Fried-Food Finalists Chosen for 2014 Big Tex Choice Awards

Categories: Texas Traveler

Photo courtesy of State Fair of Texas
Deep-fried loaded baked potatoes, anyone?
The State Fair of Texas in Dallas will be here before we know it -- it kicks of September 26 -- and that means Corny dogs, funnel cakes, and of course, the weirdest and wackiest fried foods. Sure, you can stick to the traditional fried Oreo cookies or over-the-top fried cheesecakes, butter and bubblegum -- remember that one? But, you should also sample the 2014 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists.

Last year, the most creative fried creation was the Fried Thanksgiving Dinner and the best tasting item was the Fried Cuban Roll.

If you thought those combinations were out-of-the-box, then take a look at this year's finalists. Top Chef contestant Tiffany Derry, Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket personality Donovan Lewis, Dallas lifestyle blogger Cynthia Smoot, and Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn will decide the winners for Most Creative and Best Tasting on Monday, September 1.

Based on the descriptions of each entry, who do you think will walk away victorious? And will you try any of these fried concoctions?

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I Ate One of the Best Meals of My Life This Weekend...and It Was in Dallas

Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
The charcuterie board at FT33 is one of the best things on the menu.
Some people call it sibling rivalry. Others say that Houstonians are jealous that Dallas is thought of as wealthy and sophisticated, while we have more of a gritty, urban reputation. Maybe it's because Dallas always seems to get national attention for good things, while we end up on lists for crime and such. Whatever the reason, we Houstonians love to hate Dallas.

So when I told my local friends I was taking a weekend trip to Dallas to see what the city had to offer, food-wise, they scoffed. Why would anyone leave the dining mecca that is the Bayou City for the cultural wasteland of the Big D? I wondered this too on the drive up there, Iggy Azalea playing too loud on the radio and the sun tanning only my right arm as I sat in the passenger seat. What could Dallas have to offer that's better than Oxheart or Chinatown or Killen's BBQ?

Along with Fluff Bake Bar chef Rebecca Masson, I'd been invited to dine at FT33, the restaurant helmed by recent James Beard Award semifinalist Matt McCallister, known for his foraging tendencies and modern, seasonal dishes. He was also recently named a Food & Wine best new chef, and FT33--an abbreviation of "fire table 33," the chef's table--is consistently at the top of lists of best restaurants in Dallas.

But enough about the restaurant's and McCallister's local and national accolades. I'm a Houstonian. I ate at a restaurant in Dallas. And in spite of any nebulous urban rivalries, I loved it more than I've loved any food in quite some time. Here's why.

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Ten Best Signs You're a Houston Foodie

Photo by Robb Walsh
Quick! Name those fajitas!
Sure, you live in Houston. Maybe you even grew up in Houston. But are you a true Houston foodie?

Do you plan your days off around which type of ethnic food you most want to eat, and stick to a single neighborhood for hours so as to properly indulge and explore?

Do you make a sport of going to Revival Market for doughnuts and Shipleys on North Main for boudin kolaches on the same day in an attempt to actually acquire both before they sell out?

Do the folks behind the counter at Burt's Meat Market greet you by name?

Do you know the significance of the red cup at Ruchi's?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be a Houston foodie. Here are some other criteria.

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Eating Through the Eastern Bloc in Houston

Photo by Catherine Gillespie
Polonia's Veal Schnitzel

When people think about food from the former Soviet Union, the first two ingredients that come to mind are dill and sour cream. But there is much more to the diverse cuisines of the USSR and former Soviet Satellites and Houston has the Russian, Polish, Czech and Bosnian eateries to prove it.

Let's start with the big one: Russia. Though there aren't any great Russian tea rooms in Houston to try, there are a couple of groceries. Golden Grain, the less sad of the two, offers a selection of handmade pelmeni (meat dumplings) and Ukrainian vareniki stuffed with creamy potato or savory cabbage fillings. The dumplings come in Ziploc bags, which is how you know they are going to be excellent. There are also in-house baked goods including Russian pies with sweet and savory fillings that are worth a try.

The store also offers Russian mayonnaise made with sunflower seed oil -- a delicacy worth trying -- and even frozen oblipikha (sea buckthorn) berries that are used in a long list of Russian remedies for everything from colds to itchy skin. One of the few things you can't find in either store is Crimean wine, but Golden Grain does stock the sweet Russian champagne Sovetskoye.

This story continues on the next page.

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5 More Awesome Things to Eat at Buc-ee's

Photo by Vivian Nguyen
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my ritual of stopping by mega-convenience store Buc-ee's on my way to visit family in the Hill Country. Because I visit my folks pretty regularly, I stop at Buc-ee's a lot. It's not really a road trip unless I do.

I listed the top 5 things to eat at Buc-ee's, including Beaver Nuggets, fudge and, of course, beef jerky. I thought it was a pretty good representation of the greatest things Buc-ee's has to offer.

But once the article was posted, comments started pouring in.

"I can't believe you didn't include the potato salad!"

"What, no roasted cashews?"

"This isn't even a list without the banana pudding!"

I hear you, folks. There's just too much awesome stuff at Buc-ee's to include it all. But in the spirit of thoroughness, I returned to Buc-ee's and tried out some of your suggestions. Here's the best of the rest.

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The 5 Best Things to Eat at Buc-ee's, the Convenience Store of the Gods

Photo by Larry D. Moore
The New Braunfels Buc-ee's is the largest convenience store in the world. Because we're Texas.
Because my family lives in both Corpus and the Hill Country, I find myself on the road to and from Houston frequently. During those long, boring drives through south and central Texas, there is one thing that shines like a beacon among the run-down gas stations and cows and oil rigs: Buc-ee's.

Buc-ee's is the king of Texas convenience stores. I know that at Buc-ee's, there will always be enough gas pumps, enough parking spaces, enough toilets and more food than I could ever eat. Plus you can do most of your grocery shopping and all of your holiday gift buys there (if the people on your list are into bedazzled cowboy paraphernalia). The chain's bathrooms are consistently named the best in America, and I suspect it's one of the few places on earth where you can buy pecan pie in a jar, a camo onesie, a glittery decorative vase and windshield wiper fluid all in one convenient location.

I go to Buc-ee's for the food, though. The company makes most of it in-house, and it provides a great alternative to the usual convenience store fare. The beef jerky is some of the best around (no joke), the fudge is rich and delicious, and the wall of gummy candy looks like something out of Willy Wonka's shop.

So next time you're on a road trip in Texas, look for the giant beaver signs and stop by Buc-ee's for some tasty treats. It can be overwhelming, for sure, but to help you out, here's a list of the five best things worth checking out at the Texas-sized convenience store.

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Travel Through Texas Barbecue (Good and Bad) with Daniel Vaughn

Photo by Molly Dunn
Daniel Vaughn tells the story of eating his way through Texas barbecue restaurants in his new book.
This Saturday, June 15, Daniel Vaughn, who's the new barbecue editor for Texas Monthly and has been dubbed "BBQ Snob," will be signing his new book, The Prophets of Smoked Meat, at Leibman's Foods/Blue Willow Bookshop from 1 to 3 p.m. and River Oaks Bookstore from 4 to 6 p.m.

We spoke with Vaughn about his book and his journey through Texas as he tasted his way through nearly 200 barbecue joints in the Lone Star State. Every place he stopped at made it into his book, whether it was wonderful barbecue or just mediocre.

"I thought it was important to tell the story without strategizing what Texas barbecue was and give a clear picture of a six- to eight-month snapshot," Vaughn says.

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The Czech Stop in West, Texas Hasn't Closed Its Doors Once in 29 Years

Photos by Molly Dunn
Get your kolaches to go and enjoy while you drive down I-35.
Now that the world knows of West, Texas -- and that it is not in fact in the western region of Texas -- everyone should also know about the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery, the famous combination deli/bakery that serves over 600 hungry customers a day.

One of my favorite things to do as a student at Baylor University in nearby Waco was to head to West, Texas, for a midnight road trip to Czech Stop and the Little Czech Bakery. Kolaches, pastries, brownies, cookies and pies are ideal treats for midnight cravings, and being only 15 minutes away makes it super easy to jump in the car and drive down I-35 to enjoy West's famous sweet and savory kolaches.

After the recent devastating fertilizer plant explosion in West, neither the Czech Stop nor the Little Czech Bakery closed their doors.

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Top Five Foods You Must Try at the Texas Renaissance Festival

Categories: Texas Traveler

Photos by Molly Dunn
Don't go to the Renaissance Festival without trying this dish (see No. 2).
The Texas Renaissance Festival began this weekend on Saturday, October 6, bringing in people from all over the state. The last time I went to the Renaissance Festival was in high school, but I am glad to say that it is still the same enjoyable and hysterical event it was six years ago.

People still dress up in their crazy and sometimes repulsive costumes, walking around with a nearly empty wine bottle in their right hand and a goblet of beer in their left hand (this can be observed by noon), and you can still munch on a turkey leg or sausage-on-a-stick all day long.

I love people-watching, looking through shops at the products from the Renaissance time and attending the various shows at the festival, but most of all, I love the wide selection of food. Yes, they probably didn't have pretzel sticks and cotton candy during this time, but the beauty of the Renaissance Festival is that you can try food (most likely fried) from any region of your choosing. There's something for everyone's palate.

Here's a top five list of foods you must try while at the Texas Renaissance Festival this year.

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Too Bad It Rained: Top 5 Fried Foods I Wish I Had Tasted at the State Fair of Texas

Photo courtesy of HooverStreetStudios
Fletcher's Corny Dogs are always a must-try at the State Fair of Texas.
Unfortunately, it rained literally all day long in Dallas on Saturday. Which just so happened to be the day I planned to attend the State Fair of Texas.

There were many things I was looking forward to doing. I wanted to see Big Tex, ride the Ferris Wheel, watch the pig races and enjoy the fireworks at night. But more importantly, I wanted to try some fried food.

Here are my top five fried foods I wish I could have tasted while at the State Fair of Texas. Maybe next weekend Mother Nature won't prevent me from driving up there.

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