This week Deep Fried Dynasty highlights Thrifty Thursdays (or as Christi Erpillo from Fernie’s Funnel Cakes calls them, “Thifty Thursdees”) at the State Fair of Texas.
As a smart fairgoer, you know that besides taking the DART instead of paying for $20 parking on site and bringing your own cooler full of water and snacks, the best pro-tip for saving money at the fair is to go on a Thursday. On Thrifty Thursdays, there are discounts all over the fair. And the rules for the concessionaires are simple: If they’d like to participate, they can make a miniature version of one of their regular menu items and offer it at a cheaper price, or they can create a new menu item using only the ingredients they already have at their booth.
At Gulf Coast Grill, they’re working with the ingredients they have to create a new dish for Thrifty Thursdees. While they’re brainstorming, someone suggests Deep Fried Ranch Balls. Hearing this combination of words is unsettling. It brings to mind a forlorn rancher in a quiet dermatologist’s office, being reminded to wear sunblock.
“You’ve got a textbook case. How many times do I have to tell you, it’s imperative that you reapply sunscreen every 45 minutes if you’re going to naked Sound of Music-twirl through your ranch on Fridays, Dan?”
Turns out, it tastes like it sounds, and they opt for Brisket Cheddar Ranch Fries instead. Good call, y’all.
At Juicy’s, they’re taking a different approach to driving sales with the addition of a burger challenge. When we meet Brett Enright, the concessionaire at Juicy’s, he’s putting six quarter-pound burger patties on a skewer. Then, he puts that onto a burger bun. To win the burger challenge, a contestant must eat this monstrosity in under three minutes. Complete this task, and they get the burger they just horked down for free. (Also free: the full bod sweats.)
Fail, and they’ll have to cough up 30 tickets to pay for the burger. Let’s call this the $30 Dingus Tax, for trying to look cool in front of your friends. It’s a fair deal all around, and whether the challenger wins or loses, Enright wins every time with a line of customers for days.
As his segment ends, Enright says, “Hey, burger on a stick! Don’t tell anybody that idea—it’s mine,” and I immediately yell at my screen, “NUH-UH!,” like a dang third grader, because as we all obviously know, Brett and Juan Reaves at Smokey John’s served a Deep-Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider On a Stick a million years ago. Everyone knows this. It’s not at all weird to have that piece of information front and center when I can’t remember my kid’s phone number. It’s fine.
Speaking of Smokey John’s, Brett and Juan Reaves take us on a tour of their favorite fair foods and we are SO glad they did. Because Mac Loaded was not on my list, and had I known that there was a booth at the State Fair of Texas that is essentially Fuddruckers for macaroni and cheese, I would have been living there for three weeks straight every year. They order the Big Tex Bowl, which appears to be an entire family size box of macaroni and cheese with brisket, fried onions, candied jalapenos, chives and bacon bits on top. I’m counting the days until September.
Meanwhile, Chicken & Funnel Cakes! A new item is born at Fernie’s Funnel Cakes, and if it’s not at the fair this upcoming season, we must all revolt. Of course, they call it the Chicken and Funnel Cake Sandwich because, let’s face it, they like a long-winded name at Fernie’s. Everything is a Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake or a Fernie’s Fried Peaches & Cream.
It’s as if they want you to know everything about what you’re ordering while you’re ordering it so that there are no follow-up questions. “Wanna know what’s in the Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake? I’ll give you three guesses.” But you know what, who even cares? Everything they make is delicious. So, they can name it Fernie’s Grilled Chicken That We Fried And Then Put On A Funnel Cake And Drowned In Syrup and we’ll all be grateful and smile while we order three FGCTWFATPOAFCADIS’s.
The only sad thing about seeing this item on Deep Fried Dynasty is that we know it means they can’t put it into competition for the Big Tex Choice Awards this year. The rules are clear: Only new items can be involved in the BTCA. If I were them, I’d game the system on this one and make it full size, add a baseball cap and some sunglasses to it and rename it Fernie’s Dream Crusher. Because if this thing somehow shows up in the competition, it’s taking home all the Big Tex-shaped trophies.
Chicken & Funnel Cakes isn’t just a great fair food idea—it’s a great everything. It’s a great band name, it’s a great name for your secondborn, it’s a great political party, it’s a concept that is just too much wonderful. You have to let Chicken & Funnel Cakes into the Big Tex Choice Awards, State Fair of Texas Important Types. We beg of you.
And, so begins my 2022 campaign to #FREECHICKENNFUNNELCAKES.
Deep Fried Dynasty airs every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on A&E. Come back here every Wednesday for Alice Laussade’s recaps.