Texas State Fair's culinary contenders fry everything from Pop-Tarts to beer
12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, August 26, 2010
By ERIC AASEN / The Dallas Morning News email@example.com
If Big Tex looks a little glassy-eyed this fall, blame it on the Fried Beer. Or the Deep Fried Frozen Margarita.
Mark Zable figured out how to fry beer by sealing it in dough. He had to persist because early efforts blew up. Booze is generating a buzz for the State Fair of Texas, as fried-alcohol dishes made the list of top new fair foods announced Wednesday.
Eight imaginative contenders are vying for the Sixth Annual Big Tex Choice Awards, with the winners getting plenty of publicity – and long lines of eager fairgoers willing to gobble up the fried goodness.
But have your ID handy for the Fried Beer and Deep Fried Frozen Margarita – you must be 21 or older to partake.
Kiddos, don't fret. Try the Deep Fried S'mores Pop-Tart and wash it down with Fried Lemonade. Chocoholics, the Fried Chocolate will give you your cocoa fix.
Proud of your Texas roots? You might swoon over the Texas Fried Frito Pie or the Texas Fried Caviar. Like your lettuce with grease? Try Fernie's Fried Club Salad.
On Labor Day, judges will name two winners: for best taste and most creative. The creations will make their debut at the fair, which starts Sept. 24.
Fried Beer is a beer-filled pretzel-like dough pocket that's shaped like ravioli. Take a bite and the beer pours out.
But don't cry over spilled suds. Simply use the dough to soak up the rest of the brewski.
"Why drink your beer when you can eat it?" creator Mark Zable said.
The Deep Fried Frozen Margarita includes a funnel cake batter mixed with either tequila or tequila-flavored wine, dusted with margarita mix and served in a salt-rimmed plastic glass.
It tastes just like a margarita, although it won't produce much of a buzz, said Jake Levy, one of the dish's creators. It's based on the margarita recipe served at his family's Desperados restaurants.
"If somebody were to eat a dozen of them," he said, "they might get a little head rush."
For three years, Zable has been on a mission to concoct Fried Beer. He remembers staring at a bar menu in a restaurant. Calamari. Nachos. Fried cheese.
"Someone needs to figure out a way to fry beer," he thought.
Zable started experimenting. But the beer-and-dough concoction kept exploding once it hit the fryer. He kept getting burned.
So he consulted with a food scientist – still, no luck.
Then, earlier this year, he finally found the recipe for success. Now Zable keeps the process shrouded in secrecy and has applied for a Fried Beer patent and trademark.
Food vendors at fairs across the country often copycat the Texas fair's top foods. So Zable is doing whatever he can "so I can't be knocked off."
He has been a Big Tex Choice finalist twice before, but that doesn't cut it. He yearns for the trophy, an Oscar-like award with a Big Tex head.
"I really, really want one of those trophies this year," he said.
Levy did backflips in his restaurant when he heard that his Deep Fried Frozen Margarita had been named a finalist. When he won a Big Tex Choice Award for his Deep Fried Latte in 2007, his family received requests from media outlets worldwide.
"We got a little taste of that, and we definitely want to do it again," he said. "If you're the 'it' food at the fair, you are at the pinnacle."
Don't forget the fry king.
Abel Gonzales Jr. returns again as a finalist, this time with Fried Chocolate.
He's received Big Tex awards for Texas Fried Cookie Dough, Fried Coke and a Fried Peanut Butter, Jelly and Banana Sandwich.
And don't forget last year's winner, Gonzales' Deep Fried Butter, which generated headlines nationwide.
Oprah Winfrey tasted the fried butter – and liked it – during her visit to the fair, where she taped an episode of her talk show.
This year, Gonzales had brownies on the brain. It became his fried focus.
The brownie is stuffed with a piece of white chocolate, a cherry and pecans. The treat is then dipped into chocolate cake batter and fried.
But even Fried Chocolate might have a hard time toppling Deep Fried Butter, Gonzales said. Then again, he thought there was no way he could top Fried Coke, which won a Big Tex award in 2006.
"You just go and try to do the best you can," Gonzales said. "If you start thinking, 'Ooh, I've got to start thinking of something bigger and better,' you're not going to come up with anything at all."