The Texas State Fair's Deep-Fried Cuban Roll Can't Touch the Real Thing

I don't know how many years it takes to temper a tradition, but I'm going with two. Last year I tracked down the winner of the State Fair fried foods competition and attempted to offer commentary with some semblance of professional food criticism. The fried jambalaya was making grease waves with the deep-fried cognoscenti, and I agreed that, aside from that lack of shrimp in my order, the snack was pretty damn good.

This year's deep-fried creation comes full circle with the day Bix Tex popped my State Fair cherry. It's a riff on the Cubano sandwich that I stumbled upon at my very first fair and continue to endorse as one of the better renditions available in the area. Its creator, Isaac Rousso, threw the primary components of the sandwich in a blender, wrapped the paste in a wonton and tossed the resulting parcel in a bubbling oil bath. How could this not be delicious?

Except what emerged from the murky depths was not greater than the original inspiration. Perhaps the blender worked too long, or perhaps this fried snack suffered from missing ingredients too, but the acidic prick of pickle brine was nowhere to be found. If there was ham in my roll, it was indiscernible and while mustard wasn't advertised, the roll would have benefited from its brightness. The mojo dipper helped.

It didn't help things that my Cuban roll had been stood on its end in a warming tray since having been fried an unknown amount of time before. Oil pooled at one end, adding to the already dominating fatty flavors of cheese and pork. Deep fried cheese and pork will always have an appeal, but this fried fair snack comes up short. The Cubano as originally created is inarguably superior, even if it's not deep-fried.

If you do need something baptized in a State Fair fry bath, it's hard to beat the simplicity of a properly fried, three-component corn dog. Processed tube meat, fried cornbread and mustard applied at the eater's discretion: simple perfection.

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