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JAMIE STENGLE, Associated Press


DALLAS (AP) — A deep-fried Cuban roll filled with chopped ham, pork shoulder, cheese and pickles drew "Best Taste" honors at the State Fair of Texas' fried-food contest Monday.

Meanwhile, the three-judge panel for the Big Tex Choice Awards chose for "Most Creative" honors a Thanksgiving dinner of stuffing, turkey and cream corn rolled into a ball and deep fried.

At the Labor Day event, the judges tasted the culinary creations from eight fair food vendors before picking the winners. A committee had selected the finalists from among 54 entries.

All eight finalists' dishes will be for sale during the State Fair of Texas, which runs Sept. 27 through Oct. 20, fair spokeswoman Sue Gooding said.

"Most Creative" winner Justin Martinez said his inspiration came as he was filling his plate last Thanksgiving. He said he immediately thought "How can I put this together and fry it?" and headed to the kitchen.

As the judges tucked into the fried Thanksgiving dinner, emcee Brad Sham, the longtime Dallas Cowboys broadcaster, quipped, "By the way, there are two balls of Thanksgiving dinner — after they finish the first one they take a nap and a football game comes on."

"Best Taste" winner Isaac Rousso said he spent about two years perfecting the deep-fried Cuban roll. He said they took all the ingredients, wrapped them in a pastry shell and deep fried it.

"What comes out is just an explosion of flavor," Rousso said.

Other entries included: whipped Nutella wrapped around dough and deep fried with toppings including strawberries and bananas; a fried millionaire pie made of cream cheese filling, pineapple and pecans with toppings including whipped cream and coconut; fried spinach artichoke dip bites; chicken-fried meatloaf; a fried fireball of pimento cheese, pickles, cayenne pepper and bacon; and a deep-fried King Ranch casserole.

Christi Erpillo said the fried casserole was a nod to Big Tex, the towering, cowboy-hat-wearing icon of the State Fair that went up in flames last year. A rebuilt Big Tex is set to be unveiled at this year's fair.

"We said this is our love letter to Big Tex," Erpillo said.

Erpillo, who calls herself the CFO — "chief frying officer" — of her family's restaurants at the fair, fries the dish that includes cheese, chicken and chips into the shape of Texas. "To me, King Ranch casserole is the state casserole of Texas," she said, adding, "It's pure comfort food."

Last year's winners were a fried bacon cinnamon roll for "Best Taste" and deep-fried jambalaya won for "Most Creative."

___

Online:

State Fair of Texas website: http://www.bigtex.com/sft

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