I was having the kind of state fair experience that I never knew I wanted. Friendly faces waved me over from one booth to the next, offering up a smorgasbord of secret family recipes and award-winning Texas treats at the Food & Fiber Pavilion at Fair Park. Texas-made salsas, sauces, marinades, cookies, pickles, and pralines lined the walls and tables of the pavilion. Husband-and-wife duos and family recipes passed down for generations were in no shortage, and each delicious snack seemed to have a secret ingredient of its own.
The Go Texan event, supported by the Texas Department of Agriculture, offers a variety of locally grown foods and products representing the Lone Star State. Over a hundred vendors have booths adorned with delicious products. With everything from the tried-and-true Adam’s Best Vanilla— I got to spin the prize wheel for a bottle — to newly budding companies like the year-old Salsa-Holics, offering tastes of their family-favorite salsas. Bugtussle Burn, Jalsa, Salsa Maya and more offered samples of their unique and delicious recipes.
One of my favorite bites was the Ghost Delight Toffee, made by Michele and John Sparks of Texas Toffee. After assuring John that I could handle the zesty flavor, he broke me off a piece of the melt-in-your-mouth toffee. It was the second booth I stopped at and the first purchase I made. My only regret was how quickly I devoured it, despite my fiery throat and watery eyes.
Another delicious spicy kick came from The Texas Toffee Queen. The award-winning toffee, which uses all wholesome, gluten-free ingredients including Callebaut chocolate and Blue Diamond nuts, comes in unexpectedly delicious flavors like White Chocolate Peach Ginger with a habanero pepper kick after the sweetness fades away. You can even find delicious products that accommodate dietary restrictions, like NadaMoo!’s dairy-free ice cream (you must try the Sweet Cherry Lime) and the 20-minute bag meals from Gluten Free Good Foods (the Jambalaya was to die for).
Let’s not forget the booze: local wines, beers, and hard ciders take up a good chunk of the space, offering samples of their award-winning Texas-made premium drinks.
However, if you manage to miss a favorite, don’t fret: all participants will have their products for sale in the 3,000 square foot Go Texan General Store, also located under the Food & Fiber Pavilion. Stanley and Virginia Ohnheiser, makers of Oma’s Choice, have been representing their products at the State Fair Go Texan event for over 15 years. For the past seven years, they’ve managed to bring in the top sales at the general store, even without setting up a sampling booth. “I don’t do the tastings anymore as a long-time vendor, because I don’t want to take up those tables when a new member can highlight their product and get some support,” Stanley said. “We’re established there, so now, people look forward to coming to the general store to get our products.” Oma’s Choice, a family-owned business named after Stanley’s late mother, offers everything from jerky to pickled goods to gourmet popcorn. Their individual pies continue to be their top-selling item. “My wife and I actively come and participate on weekends at the event,” Stanley said. “Not to sample, but to make sure the shelves are full, to meet the new vendors, and to help promote both our own products as well as other people’s.”
It was clear that Stanley wasn’t the only one who felt this way: the overall spirit of the pavilion was not one of competition, but camaraderie. Vendors took time to step away from their own booths to visit with their neighbors and make their way around the 25,000 square foot pavilion to sample the other delicious Texan products for themselves.
So if you manage to make it past the endless stretch of bustling food standings boasting all things fried and calorific, do yourself a favor and stop by the pavilion for a healthier take on Texas State Fair food. Visit The Food & Fiber Pavilion between September 26 and October 19, located between Washington and Nimitz avenues across from the Embarcadero Building.