Ken Hoffman chows down on RodeoHouston carnival's most over-the-top food
Dominic Palmieri, the wildly creative “Midway Gourmet,” is the mastermind — some might say evil genius — behind deep-fried butter and bacon-covered candy bars, turkey legs that look like Louisville Sluggers and everything that fits in a deep-fryer.
If it’s “ooey, gooey, fried and chewy,” Palmieri is probably the maestro behind it. After 27 years working his gastronomical magic on the Carnival midway at the Houston Livestock and Rodeo, he’s seen it all and done it all.
And I’ve eaten it all. I’m not complaining. I’m partial to footlong corn dogs and chocolate-covered, deep-fried cheesecake. Can somebody go get my car and pick me up at the exit? I’m not in walking condition.
Palmieri escorted me and my merry band of taste-testers on a lap around all the Carnival food booths. As a veteran in the clubhouse, you know, like Carlos Beltran, I paced myself. I had room for the Chicken Sandwich on a Donut Bun and Deep-fried Oreos at the end.
“If you can dream it, you can find it on the Carnival Midway,” Palmieri says.
“Every year, carnival and fair-goers crave a new craze, and sour is the trend in 2020. Last year, spicy was the thing, and spicy is still very popular, but sour is the trend. That’s a reason why we’re bringing sour and spicy pickles to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We’re also providing for guests who are looking for quasi-heathy and keto-friendly choices. Last year we set a record with the Big Rib, which is about two pounds of rib steak on a stick. We’re also bringing pork chops on a stick this year.”
Here are some of the new treats you’ll find at the Carnival stands:
Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ
The Texas Big Stick – 24-inch skewer with your choice of beef steak, chicken or pork, dipped in bbq sauce. “You can see this a mile away, it looks like a gladiator’s sword,” Palmieri said. This is not your father’s shish kabob, but it’s big enough to feed him … and your mother and crazy Uncle Lou. The Texas Big Stick is making its worldwide debut in Houston. I tried the pork and chicken sticks. That’s a lot of meat, be careful the stick doesn’t bend.
Nashville Hot Chicken – the chicken is breaded, deep-fried, and slathered with the wildly popular hot sauce from Music City.
Crunchy Flaming Hot Pickle – the quintessential blend of salty, hot and tart. It’s a big ol’ dill pickle, dripping with cheese, topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. You’re talking a pound of pickle deliciousness. Served in a paper tray, eaten with a fork. Whoa, these pickles are sour … and in Seinfeld fashion, they’re making me thirsty.
New Turkey Legs – one is dipped in melty hot spicy nacho cheese and rolled in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The other is drenched with Buffalo Hot Sauce and served with ranch sauce. The Rodeo is famous for its turkey legs and these appendages weigh in close to two pounds. Turkey legs are the original food on a stick. I tried the turkey gam with cheese sauce and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Wow, is right.
Cowboy Kettle Cork Stand
Chamoy Tajin Pickle – a ginormous pickle with chamoy, a Mexican sauce made from pickled fruit and chili peppers, and tajin, another Mexican sauce made with chilis, lime and salt. The only thing missing is a tiny umbrella stuck in the pickle.
Dutchman’s Funnel Cake
Fruity Pebbles Funnel Cake – topped with powdered sugar, real Fruity Pebbles cereal and whipped cream. Mind you, real whipped cream, none of the “whipped topping” silliness. I’m a sucker for funnel cakes. Did you know that I worked in the funnel cake stand one year? I got a haircut, passed the Carnival’s drug test and was pre-tay, pre-tay good at pouring the batter just right.
Deep Fried Twinkies – just when you thought this couldn’t get more insane, the Carnival is introducing a new, never-before, over-the-top deep-fried Twinkie. It’s stuffed with a Snickers candy bar, plopped in the fryer, then topped with bacon sprinkles. This is a mic drop.
Tajin Chamoy Pineapple – pineapple kicked up with tajin and chamoy, plunged into liquid nitrogen so it comes out smokin’ frozen, topped with soft served laced with Dole Whip.