A bacon cheeseburger with funnel cake bun? Yes, please. Also: We finally discovered fried cheesecake. (Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones)

Wherein we get seriously fed on fried foods in the shadow of Big Tex

Every year, the State Fair of Texas increases the obesity rate in North Texas, at least temporarily, by foisting upon nearly 2.5 million fairgoers a slate of deep-fried, trans-fat-laden, sugar-coated, bacon-accented fare, all served with plastic cutlery and wrapped in batter and wax-paper (possibly even batter-dipped wax paper — you can’t know for sure).

Food is an essential component of fair life, whether its proto-foodstuffs (i.e., the livestock competition, whose entrants may well be the side-dish in 2018), the preserves and baked goods paraded before a panel of judges evaluating best canned beans or best zucchini bread, or the countless items served along the Midway and at all parts in between. It’s a lot to keep track of.

So we did it for you.

Here’s our curated list of what to seek out this year at the State Fair. (You have until Oct. 22.)

Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger. We colloquially refer to the prize presented to the must-have fair food of the season to be “best new fried food,” but that’s not actually what it is called. There are three categories, in fact: Best Taste/Sweet, Best Taste/Savory and Most Creative. It’s that last one that can steer you wrong sometimes. (Anyone remember fried bubblegum? It’s the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, and I used to frequent TMC in the 1990s.) But this year’s Most Creative (it also won the Savory category) may be the best award-winner since the fried Oreo. Creative doesn’t come close: It’s a mystery meat burger (but really flavorful), coated not in sliced cheese, but in dripping Velveeta-esque queso, topped by a crucifix of crispy bacon and served in a “bun” made of two round funnel cakes. (The funnel cakes themselves are then dusted with powdered sugar.) In hindsight, it’s a wonder this hasn’t been around for decades, combine the quintessence of fair food (funnel cake, burger, bacon) into a single item. We felt slight shame in how much we enjoyed it. Amazingly, it’s served at a pizza joint inside the food court. At 24 coupons, it ain’t cheap, but best to split one and not even think about how many calories they are. The Fair is a guilt-free zone. Inside the Tower Building Food Court.

Big-TexFletcher’s Corny Dogs. We aren’t stepping far from the mainstream when we say you need to get a corndog at the Fair. But only two locales (we are aware of) actually serve Fletcher’s — one at the foot of Big Tex, and one outside the Creative Arts Building. Fletcher’s are just better than the others (and while not foot-longs, at 12 coupons less expensive than some larger knock-offs). Don’t be too shocked by how long the line gets — these folks know what they are doing and keep it all moving. Just don’t burn your tongue on that first bite — they come out hot.

Fudge. The fudge purveyor inside the western entrance of the Embarcadero has been a stopping-point for us for years. With deeply rich and chewy peanut better, maple nut, milk chocolate and pumpkin fudges for sale, it’s the best way to take a taste of the Fair home with you. (Cash only. No coupons.)

Fried cheesecake. For a few seasons now, we’ve made sure to stop by one purveyor along Nimitz (near the satellite Fletcher’s) across from the Pan-Am Arena for the formerly-award-winning deep fried pecan pie. When we were disappointed by new stuff (fried Coke, fried butter), the pie was always a salve. But this year, we added a fried cheesecake to the lineup, and what a good decision that turned out to be. Wrapped like a blintz, the normally dense cheesecake tastes like a fluffy pillow of creamy decadence. They cut it down the middle, so it serves two easily. The only thing missing is a dollop of fruit compote to finish the profile, though grab a packet of strawberry jelly and improvise. Or do what we did: Eat it with the pecan pie and double your pleasure. 14 coupons each.

Butter sculpture. Although you can’t eat it, one of the best food attractions at the Fair each year is the half-ton butter carving at the entrance of the Creative Arts Building. Each year they change it up (one year it was of a full-sized cow — ironic, since that’s where butter comes from). This year, sculptor Ken Robison has created Mount Muchmore, a Texas version of Mount Rushmore with the faces of several state heroes carved into a formation taken from Big Bend National Park. (We didn’t see the heroes identified by name, though.) One of the best touches? A tiny velociraptor at the foot of façade, a nod to the countless dinosaurs whose fossilized bones have been discovered in Texas, proving that even in Texas, we know the earth is millions of years old. In fact, a million years from now, I have no doubt future generations will discover a fried Twinkie. I bet it will still be delicious.      

To see the award-winning funnel cake burger being made, Click Here.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Fair Park through Oct. 22. BigTex.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 13, 2017.