Deep Fried Gumbo takes top two prizes

By Karissa Condoianis

It’s finally here, the moment you’ve all been waiting for — the highly-anticipated decision that denotes the ultimate achievement in Fair food. The 17th Annual Big Tex Choice Awards was a battle for the ages. Despite a year’s hiatus, the 2021 finalists proved that there is no shortage of creativity when it comes to this competition. After tasting all 10 foods and carefully evaluating each item, the all-star panel of judges have tallied their scores and cast their final votes. Drum roll please … and the winners are: “Best Taste – Savory” AND “Most Creative” go to the Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls by Gourmet Royale, while The Armadillo by James Barrera wins “Best Taste – Sweet.”

“Best Taste — Savory” AND “Most Creative” go to the Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls by Gourmet Royale.
Photo courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

Best Taste – Savory 

Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls, Gourmet Royale

Using a family recipe that has been handed down for four generations, the base is a dark, rich and savory roux, which represents the true essence of New Orleans. The balls are then loaded with Gulf Coast shrimp, stewed chicken, blue crab meat and andouille sausage. The balls are then rolled in our saltine cracker and breadcrumb batter, then fried, creating an explosion of flavor. The balls are served with a side of dark gumbo roux sauce for your dipping pleasure and topped with chicken fried okra spears. The dish will be served with a small bottle of hot sauce and a package of saltine crackers.

Best Taste – Sweet

The Armadillo, James Barrera

Y’all will want to go home with the Armadillo Cookie Butter Ice Cream Sandwich! It is a made-from-scratch cookie butter semifreddo — an Italian take on ice cream that means semi-frozen. The treat is drizzled with cookie butter and sandwiched between two deep fried Armadillo-shaped cookies that are made with a branding iron. Finally, it is dusted with buttery sugar. Absolutely a velvety cream delight!

Most Creative

Deep Fried Seafood Gumbo Balls, Gourmet Royale

Each year the judges of the Big Tex Choice Awards are faced with the challenging, yet highly sought after, job of selecting the winning Fair foods — this year was no exception, and the lineup proved to be extraordinarily competitive this year. Despite not taking home one of the three titles today, the other 2021 finalists include: Crispy Crazy Corn by Ruth Hauntz, Deep Fried I-35 by Clint and Gretchen Probst, Lucky Duck Dumplin’ by Bert Concessions, Pork Shots by Glen Kusak and Sherri Kusak at Hans Mueller, Brisket Brittle by Ruth Hauntz, Deep-Fried Halloween by Isaac Rousso, Fernie’s Fried Toffee Coffee Crunch Cake by The Winter Family and Texas Pumpkin Poke Cake by Michelle Edwards.

This year’s celebrity judges included restaurateur, TV personality, food advocate and brand consultant, Chef Tiffany Derry; owner of Red Stix Street Food and Uno Brands & Catering, Chef Uno Immanivong; on-air Personality for Sportsradio 96.7 and 1310 The Ticket, Chef Kent Rathbun, chef and restaurateur; and Michelle Rodriguez, On-Air Personality for New Country 96.3. 

Each of the 10 finalists will be available all 24 days of the 2021 State Fair of Texas, plus a slew of other new foods being offered at the Fair this year. Fair fanatics can pick up a Visitor’s Guide, which includes a food map that lays out the vendor locations for each of the finalists, or check out the food finder map on, making it easy to map out your route and hit all the hot spots along the way. 

Visitor’s Guides will be available at State Fair information booths, as well as online at Be sure to come out and try all our new foods at the 2021 State Fair of Texas, opening September 24 at Fair Park.