2021 State Fair’s Opening Day Draws Crowds

Lancaster HS marching band
Lancaster HS Tiger Pride Band photo by Holt

The 2021 State Fair of Texas opened its gates on Sept. 24 to larger than expected first day crowds. SFOT President Mitchell Glieber had announced they weren’t trying to break attendance records this year, and were taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone, including staff, visitors, and vendors. The opening day crowds testified to how much fairgoers had missed the beloved annual exposition after last year’s cancellation.

Opening day ceremonies Friday included a parade that featured local bands like the Lancaster HS Tiger Pride band. There were lavishly decorated floats, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and more. Lines were forming at all the concessionaire stands, especially Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs where a new fried frank stuffed with mac & cheese was offered.

Big Tex Choice Awards winners, the Parrish family at Royal Concessionaires, were selling their double award-winning fried seafood gumbo balls for a premium price of 15 coupons. Their family heritage recipe, handed down from generations of their mother’s family, won Best Tasting Savory and Most Creative fried entry for 2021. The Armadillo, a fried cookie dough concoction took the title of Best Taste Sweet.

2021 State Fair opening day
Big Tex Circle

Pictures With Big Tex

Big Tex, boasting a shiny new Shiner belt buckle for 2021, was the focus of multiple selfie shots on opening day. My husband and I attended the auto show media preview day Sept. 23, so we were able to grab the obligatory Big Tex shot without any crowds. We thought the Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and Ram truck displays were especially creative this year. On opening day, the vehicle displays inside the Automobile and Centennial Buildings were drawing packed crowds. I was glad to see that everyone inside the buildings wore their masks, as required by the Fair this year.

The Fair was offering a sheet of coupons worth $20 to anyone who received a first or second Covid-19 vaccination shot at their booth. We had already been double vaccinated, but were excited to learn that our stash of old coupons from previous years had doubled in value this year–from 50 cents to $1. We had already tried most of the 10 Big Tex Choice Awards finalists at a media event. On opening day I tried several new entries from Bacon Nation, located inside the food hall at the Tower Bldg.

Bacon Nation

The fried BBLT (brisket/bacon/lettuce & tomato + cheese) crispy tacos (6 coupons) were so good that I had already devoured one of them before remembering to take a photo! But the best was their new sweet offering, Batter Up Bacon (7 coupons). This delish dish featured four bacon slices wrapped in funnel cake batter and deep fried, topped with powdered sugar with a side of maple syrup. Finger-licking good!

fried food from State Fair of Texas
Bacon Nation BBBL tacos & Batter Up

My friends Paulette and Charlotte met me on the patio of the Old Mill Inn and shared some of their favorite finds. Both had tried the new Frozen Ranch Water, made with a wine-based tequila plus lime juice and Topo Chico for 25% of the calories from a frozen Margarita. They also tried Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs, fried cinnamon roll, and their favorite, fried Lemon Box Pie balls. When we parted ways, they were headed toward the Fletcher’s booth selling the new frank with mac & cheese.

State Fair Favorites

While I was trying new foods, my husband remained loyal to his favorite Fair Park restaurant, the Old Mill Inn. It’s managed by his friend Ed Campbell, who also operates concession stands around the fairgrounds. Inside the air-conditioned restaurant, Durhl enjoyed a salad, hamburger with fries, blackberry cobbler ala mode, and plenty of Dr. Pepper. The Old Mill Inn is open year-round and not just for the Fair, or it was until this past calamity-laden year. Pandemic closures were followed by Winter Storm Urie that caused extensive damage to their building. So the restaurant only reopened recently.

Stay tuned for more State Fair updates with information on this year’s special activities and exhibits. The Fair runs through Oct. 17, and there are still a number of special packages available on BigTex.com.