Even though this was my fourth year as a Gold Buckle Foodie Award judge, I was not prepared for what hit me Thursday at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
After years of successfully dodging the bug pizza (topped with scorpions, mealworms and crickets), I finally had a bite. That, however, is not what got me. What set my stomach spinning was the sheer volume of gooey, sticky, deep-fried, spicy, bacon-wrapped, nitrogen-infused, impaled-on-a-stick concoctions that were placed before us to try.
I’m well aware of the advice to pace yourself – this is a marathon, not a sprint. What I was not prepared for was to sample 51 foods in the span of three and a half hours. That’s a lot more food than we’ve judged before. It was so much more that many of my fellow judges tapped out before we finished judging. I think that had a lot to do with both the volume of food and that fact that we went well beyond our scheduled time. It was like a game of Fair Food Survivor.
For those who don’t know, the Gold Buckle Foodie Award is a competition among the food vendors at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to see who has the best foods in eight categories. The winners get ribbons and major bragging rights, which can translate to a lot of dollars at an event as big as the HLSR.
Being selected as a judge is an honor. It’s something we have a lot of fun with but a responsibility we take seriously. All the judges are media personalities, which is a great ploy to help market the fantastic foods at RodeoHouston. Several of the judges were broadcasting live via social media feeds. Most all of us went back to our respective outlets and reported on the event, generating more interest in the big show.
The judging format changed a little this year. For one thing, about a third of the judges didn’t show. So, instead of having everyone judge part of all eight categories, they divided us into two groups. Each group judged four categories. I had Best Specialty Food, Food on a Stick, Fried Food, New Flavor, and one item in Most Creative (which became necessary at the end after so many judges had departed).
Another problem we had was the fact that a lot of food arrived to us cold, which really impacts the taste. (Think bacon-wrapped sausage on a stick that has started to congeal.) I tried to keep that in mind when casting my votes. That was what I noticed the most when I sampled the bug pizza. I didn’t mind the crunchy scorpion nearly as much as the blah taste of cold pizza. I’m sure it would have been much better piping hot and fresh.
So, enough of the rambling, let’s cut to the chase. What was good and what wasn’t? Among the things I’d go back for are the pizza on a stick, Smoorcookie, deep-fried cookie dough, banana pudding funnel cake, Fruity Pebble covered fried shrimp, and the chocolate covered bacon. One item in particular that stood out to me was a dessert taco. It had a green shell and was filled with a sweet, frozen yellow concoction that I really couldn’t get enough of.
I also noticed this year that there was an explosion of foods covered in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (corn on the cob, pizza, caramel apples, and cotton candy). It was a novelty last year but was overkill this year. Still, it’s good stuff and likely to be a fair staple for years to come.
The worst thing I had to sample was a falafel. I’m sure it was great as far as falafel’s go, but I almost gagged on it. I’ve never had a falafel before and found it dry and bitter. We had numerous corndogs to try and most were pretty good. There was one, and I don’t know who made it, that was awful. I also sampled a fried mac-n-cheese that was barely palatable because it had cooled so much.
Fellow judge Michael Garfield, the High-Tech Texan, sank his sweet tooth into categories of foods other than the ones I tried. In the dessert category he fell for the colorful Unicorn Float.
“The Unicorn Float was like Candyland in a cup,” said Garfield, an 11-year foodie veteran. “The entries have become more creative each year.”
Without further ado, I present to you the 2019 Gold Buckle Foodie Award winners:
- Best Food-on-a-Stick: “Bacon Wrapped Pecan Smoked Sausage” – Holmes Smokehouse (RP60)
- Best Value: “Chicken and Ribs Platter” – Salt Grass (L0063)
- Best New Flavor: “Smoorcookie” – Totally Baked Cookie Joint (Carnival)
- Best Dessert: “Cookie Dough Parfait” – Aunt Edmoes Cookies (CD205)
- Best Fried Food: “Minnechocolate Pie” – The Original Minneapple Pie (CD202)
- Best Specialty Food: “Chocolate Cobbler” – All of Us (E12107)
- Classic Fair Food: “Hot Crunchy Cheetos Cotton Candy” – The Candy Factory (Carnival)
- Most Creative Food: “Unicorn Float” – The Candy Factory (The Junction).