Jake and I live for the Minnesota State Fair. It’s basically a holiday in my book.
I remember how my mom loved going to the fair. While she was in hospice, we’d take her to the fair for quick food trips. As tired as she was, she lit up at the taste of Mouth Trap Cheese Curds and cream puffs. We all did.
State fairs bring to mind family and community, innovation and classics. They really are like big state reunions.
As new Iowans, we had to check out the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, a short (less than) two-hour drive down I-35. We had to cut our visit short so we could return home and tend to Trayse the dog who we left at home.
The Saturday of closing weekend was busy as expected, and, like the Minnesota Fair, many of the surrounding neighbors rented out their yards for parking. We found a friendly family who let us park in their yard for only $5 and provided us with a slip of paper with their address written on it.
It had just rained and the cool weather felt refreshing.
Jake arrived hungry and ordered a gyro from the generically named “Gyros” stand near the entrance. We’ve eaten countless gyros and this was possibly one of the best gyros we’ve tried. We used to make routine trips to Gyropolis in Bloomington, MN and their spicy gyro became our gold standard. This held its own.
The bread was thinner than normal pita and pleasantly toasty. It contained the ideal amount of creamy cucumber sauce and a nice balance of sliced tomatoes and onions. The gyro meat was also shaved instead of hacked into large chunks. I don’t subscribe to the “bigger is better,” philosophy especially when it comes to gyros. I’d rather eat a well-constructed gyro like this one than a huge, sloppy one disintegrating in its own gyro sauce.
This larger size cost a whopping $10, but it was darned good. I said I just wanted to try a couple bites and ate half.
Next, we ran into Brad & Harry’s cheese curd stand while we were looking for the craft beer tent. We’ve only visited the MN State Fair and it didn’t occur to us that we really didn’t know our way around any other state fair. We bumbled around, but that was part of the adventure. Sometimes it’s nice to not have a plan.
We chose the plain over the Cajun-flavored. Inside the stand, we saw the employees dropping the curds into batter and freshly frying them. These curds were tasty and superior to breaded ones, but I think our gold standard is still the Mouth Trap.
I never leave a fair without grabbing a corn dog and Campbell’s did the trick. I was surprised to find bottles of maple syrup in the condiment station along with ketchup and mustard. Is this an Iowa tradition? I stuck with my typical toppings, but can see how the sweet syrup and salty dog would work well together.
In addition to eating our favorite fair foods, we had the pleasure of meeting Cristen of Food & Swine.
She’s had a busy fair week showing pigs with her family and entering baking contests. We talked about blogging, corn on the cob and what it’s like to raise hogs. She generously treated us to one of her favorite Iowa State Fair Foods, the Bauder’s Pharmacy Peppermint Bar. You might remember she mentioned this treat in Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Town Restaurants.
Bauder’s ice cream bar truly is like none other. It’s made with the creamiest ice cream ever that’s dotted with peppermint candy and sandwiched between layers of fudge sauce and roughly crushed Oreos. “Did I just bite into a peppermint candy?” “Did you taste hot fudge sauce?” we asked each other. Each bite was filled with a delightful surprise.
We initially laughed when we saw the bar was the size of a brick, yet it didn’t take too long for us to finish ours.
You can visit Bauder’s soda fountain for ice cream treats and lunch, but this peppermint bar is only available at the fair. This Iowa-only gem was the perfect bite to end our first visit.