The Oklahoma State Fair did the two things Thursday that it does best on opening day: introduce deep-fried foods dappled in chocolate, bacon — or both — on a stick, and bring the rain.
As it has for the past three years, the Great Taste of a Fair contest opened the 11-day event. Seventeen of the dozens of fair food vendors put forth their best dish to a panel of eight judges, who ranked the top two dishes in four categories: Best Tasting Savory, Best Tasting Sweet, Most Unique Savory and Most Unique Sweet.
For the first time in the three-year contest, the chicken-on-a-stick from Ragin' Cajun didn't take home the gold in Best Tasting Savory item. First-time fair vendor Burger and Chili Shack, run by Dallas resident Tom Grace, edged the two-time champs with his Juicy Lucy burger. To defeat Pensacola, Fla., native James Harvell and his famous homemade hot sauce, Grace served the signature burger that features a patty stuffed with cheese.
At the Burger and Chili Shack, fairgoers can custom-order their burger to include mushrooms, jalapenos, onions or whatever their heart desires. The Ragin' Cajuns didn't win, but they did finish a close second as the chicken was just as juicy as always and that homemade hot sauce was just as satisfying.
Perennial champion Coco Flow, owned and operated by Oklahoma City's master chocolatier Gene Leiterman, blew away the judges' table with an Oklahoma Cabernet Chocolate Souffle. Topped with homemade Chantilly cream and fresh cut strawberries, this chocolate explosion was the class of the entries, whether sweet or savory. Leiterman has finished first, second and first in the three-year-old competition.
Finishing second in the sweet category was another local entry, Rodney and Lisa's Caramel Apple Pie Fancy Caramel Apple. Featuring a crisp Granny Smith apple coated in a thin layer of flavored Graham cracker crumbs, this dish from the Newcastle couple was welcome respite from the deep-fried treats we've come to know and later feel shame for eating.
Most Unique Savory went to Fire and Ice's Porkabella, a skewered mushroom stuffed with Gouda cheese with bacon, followed by Ledesma's Quesadilla al Pastor.
Most Unique Sweet went to the Fudge Puppy from Sophie's Sidewalk Cafe. The Fudge Puppy is a rolled Belgian waffle, baked in a special grease-free griddle, dipped in chocolate and topped with your choice of several toppings, including sprinkles or nuts and a little powdered sugar.
Second place went to the deep-fried bacon brownie, which was exactly as it was advertised.
The deep-fried cinnamon roll on a stick from the Sweet Shop narrowly missed a top-two finish.
Joining the judges' table this year was Darvin Ward, who boasts three decades in the Army National Guard. Ward, who recently spent 18 months in Afghanistan, was chosen for his written entry explaining why he'd make a great judge of state fair food.
Other judges included Dave Morris of NewsOK.com, Judy Brotton of Distinctly Oklahoma, Phil Inzinga of BOB-FM, Carly Rae of KKNG-FM, Phil Cross of KOKH-25, and Lauren Nelson of KWTV-9.