I’ve lived in Dallas for three Texas State Fairs, and this Saturday finally went. I should have gone sooner. The Texas State Fair is everything you could hope for: fun, silly, huge, full of unhealthy food and drink, and crowded but not scarily so. It was great.
It’s not cheap, however. I spent a total of $43.50, and could have easily dropped much more. That included a discounted entry ticket and 60 “coupons,” which you purchase with actual money and then use across the fair as currency. The purpose of coupons is, I assume, to dissociate you from questions of what’s a fair price. “The fries over there are 14 tickets and these are 12 tickets,” you might say, instead of the more reasonable “Seven bucks for fries?!?”
When friends Lindsay, Ethan, and I arrived, we began a casual counter-clockwise walk around Fair Park. Lindsay hadn’t eaten all day, so we bought her happiness in the form of a giant turkey leg, and then sidled up to the beer tent, which was offering a confusing-sounding experience: funnel cake beer.
Specifically, Community Beer Company’s Funnel Cake Ale, a special offering meant to taste like dessert, and served with powdered sugar around the rim. Now, at first the thought of this revolted me, but I realized: hey, you only live once.
Community Funnel Cake Ale, shockingly, does not suck. In fact, it’s not even desserty. “It tastes like beer,” Ethan complained. “I feel cheated.” I think there was a genuine attempt to add sweet flavors. (Community denies using actual funnel cake; their goal was just to get something light and refreshing.) However, the self-respecting brewmasters also added a ton of hops to make sure the sweetness did not run rampant. The combination of bitter hops and sweet sugar turned into an intriguing semblance of citrus, with an acid kick. As a result, when you’re out in the sun at the fair, Funnel Cake Ale is actually one of your more refreshing choices.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Cotton Bowl, all sorts of livestock were on display: horses, steers, mules, multiple aisles of llamas, and piglets.
Stealing the show, probably, was Boris, the 1,270-pound boar. Boris didn’t do much. When we visited, he was lying down, fast asleep. Life is hard when you weigh 1,270 pounds, I guess. A posted sign announced that Boris is on a special diet.
There are more animal-based attractions. You can see the Ostrich Races, which are earnestly corny and feature an emu-herding sideshow and a hilarious race where small children attempt to “herd” ducks. The ostriches have actual adult jockeys who seem sincere when they congratulate each other on a race well-run. Next door is the petting zoo, which has zebras, a “teenage” giraffe, yaks, and several animals I have never even heard of.
The food court doesn’t have animals you’ve never heard of, but it does have animals you rarely eat. The New Orleans booth featured some totally delicious fried alligator, in a gloriously salty and peppery batter. I was unable to track down the critics’ choice for “best taste” (Gulf shrimp and all the traditional shrimp side dishes, smashed into a big ball and fried), but I was able to sample fried Sriracha balls, which are just stupendous. Speaking as a Sriracha skeptic, when you mash it up with corn, shredded chicken, and tomatoes, and then coat it in a crispy tortilla-chip batter, the result is delightful. It’s only medium-spicy, but the lady will hand you a bottle of hot sauce if you need extra heat.
Really, only one fried food I tried had a similar expectations/reality ratio. Mom, please sit down before proceeding.
Deep-fried pumpkin pie.
Oh my god. This is glorious. The pumpkin pie innards are gooey, intensely pumpkiny, the texture of a truffle. And the fried coating is sinful, excessive, ridiculous, and oh so good. Lindsay got the deep-fried s’mores, and I can confirm that this is also stupendous.
Disappointments? There were a few. The “auto show” was not vintage cars, but a shameless showroom of General Motors’ new models. We walked through a weird number of mattress store product-placement areas. The Texas wine booth confirmed my distrust of Texas wines, except for Messina Hof’s red zinfandel. And Austin’s own Eastciders Gold Top, the best hard cider I have tasted outside the United Kingdom, was represented–but $7.50 bought you a tiny little plastic cup, barely half a bottle.
If you get frustrated in your attempt to drink great cider, or your attempt to stand in line for a half-hour to try the deep-fried loaded baked potato and deep-fried bacon-wrapped cinnamon roll (those were served by the same stand), you can always fall back on the State Fair’s greatest pursuit of all: people-watching. It ought to be considered for some kind of People-Watching Olympics. From the dozens of llama owners to the guy who got on a ride twice to flirt with my friend; from the earnest folks with serious faces doling out fried Oreos to this guy who is super excited to meet a zebra…
…the people at the fair are incredible.
In conclusion: the Texas State Fair is awesome. Next year I’m going back. And next year I’m going to try to do more.