This morning at 9 a.m., the eight finalists in the 2012 Big Tex Choice Awards gathered at The Dock Restaurant in Fair Park for a little fried food showdown. Within an hour of tasting all the entries, the three judges (Rep. Eric Johnson, Andrea Rega, and Donovan Lewis) announced at the Eighth Annual Big Tex Choice Awards that Abel Gonzales, creator of the deep fried jambalaya, was taking home the trophy for “Best Taste.” Butch Benavides also won “Most Creative” for his sweet bacon cinnamon roll dipped in pancake batter and topped with fried bacon crumbles.
Gonzales, whose win today is his fifth at the Big Tex Choice Awards, says winning this year still “means a lot.”
“A friend of mine gave me the idea. His name is Matthew and he was just determined that I should bring this out here,” says Gonzales, who came up with a deep fried pineapple upside down cake last year. “I’m very excited to make my first real food and not a dessert.”
Jump for photos of the eight fried food finalists.
Out of 54 entries, these are the eight finalists that a State Fair committee chose to represent at this year’s 2012 Big Tex Choice Awards. According to emcee Kristi Scales, narrowing the entries down to eight is like “American Idol. You have to go through a lot of humps before you find Kelly Clarkson.”
For a closer look at the eight most highly anticipated fried foods this year, keep scrollin’ down.
Butch Benavides has been in the semi-finals before, but never the finals finals, so today was a big deal. Benavides had two finals entries, the bacon cinnamon roll and the chicken fried cactus bites.
After Donovan Lewis, a local sports broadcaster for Sports Radio and one of the three judges at the competition, tried a bite of the bacon cinnamon roll, he commented, “It’s very odd.”
Benavides, a retired restaurateur for the last ten years, says the cactus bites, his favorite entry, tastes just “like a fried okra, (it’s) just got that middle part like an okra. We make a ranch and that seal’s the deal.” The ranch he’s talking about is a jalapeno ranch with agave nectar sauce, and the cactus bites are made from hand-picked prickly pear cactus pads that takes about 1 minute and 45 seconds to fry in peanut oil.
The picnic on a stick is a pretty hefty fair food item. It’s pieces of spicy fried chicken alternating with tater tots and dill pickle slices. The judges were starting to look pretty strained after a few bites and one of them was muttering “I’m pretty full” even though this was only the third item they tried out of the eight.
Oh, holy mac ‘n’ cheese sliders. Representative Eric Johnson said this one “is very well done. You can’t eat too many of these. If you want to get your money’s worth… this is substantial.” It comes with chips lightly dusted with BBQ seasonings.
I knew this deep fried divine (oh yes!) chocolate tres leches cake, brought to us by the same woman – Denise Garza – who made deep fried brownies last year, was a must-try because Donovan Lewis kept saying “Dang, that’s good…. that’s good…. dang, that’s good,” as he was biting into this delicious dessert entry. It’s light, fluffy, and has this melt-in-your-mouth, not-too-sweet quality that makes it way too easy to finish off, even when you’re full.
“I can eat the whole thing. Wow,” said Lewis.
Isaac Rousso was a bit disappointed he didn’t win again this year. “We tried,” he said and shrugged, and put on a big smile for the cameras. Even though Rousso’s pork wings didn’t earn him a trophy, I think his fried funnel cake fries at the Taste of Cuba stand are still the best fried things on this planet. So cheer up, Rousso!
These are like 7-Eleven taquitos, but on a stick and obviously better. The insides of these Mexican fire crackers are gooey and delicious with spicy chicken, cheese and jalapeno wrapped in masa dough.
Last but not least, here’s the winner of “Best Taste” this year. I was expecting the filling of Abel Gonzales’ fried jambalaya ball to be a watery mess of brown jambalaya gunk, but it was actually a beautiful Cajun mix of rice, shrimp, sausage and seasonings that was moist on the inside, and crunchy and crackly on the outside. Even if you don’t dip the ball into the spicy ranch sauce, it’s still spicy on its own.