Almost every year, I am asked by the fine folks at the Oklahoma State Fair to help judge fair food. And absolutely every time I say yes, because that is what I do. I say yes to food.
Over the last few years, in what can only be described as an act of kindness, the organizers have pared the lineup down considerably. This year, tasters auditioned 15 different items across three categories: Sweetest of the Sweet, Slice of Savory, and New to the Scene.
The overall winner this year is from a newcomer to the Oklahoma State Fair. The Original Minneapple Pie is, as you might deduce, from Minneapolis, Minnesota. And their creation, The Ultimate Minneapple Pie, is not to be missed. It’s a buttery apple hand pie, with apples diced small for both ease of eating and for a maximum amount of surface area to soak up the cinnamon syrup sweetness. The crust is a marvel—a crispy, flaky shell I’d happily eat on its own—with a topping of cinnamon ice cream.
While I rated that pie quite highly, it was not my personal overall winner. Below are a few of my picks for highlights.
Cutie Pies Concessions
A big winner last year, I think Watermelon Pie from Cutie Pies Concessions is destined to be an Oklahoma State Fair favorite for many years to come. It’s an oxymoron of a dish—somehow it’s light and still substantial, with a flavor that punches hard and then fades away to nothing, prompting your next bite and several bites after.
Watermelon is a precarious flavor, generally marked by an artificial taste. But with the inclusion of real watermelon, this dessert stays light, summery, and satisfying.
Honey Pepper Bacon Dog
The Urb Express
Another returning champ, The Urb Express has really found something special in this combination. It’s a Nathan’s hot dog, which is always a good choice, covered in melted jack cheese, doused in honey mustard, and topped with crumbled honey pepper bacon bits.
One of the things I really love about this dish, which you can find regularly from this Chickasha-based food truck, is that it’s portable. I love fancy food as much as anybody, but when you’re eating at the Oklahoma State Fair, you’re probably doing so on the move. Sitting at a table is a luxury and one I am not usually afforded, so an easy-to-carry hot dog with tons of flavor from the dog, the bacon, and the sauce is ideal, and the jack cheese adds a background richness that holds all the other pieces together. It’s a masterpiece.
Another returning favorite, and another extremely portable dish, is Norman-based Diamond Dawgs’ Cap’n Crunch-breaded corn dog, The Wonderboy. It’s quite tasty, adding a bit of a twist on the usual sweet corn batter, and it’s a pretty substantial meal. The included honey mustard dipping sauce isn’t as vital as they claim, though it’s a fine addition for changing up the flavor. Personally, I favor eating this one sans sauce, at least at first, so you can enjoy some of the more subtle flavors.
Yes, I’m talking about subtle flavors in corn dogs. Yes, I realize I’m an insane person.
Fried Catfish with Boudin Balls and Red Beans and Rice
C’est Si Bon
The only reason I wouldn’t tell everybody at the Oklahoma State Fair to line up for a catfish dinner from C’est Si Bon is that you can eat at C’est Si Bon in Del City, Midwest City, and Edmond on the daily.
If you want something you can only get at the fair, this isn’t it.
But if you want something amazing, well, this is amazing. I’ve had C’est Si Bon many times before and, boy howdy, this was as good as it’s ever been. The catfish is beautifully seasoned and immaculately cleaned, giving you one of the most tender bites of fish you’ll find in Oklahoma. The boudin balls are so wonderful, they could easily be a meal on their own.
Chicken & Corn Frito Pie
Cutie Pies Concessions
Following on the success of Watermelon Pie, Cutie Pies has another winner on their hands. The Chicken & Corn Frito Pie is an absolute delight and, much like that dog from The Urb, it’s nice and portable. Maybe it’s part of growing up, but my aversion to corn-kernals-as-an-ingredient seems to be lifting. This has a nice bit of spice to it, not really heat, but it’s got a pleasant flavor. Even better (in my opinion) is the corn and watermelon salsa they serve on the side. If they wanted, it could be sold as a summer salad of sorts.
Cheese Curd Tacos
This is not for everyone, but I’ll give it to the folks at Cheese Curd Tacos: the Hot Chick is definitely going to find an audience. It’s fried-on-fried-inside-fried.
Fried chicken strip, dipped in Buffalo sauce? Check.
Fried cheese curd? Check.
Add in some cole slaw, stuff it in a flour tortilla and fry it again? You know it.
It’s spicy, crunchy, juicy, tender, chewy, and everything in between. If that doesn’t whet your whistle, well, to each their own. But I think it’s worth a try, so long as you don’t mind a pop of heat.
Those are my picks. Let me know what you think in the comments. Or don't. I'm not going to judge you.