Things To Do

Plano Balloon Fest Goes Foodie and Fair Fare on the Square Returns to Garland

Foot-long corn dogs from Intrinsic are on the menu at Fair Fare on the Sqaure.
Foot-long corn dogs from Intrinsic are on the menu at Fair Fare on the Sqaure. Intrinsic Smokehouse
You may have seen the news that the Plano Balloon Festival has been canceled for the third time in four years, but the city of Plano isn’t taking a year off from festivities. While you can’t get a flight in a hot air balloon this year, you can get flights of food and cocktails all over town.

And though the State Fair of Texas hasn’t been canceled, the city of Garland is repeating last year’s popular Fair Fare on the Square event. A dozen restaurants around the city square will offer fair-inspired menu items to those who just can’t get enough fair food.

Both events will run for the entire month of September, and both are worth a visit, even if you have to make a trek to the 'burbs. If you’re looking for outdoor or at-home dining and safe entertainment that doesn’t involve large, crowded events, these go-at-your-own pace activities will fill the bill (and your belly).

Plano Up, Up and Away Days

Instead of getting a gold watch after 40+ years of service, the Plano Balloon Festival is getting some extra vacation time this year. Yes, we’re sad about it, but what do we do when we’re sad? We make lemonade out of lemons. Or we ask our bars and restaurants to do it for us.

“Balloons or no balloons, our talented food and beverage community have gotten into the spirit of the festival to offer consumers a fun and flavorful new pursuit. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Mark Thompson, director of Visit Plano.

Eighteen or more participating restaurants will offer flight specials throughout the month of September with a wide variety of restaurants and cuisines represented. Urban Rio is serving an appetizer flight of three assorted tacos ($10), while Flying Fish is serving their “Hog Wallow” fried seafood sampler for two ($28) with two catfish fillets, four shrimp and six oysters. Sweets are on the menu too: Milky Treats is offering a flight board ($20) with scoops of the store’s eight most popular flavors (including Unicorn Brownie, Salty Toffee and Choco-lit Coma) or your own favorites in the combo of your choice.

Beer, bourbon and cocktail flights are also part of the fun. Get a Shiner beer flight ($6.50) of 4-ounce pours at Love and War in Texas or a four-whiskey flight ($16) at Whiskey Cake. Prim & Proper (inside Neighborhood Goods at Legacy West) will be serving a flight of four aviation-themed mini cocktails ($22).

To be fair, some of these flights are regular menu items, but if a monthlong flight-themed event takes some of the sting out of the festival cancellation, we’re all for it. And putting the spotlight on local restaurants is never a bad idea.

For the full list of participating restaurants and flights, drop by the Visit Plano website.
click to enlarge These jalapeño pimento cheese fried balls of glory are a crowd favorite. - PAW PAW'S
These jalapeño pimento cheese fried balls of glory are a crowd favorite.
Paw Paw's

Fair Fare on the Square Back for Seconds in Garland

Last year when the State Fair of Texas was canceled, Garland restaurants on the square came together for a foodie event that was pandemic proof. With all the deep-fried or on-a-stick food we were going to miss, it was a roaring success, making outdoor dining on fair fare the thing to do in September.

The event is back for another run, giving fair food lovers a chance to get an early start before Big Tex comes alive at Fair Park. “In Downtown Garland, we can smell September already,” Letecia McNatt, Garland Downtown Development coordinator said. “These restaurants are putting their own spin on everything fit to be fried. Be sure to wear your stretchy pants.”

Everything fit to be fried is right. From a corn dog ($2.25) at Hubbard’s Cubbard to Funnel Cake Fries ($12) at Intrinsic Smokehouse and Brewery, all the options are affordable and there’s an added bonus in that you don’t need an admission ticket or coupons to buy them.

You can get caramel and candied apples ($5 to $8) at Mrs. J’s Heavenly Delights, Cotton Candy Tea ($8) at G-Town Nutrition, a Fried Twinkie Latte at 5th Avenue Nutrition and fried Twinkies ($5) at Paw Paw’s. At last year’s event, Paw Paw’s also served up something called Horny Toads — fried pimento cheese with jalapeños. Also priced at $5, these were among the best-tasting things this author ate last year, and they’re back for an encore.

“My wife and I love the fair; it was our first date,” Cary Hodson, owner of Intrinsic Smokehouse and Brewery said. “We also love collaborating with other businesses. So when this idea came up, we were immediately on board. It not only helped us and other businesses weather the closures of 2020, but it brought joy to ourselves and many customers who were also missing the fair.

“This year we have a Fruity Flakes Cream Ale, our Fruity Flakes Funnel Cake Fries and footlong corn dogs,” Hodson said. “On Mondays, our special burger will be a fried PB&J Burger.” Other restaurant owners around the square are looking forward to this event too.

If outdoor dining is a priority for you, some of the restaurants offer outdoor seating. But all of them are on or around the downtown square making it easy to get takeout to eat in the picnic area in the middle of the square.

And since there’s no admission fee, you don’t have to put those stretchy pants to the test all in one go. These special dishes will be offered all month alongside regular menus, so eating a mostly healthy meal or sampling a different (non-fried) cuisine is altogether possible.

The full list of participating restaurants and fair-inspired foods can be found on the Visit Garland website.
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By day, Kristina Rowe writes documentation that helps users navigate software, and as a contributor to the Dallas Observer she helps people find their way to food and fun. A long-time list-maker, small-business fan and happiness aficionado, she's also been an Observer reader for almost 40 years.
Contact: Kristina Rowe