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Special Taste Report: The Eight Fried Finalists at the 2013 Big Texas Choice Awards

Deep-fried Cuban roll made by Isaac Rousso (photography by Jake Medina)
Deep-fried Cuban roll made by Isaac Rousso (photography by Jake Medina)

Yesterday morning, the eight finalists in the 2013 Big Tex Choice Awards gathered at The Dock to compete for two prizes: “Best Taste” and “Most Creative.” In the end, Isaac Rousso took home the award for “Best Taste” with his deep-fried Cuban roll. Duo Justin and Rudy Martinez nabbed “Most Creative” with their fried Thanksgiving dinner. The three judges (Jacqueline Floyd and Mike Hashimoto of The Dallas Morning News, and Corby Davidson of the Ticket) were more than happy to be the samplers of the day, audibly elated at the battered bounty they received.

But one competitor may have had a bit of an edge. We’re talking Lance Armstrong-level here, you guys.

THE BEST TASTE WINNER: Deep-fried Cuban roll

Rousso recalled a moment before the competition when he found a quarter at a gas station. “I’m so superstitious,” he said. “I knew it was going to be my lucky quarter.” For Rousso, whose entry into the competition marked his fourth time doing so, the win was a major sigh of relief.

“You don’t take anything for granted,” he said.

The deep-fried Cuban roll—a mix of slow cooked pork shoulder, chopped ham, pickles, and what Rousso calls his “secret sauce”—is spread on a slice of Swiss cheese and rolled up in a pastry dough. Then it’s deep fried and served with mojo sauce. The Swiss cheese and pickles laid the groundwork for a solid dish that seemed like the natural evolution of both the sandwich and the egg roll. It’s tasty.

THE MOST CREATIVE WINNER: Deep-fried Thanksgiving dinner

The fried Thanksgiving dinner by Justin and Rudy Martinez was a result of a practice that has become harder and harder every year, according to Justin. “I didn’t want to be a one hit wonder,” he said. Martinez, whose last success was fried bubblegum, knew that simply being creative wouldn’t be enough. “You really have to utilize your culinary background.”

Roasted turkey, homemade stuffing, cream corn are rolled into corn meal and fried up nice and crispy. It all came together to ensure the win for “Most Creative” for the culinary couple. And it didn’t taste half bad, either.

Left: Justin Martinez enjoying a victory hug. Right: Isaac Rousso beaming with his golden Big Tex.
Left: Justin Martinez enjoying a victory hug. Right: Isaac Rousso beaming with his golden Big Tex.

THE SIX OTHER FINALISTS

Golden Fried Millionaire Pie
This delicious dessert was the child of Nick Bert Jr., who loaded the crust with cream cheese, pecans, pineapple and sweet, sweet coconut. It was warm, fruity, nutty, and salty all at once. My brain was overloaded.

Fernie’s Deep Fried King Ranch Casserole
This one was definitely fun to look at. Christi Erpillo’s creation was filled with gooey cheese, chicken, and tortilla bits. It’s all dipped in a Southwestern egg wash, coated, fried and SHAPED like – according to Corby Davidson – a “cute little Texas.” I’ve always said that King Ranch needed to be more mobile and easily eaten by hand (so that I could eat two at once), and this seems like the perfect solution.

Spinach dip bites
Spinach dip bites

Spinach Dip Bites
I could tell these were going to be interesting by the way the judges said “hmm” and “mmm.” These were made by Mark and Norman Zable. Spinach and artichokes were coated with tortilla chips and fried until they were a nice golden brown. Crunchy exterior; green-gooey center. Definitely a “hmm” and “mmm” situation.

This vegetarian option is tangy and creamy.
The deep-fried fireball also comes in this creamy and tangy vegetarian version.

Texas Fried Fireball
Butch Benavides was back this year after a strong showing in 2012 with two entries, one which actually won “Most Creative.” His Texas Fried Fireball was a pimento-pickle-pepper-party with bacon and a jalapeno-infused batter, which seemed to spark heat at first bite. Although Benavides didn’t walk away with an award this year, he seemed determined to get back on the horse and fry again.

Pictured: A whole afternoon of napping
Pictured: A whole afternoon of napping. (Meatloaf)

Southern Style Chicken-Fried Meatloaf
Clint Probst’s fried dish was a major “itis” inducer – which isn’t something that I seek out at 9:30 a.m. It was, however, very much welcomed here. Although it didn’t receive a title, the homemade meatloaf slices, breaded and chicken-fried and served with garlic mashed potatoes and a cream gravy are sure to be a big hit, which will most likely be followed by a big nap.

Just look at it.
Just look at it.

Awesome Deep Fried Nutella

This baby had everything: strawberries, bananas, powdered sugar, CHOCOLATE whipped cream, and most important, Nutella, the greatest Italian import since pizza and the Lamborghini. And in case you misread the name or had no previous experience with the hazelnut heaven that is Nutella, Abel Gonzalez topped the puppy off with even more of the stuff. It’s a colorful, rich dessert dish that feels like a no-brainer. The first mouthful is just as declarative. Did I mention they put Nutella in this thing?

With the final votes cast and the winners announced, the excitement of the Big Tex Choice Awards had finally reached its apex. The contestants, battered and fried, emerged slowly and made their separate ways, most likely to their food labs where they will continue in their pursuit of that handsome golden cowboy.

“This is a big deal,” said KRLD personality Mark Sham. The sentiment was echoed with an eruption of applause. But, really, who wouldn’t clap for fried food?

Jake Austin Medina is a D Magazine intern and a journalism major at the University of North Texas. He likes dogs, Reddit, pizza, and success.

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