People go to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for lots of reasons — the carnival, the concerts, the shopping, the animals, etc . . . but the food has always been a major draw. For the last six years, the Rodeo has hosted the Gold Buckle Foodie Awards to celebrate its fair food stars in eight categories.
Media members from across the city braved the slightly cool temperatures and high winds Thursday to taste the candidates and pick the winners.
Fair foods follow two primary philosophies: Everything is better with bacon and too much is just right.
Generally, fair food falls into a few categories: Fried food, food on a stick, fried food on a stick and dessert (which may or may not be on a stick). Essentially, a corn dog from iconic Texas fair provider Fletcher's is the perfect Rodeo food, since it is slightly sweet, fried and on a stick. Also, fair foods follow two primary philosophies: Everything is better with bacon and too much is just right.
As always, the new items attract the most attention. The fair world is a what have you done for me lately environment and novelties like pizza on a stick are old hat. Here are a few to seek out and a few to avoid at this year's Rodeo.
Best savory: Bacon wrapped turkey leg at Texas Steak Out: As already noted, on the Rodeo grounds, everything is better with bacon, including the classic turkey leg, which gets a smoky sweetness from the wide strips of bacon. At $18 this thing is $6-8 more than regular turkey legs, but eating one will cause instant envy from everyone who sees it.
Best newcomer: Perogi on a stick at Polonia. This beloved Polish restaurant makes its Rodeo debut this year with a selection of classic dishes transformed for Rodeo eating. Specifically, pierogi, the potato (and sometimes meat-filled) dumplings, are miniaturized and stuffed four to a stick. The dish didn't do well with the Gold Buckle judges, but it's a comfort food taste sensation that's rare to find outside the freezer case.
Best dessert: Chocolate chip cookie parfait from Aunt Edmoe's. The judges applauded as soon as this dessert hit the table. It features two fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wedged into a generous scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. The portion is easily large enough to split, which is probably also a smart decision from a caloric perspective, not that anyone wants to share. It's utterly delicious.
Best food on a stick: Fletcher's corndog. You can't go wrong with the classic, where the slightly sweet, crispy batter makes up for the fairly mediocre hotdog inside.
Strangest food: Pizza topped with scorpions, grasshoppers or meal worms. Look for Swain's Pizza on a Stick just down from Triple J's Smokehouse to try the latest taste sensation: Insects on pizza. Swain's makes the meal more palatable by using sour cream and onion flavored grasshoppers and taco flavored mealworms, but the cheese and sauce mostly mask everything except the crunch.
Worst food: Bacon cotton candy. With a greasy texture and an unappealing, vaguely orange color, let's just say that two great tastes DON'T always taste great together.
The winners of all the Gold Buckle categories are below. Attendees who eat all eight get a T-shirt, a koozie and a button. Eat five for just the koozie and button. Eat two and you'll get a button.
Gold Buckle Foodie Award Winners
Best Breakfast: Big stone breakfast sandwich at Stubby's Cinnamon Roll
Best Value Food: Barbecue baked potato ($13) at Triple J's Smokehouse
Best Classic Fair Food: Pulled pork stuffed baked potato at Saltgrass Steakhouse
Best Food on a Stick: Grilled chicken kabob at Saltgrass Steakhouse
Best Fried Food: Fried pie at Kettle Corn
Most Creative Food: Frosty bite lemon cream cupcake at Custon Confections
Best New Taste: Cinnamon roll pancakes at Stubby's Cinnamon Roll
Best Dessert: Cookie dough parfait at Aunt Edmoe's