Late to the Game: Deep Fried Fandom

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This is a story of a thrilling—though at times sloppy—classic football matchup between two longtime rivals in a historic stadium called the Cotton Bowl. This is a story of a time-honored Texas tradition at the State Fair of Texas. This is a story of indigestion.

As this column has progressed, I’ve found myself becoming more and more of an authority on Texas sports, football specifically. Heck, I was even interviewed on KUT before the Notre Dame game, for my “expertise.” I’ll take credit for that Texas win, please and thank you. But the one thing I haven’t experienced, my white whale thus far, has been the Red River Showdown, otherwise known as Texas vs. OU. (As a side note, can someone explain to me why we call the Sooners “OU” when the school is called The University of Oklahoma? But I digress.) I decided to change that this year, so I took my vegetarian Yankee keister up I-35 to Dallas. Here’s what happened, complete with a scientific rating system. We’re working with a 1-10 vintage Bevo scoring system here.

Fried Cheese Curds

Technically, this wasn’t the first thing I ate, but it was the first fried thing I ate, and that’s what is important. Just before purchasing this delicacy, I stopped by the Texas Exes Tailgate, and, seeing that Tacodeli was setting up shop, had to get myself a breakfast taco. Gotta prime the pump, as they say. They say that, right? Also, it’s not like I can get a Tacodeli migas taco in Austin, right?

Looking for something to get me going, I stopped by the fried cheese curds stand, and walked right up to the cashier and ordered. Then I tried to hand her my debit card.

“Uhh,” she said, a pained look on her face. “It’s coupons only.”

“Oh, uh,” I replied, embarrassed at being a complete noob.

“Yeah, you’re gonna need them everywhere,” she said. She could tell this was my first time.

So I returned, hat in hand, and ordered again. Fourteen coupons later, I had a plate of greasy mozzarella stick bites at 9:30 a.m. Breakfast of champions. The breading was kept to a minimum, which may seem like a negative thing, but the curds were the stars of the show here, and boy did they shine.

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Corny Dog

After “breakfast,” I headed into the Cotton Bowl. After 45 minutes of searching, during which exactly zero employees knew where the auxiliary media seating was, I found my spot. And please empathize with me here, dear reader, because this overflow seating was: A) in the end zone, meaning I had the worst view in the house; B) under an awning, meaning I couldn’t see the scoreboard/video board and the PA system was garbled; C) in a place where the WiFi didn’t work for the first quarter, and I needed to livetweet; and D) smack dab in the middle of the OU section. Folks, it wasn’t good.

With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, I hustled down through the tunnel and onto the field, finding solace next to Jordan Spieth and Jackson Jeffcoat on the Texas sideline. I got to see kicker Trent Domingue practice onside kicks, a couple of which almost sailed into the stands they bounced so high. I was with my people. Alas, the onside kick he tried a minute later didn’t sail quite as high, and Texas fell to Oklahoma. I met up with some friends and quickly rushed out of the tunnel, unfortunately, again, having to pass by elated, screaming OU fans. I needed to get away. I needed a Corny Dog.

Now, purists will say that I didn’t have a real Fletcher’s Corny Dog. Responsible vegetarians (re: not me) will decry Fletcher’s policy of frying both meat and non-meat products in the same grease. Guess what? I don’t care. The vegetarian Corny Dog had that insanely breaded but not-too-greasy taste we all know and love. Plus, slathered in mustard and ketchup, this fake meat on a stick was just the antidote for a crummy experience inside the stadium. It was time to get down to business at the state fair.

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Funnel Cake Beer

What’s the best thing to do after a Texas loss? Forget. And how do we forget? Alcohol helps.

We headed over to an enormous beer tent, and were immediately greeted by a pair of middle-aged Sooner fans. I prepared for a shouting match; the 45-40 loss was still fresh in my friends’ minds. But guess what? OU fans, all things considered, can be pretty friendly. These folks lamented their own team’s situation—the defense specifically—and told us that they like it when Texas is good, because it makes the conference better. What’s it called when you want to be mad at someone, but they are making it impossible? This was that.

Everything was going swimmingly until one of them told me that the popular North Texas and Oklahoma burger chain Braum’s sells the best milk. “The 2 percent tastes like whole!” he said. “And the whole tastes like a milkshake!” All I could think was, What kind of adult drinks milk? Beats me. Maybe Braum’s will change my mind.

We bought a pint of funnel cake beer for the novelty factor, and you know that saying that something is the “best of both worlds?” That didn’t apply here. Beer is just fine on its own, thank you very much. Apparently, you can ask for a dusted rim of confectioner’s sugar, which should be illegal. I’d like to forget this and move on.

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Fried Mac and Cheese

Around the time we switched from funnel cake beer back to good old Dos Equis, we ran into a couple of pink Polo-shirted OU fans. Being someone who sits in the press box during UT games, I always wear a neutral color, which, during a neutral-site game, gives me the added bonus of not being heckled by either side.

But my friends, however, were decked out in burnt orange from head-to-toe. One of the Oklahoma bros walked up to us and asked, “Are you going to fire Charlie Strong today, or after the season?” Now, this Sooner clearly didn’t know that Texas has never fired a coach midseason. It’s not the Texas way. So I was proud of my two friends who calmly quipped, “Not today!” It had a calming effect on the opposing fan, who then tried to buy my friend Stuart’s Texas hat! Granted, it is a very cool, vintage corduroy cap, but still—it’s orange! We started to realize that perhaps these fans had downed a few funnel cake beers themselves.

“I don’t care man,” he said. “That cap is cool!”

Stuart pointed to the word “Texas.”

“You like the message, right?”

“I don’t care what it says,” he responded. Someone needs to teach this child about eBay. Anyway, the hat wasn’t for sale.

We bought some fried mac and cheese as a reward for completely owning a trio of OU fans. Essentially tri-cornered bread pockets with Kraft macaroni and cheese inside, these were not terrible, but not great. Fried stuff is good, and cheese is good, but it would have been nice to have had some homestyle-type cooking on the inside instead of what looked like little yellow Lego noodles.

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Cookie Fries

After deciding we’d had enough of interacting with Sooners, we parked ourself at the Magnolia Beer Garden and reckoned it was time for dessert. Well, and more beer, of course. First up was something called cookie fries.

These were bad—hard as a rock, not warm, and not tasty. I’m surprised the box in which these French fry-looking cookie slivers came in didn’t have “No Refunds” printed on it.

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Fried Bluebonnet

Dessert is hard to mess up—I’m looking at you, cookie fries!—but this was immaculate. After downing more than enough beers, we bought a fried bluebonnet from the same stand as the cookie fries. It’s hard to believe that these two things come from the same place, like a pair of twins in which one is a Nobel Prize winner and the other steals his neighbor’s mail.

A fried bluebonnet—besides having the perfect name for the State Fair of Texas—was delightful. It’s scone-style blueberry muffin batter, deep-fried and filled with cream cheese, topped with blueberries, white chocolate morsels, whipped cream, powdered sugar, and blueberries.

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(I know that’s 11/10. I can count. It was that good.)

Fried Cannoli Bites

My Texas-born friends had fun with this one, because I made note that I wanted this treat multiple times during the day. I guess they thought it was funny because I’m from New Jersey? Whatever. I’m not mad, you’re mad. Does anyone know any Houston or San Antonio jokes?

The cannoli bites were great. Deep-fried (I’m sensing a theme here) and drizzled with white and dark chocolate, these were among my favorite things I ate at the fair. Like the narrator taking a bite of a tea-dipped madeleine in Proust’s Swann’s Way, I was transported to my childhood, back to those days of playing stickball with my newsie friends in Bensonhurst, after which we’d stop by the neighborhood soda jerk for some taffy and a paper sack filled with the Italian treat. Just kidding, but that’s basically what my friends were implying. Honestly, you’re mad.

I have to dock this delicious dessert a few Bevos because, with only two on the plate, the value wasn’t there. We could have bought an extra fried bluebonnet!

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What I learned about this weekend is that, win or lose, this trip is worth the seven-hour roundtrip drive (without traffic, that is!) up I-35.

The seats may stink, and Texas might lose, but the game is so important to the history of college football that just being inside the Cotton Bowl elicits a certain inexplicable feeling. The State Fair is so over-the-top, so larger-than-life, so quintessentially Texan, that it’s practically impossible to have a bad time inside the gates with everything going on inside. And if you’re there with friends, ones who are willing to see everything there is to see—and eat everything for sale—inside those gates, it’s that much more unforgettable.

Oh, and bring Tums.

 

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