Well, I did it. Three different food festivals in one weekend. I also managed to log 7 miles on my running shoes but I don’t think that burned off even 10% of the calories I consumed. Onto the food!
First up is the opening night of State Fair, starting with the much publicized chicken fried bacon, the winner of Best Taste in the Big Tex Choice Awards.
I mentioned earlier that I feared this deep fried treat would be soggy due to the fatty grease of the bacon soaking through the batter. Turns out that was the least of my worries. It appears that the bacon strips are precooked before being dipped in batter and refried. At least that’s the only reasoning I can gather up for these dry and overcooked bacon strips coated with a thick layer of cornmeal batter. I imagine that Beggin strips have a similar texture. It was hard to eat and you can barely taste the bacon. Early reports from other state fair goers reflect positively on this item. However, even my bacon-loving companion who had never met a piece of pig he didn’t like had to force himself to finish the last two strips. Maybe we’re just too in love with pork belly to accept any form of it that doesn’t ooze with richness.
Disappointed, we wandered over to the car show and found this year’s winner for Most Creative fried item, the fried banana split.
The fried banana split comes in two sizes, mini (shown above) and regular. The description on the State Fair website describes it as “a mixture of banana and honey peanut butter rolled in balls, battered and deep-fried and topped with assorted, delicious fixings, including powdered sugar, caramel and chocolate syrups, chopped peanuts, whipped cream and banana split flavored ice cream bites then fittingly crowned with the traditional cherry.” This would be my description: “Fried peanut butter ball topped with powdered sugar, generic brand syrup, chopped peanuts, whipped cream, and a few banana split flavored Dipping Dots.” It’s not that the fried banana split didn’t taste good, it just didn’t taste anything like a banana split. By far, the dominating flavor was the peanut butter. Am I missing something here? I don’t remember banana splits having peanut butter on/in them.
Thank goodness the our next course, the fried cake, veered us away from an evening of deep fried train wreck.
Wait, is that a deep fried chili covered corn dog?
That was our initial reaction, too. No, it’s deep fried chocolate cake on a stick. It’s the only fried item we tried on opening night that didn’t have that “we use the same grease to deep fry your chicken and your dessert” taste. Perfectly moist chocolate cake inside a fluffy blanket of light, not too greasy, batter.
That was the same fluffy batter blanket I was looking for on my Fletcher’s corny dog. However, though the outside of the batter was fried to a perfect crunch, the middle layer of corn bread “fluff” was missing… just crunch, then hot dog meat. This was my first Fletcher’s corny dog, are they all like this or was I just unlucky?
Next, we went for a favorite from a State Fair visit two years ago, the fried S’more.
It was tasty, but there seemed to be a thicker coating of batter (detracting from the ooze of the marshmallow) this year than two years ago.
We rounded out the night with a caramel covered apple. When almost everything else fails, this sweet and crunchy classic saves the evening.
The next morning, I shook off my fried food hangover and headed to the Greek Food Festival for lunch.
The $10 plate lunch (includes admission to the festival) features oregano chicken over rice, meatballs, spanakopita (spinach pie), Greek salad with feta and olives, and pita. The crackly skin on the oregano chicken and the flaky phyllo pastry shell on the spanakopita were lovely. However, the Greek salad was grossly overdressed and the pita bread tasted store-bought.
A la carte items fared better.
Grilled Greek sausage (loukaniko) with its crisp casing is always a delight. Pork souvlaki was tasty but a little overcooked (dry). A few swigs of Greek Aris beer helped that situation, though.
Moussaka presented itself in a monstrous serving. The rich dish was well seasoned with melt-in-your-mouth tender eggplant. The thick layer of bechamel topping had good flavor, but was a bit overwhelming for the casserole.
For dessert, loukoumades, honey balls, never fail to impress.
Take note, State Fair vendors, this is how you do a killer deep fried dessert. These golden globes sport a crunchy exterior with an unbelievable light interior. Honey sweetens the pot but doesn’t overwhelm like generic brand syrup or mountains of powdered sugar. I think this is what funnel cake wants to be when it grows up.
We also tried the baklava sundae. Unfortunately, the delicate flavors of the nutty baklava was overpowered by the nagging sweetness of the cheap vanilla ice cream it topped. Thankfully, my box of take-home baklava I bought from the marketplace won’t have that same problem.
Oh we’re not done yet ;)
Sunday lunch was all about Akimatsuri, the Japanese Fall Festival.
There were many teriyaki chicken bowls and shrimp tempuras to be had, but we were here for the less common stuff. Starting with the elusive takoyaki, which is normally only available in on Sushi Yama’s menu, but served by Sushi Sake at the festival.
These plump little spongy balls of batter and octopus covered in okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, aenori, dried fish flakes, and pickled ginger pieces are more fulfilling than the version Sushi Yama serves, which makes me wonder why they’re not on the regular menu at Sushi Sake.
Next up, a mystery bowl labeled “Japanese stew” from Ino Japanese Bistro.
Oden is a cheap, popular Japanese winter street food (often sold in convenience stores) consisting of fish cakes, daikon radish, eggs, and Japanese yam stewed in a light dashi broth. Not exactly appropriate for the hot September Texas weather, the tasty stew still stood out as one of the best items we tried at the festival. Though the textures of the various gelatinous and chewy and spongey ingredients can be challenging for the crunch-loving Western palate, it’s easy to imagine how satisfying this flavorful bowl of steaming hot broth with so many nutrients can be during a cold Japanese winter. My favorite part? Brushing the boiled egg with the nostril-stinging karashi (Japanese mustard) served on the side. That’ll clear up those cold weather sinus issues.
One of the more interesting vendors at the festival was Totoya (no, that’s not a mispelling of the Prius producer), a soon-to-open Japanese restaurant in north Dallas that featured environmentally conscious choices like free range chicken teriyaki and wild shrimp tempura at its booth. We tried their gyoza, which featured a great thin skin and the pungent flavor of Chinese chives. Sadly, some of them had broken by the time they reached the serving plate.
We finished the weekend of feasting with a deliciously sticky and savory eel bowl from Tei Tei Robata Bar, with the shiny individual rice grains gleaming under the sun.
I think I’ll be logging a few more miles on those tennies this week.