Not satisfied with winning "best taste" honors at yesterday's Big Tex Choice Awards, fried Frito pie inventor Michael Thomas has implied he'd like his concoction to become a concession stand staple.
"The deep-fried Frito pie is a game changer for fair food," Thomas told The Dallas Morning News.
As all competitive deep-fryers know, there are treats that fade into the greasy ether of fairdom after a single championship season and treats that somehow burrow into the nation's consciousness, becoming an essential element of fair-going in every state. Thomas, who didn't return a call today, would no doubt like his Frito pie to join deep-fried Twinkies, Snickers and bacon in the latter group.
But does a dish as resolutely regional as Frito pie stand a chance?
Thomas has a few obvious advantages in his quest to make Frito pie an iconic fair food. Burger-and-pizza-loving Americans are always happy eating carbs, cheese and meat together. And his chili nuggets really do taste good.
Yet when I called Brienna Schuette -- spokesperson for the Minnesota State Fair, Texas' traditional rival in fry -- she couldn't recall any examples of her state-based vendors succeeding on the road with home crowd favorites like fried walleye and hot dish on a stick.
If fried Frito pie's going to transcend its status as regional delicacy, it almost has to crack the Minnesota State Fair, which draws upward of 1.7 million visitors a year. Since part of the dish's appeal is its portability, I asked Schuette whether any of her concessionaires already offered traditional Frito pie.
"Um, explain to me what Frito pie is?," she said. "I'm thinking no."
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SHOW ME HOW
After learning Frito pie basics, Schuette asked whether it was "kind of like a walking taco," which meant it was her turn to brief me on a culinary term.
One of the earliest descriptions of a "walking taco" appeared in The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Illinois, in 1999: "The most creative packaging of a new fair food has to be the walking taco ($3.25)," the reporter wrote. "Take a lunchbox bag of Fritos, slit it lengthwise and add the ingredients of a great taco -- seasoned meat, cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream and tomatoes."
Walking tacos, often made with Cool Ranch Doritos instead of Fritos, are still served throughout the Midwest.
But, Schuette adds ominously, "It's not been a most-talked about fair favorite."