when Trini Garza’s wife opened their first concession stand. They were Big Tex Choice Awards finalists in 2012 with Trini’s Deep Fried Divine Chocolate Tres Leches, and this year marks their first win for Best Taste – Sweet. Arroz con Leche is a delectable cinnamon spiced rice ball formed, battered, and coated in crispy puffed rice cereal. The ball is then deep fried to golden perfection. For Trini, his dish is another way for him to highlight his family’s cultural traditions.
Cotton Candy Taco by Justin & Rudy Martinez (SWEET)
Justin and Rudy Martinez are veterans of Fair food. In addition to having concession stands at the Fair since 1978, the pair has previously won three Big Tex Choice Awards, including 2014’s Most Creative for their Original State Fair Brew – Funnel Cake Ale. Claiming their second Most Creative win, this year’s sweet creation starts with a graham cracker waffle cone batter that is then squeezed into a crunchy taco shell shape. The taco is then coated with a marshmallow glaze and stuffed with chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and organic cane sugar cotton candy. The taco is topped off with chocolate cookie crumbles and two chocolate cream-covered biscuit sticks with marshmallows.
With such a solid list of contenders in the final ten, this year’s Big Tex Choice Awards posed quite a challenge for the judges, who were tasked with picking the winning dishes. Going up against these winners, and proving to be very worthy opponents, the other foods that made it to the final round include: Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) by the Garza Family, Cotton Candy Taco by Justin & Rudy Martinez, Texas Fried Hill Country by Justin & Rudy Martinez, Deep Fried Shepherd’s Pie by Clint Probst, Deep Fried Skillet Potato Melt in a Boat by Tom Grace, Fernie’s Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce by Winter Family Concessions, Fernie’s Orange You Glad We Fried It?! by Winter Family Concessions, State Fair Fun-L Cake Ice Cream by Tom Landis, Sweet Bakin’ Bacon by Ed & Eddie Campbell, and Texas Twang-kie by Chris & Sherry Howard.
If you missed out on the big event and didn’t get to taste all the finalists at the Big Tex Choice Awards, don’t worry – you’ve still got 24 days to try all ten items, plus the slew of other new foods being offered at the Fair this year. Fair fanatics can pick up a Visitor’s Guide, which includes a food map that lays out the vendor locations for each of the finalists, or check out the new food finder, making it easy to map out your route and hit all the hot spots along the way.
Opening its doors to the public for the first time in 2014, the Big Tex Choice Awards offered a limited number of State Fair fans the chance to attend and serve as taste tasters for the food finalists in the annual competition. Building off the success of the past few years, the Fair once again sold tickets to the event, with all proceeds going to the State Fair of Texas Scholarship Program. The 14th Annual Big Tex Choice Awards, presented by Vistaprint, proved to be an equally successful event. Over its 26-year history, the Scholarship Program has awarded scholarships to more than 2,200 students for a total of more than $11.3 million. Eligible recipients include graduating high school seniors from around the state of Texas who have competed in State Fair youth livestock events, as well as graduating seniors from five Fair Park-area schools, and finally, eligible seasonal employees or their dependents.