A State Fair Summation From a Food-Loving Arkansawyer
Editor's Note: Of the gazillion people who yearly visit the State Fair of Texas, a good number of them are outlanders. One of those visitors this year offered to share her fair reflections with City of Ate. Kat Robinson, who blogs about food back in Arkansas, reveals here which fried dish she liked most and why she'd consider coming back to Dallas.
Hello there, deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwch.
I love the fair. I've been going to the Arkansas State Fair almost every single year since I was very, very small. I dig on county fairs and festivals as small as the little affairs in the park to the Ozark Empire Fair. But I hadn't realized just how large a fair could be until I traveled to the Texas State Fair.
My photographer Grav Weldon came along to shoot food, because that's what we do -- talk about and write about food all over the place. We'd heard plenty of word in advance about the deep fried wonderland. The story of fried beer had already hit the news and we were excited to be able to try it.
Of course, we didn't realize when we entered at Gate 2 that Sunday morning we'd drive another mile before we actually got parked. No worries; a tram took us from near our car to an area about three blocks from the main gate.
We headed towards the other end of the fair, seeking out the fried beer. Along the way we catalogued all the culinary weirdness -- chicken fried bacon, fried cheesecake on a stick, Texas fried Frito pie, deep fried latte, deep fried frozen margaritas, corn dogs, candy apples, caramel apples, chocolate dipped strawberries, deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, deep fried cookie dough, deep fried pizza, deep fried Moon Pies and s'mores and deep fried lemonade. All sorts of things were hitting the fryers and the scent of fried things hung in the air.
At the end of this row of food vendors, almost to the Centennial Building - when we finally spotted the fried beer stand. So we tried it. It wasn't pretty.
Afterwards we made a beeline for better fare and found the Fried Cheese Curds. Our loaded tray of white cheese curds came out steamy hot with Ranch dressing. The contrast of goodness in comparison to the fried beer about caused Grav to pass out from joy.
We had to pass through a line of nearly 60 people to get over to the next stand. That line was all people waiting in line for the Fried Frito Pie. I was just overwhelmed by the thought. I mean, were they really that good?
What I was going for at the time was the Texas Caviar -- which was something that was rather normal to me. While advertised as a new fair food in Texas, fried black eyed peas with Old Bay Seasoning can be found in Little Rock at the Capital Bar and Grill as bar snacks, no joke, no charge. I had to get a cup of the Texas version to see if it was any different. Best part was they kept, and I had Texas caviar for the drive home.
Grav and I headed to the Food and Fiber building on the north side of the Cotton Bowl. We walked in and joined the solid mass of stepping around the interior in a counter-clockwise direction. We joined the crowd and were swept along as it rolled through a number of vendors with samples -- one with super hot pickles, one with Texas Tea (I liked it so much I bought a bottle to drink there at the Fair), a coffee vendor, a goat soap dealer handing out lavender-sage bar snippets. We got to meet Elsie the Cow from Borden, sampled some raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing served up on spinach leaves, a little Steak-Yums with barbecue sauce, pumpkin dip, banana and strawberry salsas -- just an enormous number of choices.
We ducked into the grocery store at the center of the building, and between the rush of people within we found every sort of thing -- including peanut patties in the shape of Texas, Jalapeno jelly, specialty chocolates, trail mixes, Turkey Jerky, honey, little pecan pies, individual brownies, tomato jam, Texas cherry tarts, every manner of jam and jelly you've ever seen in your life, Dublin Dr. Pepper, a bevy of barbecue sauces and plenty of aprons, magnets and Texas memorabilia. And we found the item I'd been searching for -- Dr. Pepper Beef Jerky, in convenient little packs to take home.
We saw another strange collection of foods in the food court of the Midway, including fried guacamole, fried corn, fried dill pickles, fried Gummy Bears, fried Sliver Dogs and such. And then... Fried Donkey Tail. No. Way. We approached the booth with trepidation.
"So, what's a fried donkey tail?" I asked, hoping I wasn't going to get back an unappetizing answer."
"You want to see one?" the lady behind the counter asked. I nodded, and she brought out the uncooked version. "It's an all-beef hot dog that's sliced open and stuffed with Cheddar cheese, then wrapped up and deep fried."
"I'll take it!" I told her. I think I heard Grav's belly rumble under the fair noise.
But you know, it wasn't half bad. The burrito-shaped apparition that was passed over the counter was hot and sliced in half, and you could see the Cheddar cheese dripping out. We found a place to sit and, though Grav had worried about what he was going to eat, he managed to finish his half. We really liked it. Better than a hot dog in a bun, for sure.
While Grav shot the Midway, I menu-peeped all through the food court... Gorditas, potato chips on a stick, deep fried bananas with chocolate sauce, Cuban tamales and empanadas and the strangest thing I'd seen all day -- a cheese filled batter dipped Jalapeno on a stick deep fried and coated in chocolate. No, I wasn't brave enough to try it. On the midway I saw more fried things -- fried caramel apples, fried Snicker bars, fried Reese's peanut butter cups, fried macaroons, fried honey buns, fried Oreos and God knows what else. Behind every counter the crews were slamming sweet things into batter, dumping them in the fryer, pulling them out and handing them over.
We saw a funnel cake stand selling a new variety that comes topped with nacho cheese sauce and Jalapenos. I can't even imagine.
We spent our last batch of tickets on another creation called a Fried Green Goblin. It's a series of cherry peppers stuffed with chicken and a couple of sorts of cheese, battered, deep fried and coated with nacho cheese sauce.
And you know, it was the best thing we'd had all day. Grav was just going to take the smallest taste but ended up eating about half of it. We both managed to get nacho sauce on our cameras. He laughed a little nervously when I licked it off of mine. Hey, it was the viewfinder, not the lens.
It was nearly eight by the time we got back to our accommodations. We were both beat, and dinner that night consisted of un-fried things.
So, what's so very different between the State Fair of Texas and the Arkansas State Fair? The vastness of it all. The State Fair of Texas is huge.
There's the price difference. While it's $5 to park and $8 to get into the Arkansas State Fair, the State Fair of Texas is $15 for each. But there's a lot more to offer in Dallas. The freebies from the companies at the expos are better. There are a lot of crazy things to see.
But I have to say, I still love the Arkansas State Fair. I never found a crafts display in Dallas, never saw any livestock or young future farmers walking animals. It was almost antiseptically clean.
The difference? The State Fair of Texas is a destination. The Arkansas State Fair is a community event. But will I be back to Dallas next September? Heck yeah!
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