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Things We Ate At The Minnesota State Fair 2014

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is like a statewide family reunion.

On this Labor Day Weekend Saturday, Jake and I attended the Minnesota State Fair with his brother and my dad. The afternoon was hot and sunny and the density of people was literally shoulder-to-shoulder. You couldn’t find somewhere to sit even if you wanted to. Earlier in the day, the lines to popular food vendors were intimidating, but the fair opened up a bit as the evening approached. The cool evening air helped, too.

We laughed at ourselves as we grumbled about the crowds and the heat and the lines. They’re still all a part of the fair experience that we love and we’d always return, nevertheless.

The Minnesota State Fair vendors’ competitive spirit of food ingenuity builds momentum and makes this fair especially unique. I prepare for our visit each year by studying Heavy Table and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s opening-day reviews of the new fair foods. Part of the tradition is trying the much-talked-about new foods for yourself and comparing your notes with others. Two people will love and hate the same food with equal passion and that’s what makes it fun.

On this year’s visit, sharing foods between four people was much nicer than sharing it between two, though we still had limited stomach space. Here’s what we ate this year:

The Blue Barn
The Blue Barn is a stunning new fair restaurant from the restauranteurs that own the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. We arrived hungry and stopped here first.

Blue Barn

The line was long but moved quickly. We were impressed by how the barn was open for business from both sides.

Blue Barn Collage

From Left to Right: Chicken in a Waffle, Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz, Meatloaf on a Stick

Chicken in a Waffle: I was most curious about this food because of all of the positive feedback.

This food annoyed me. First, the item was $9.75. $9.75! Nothing was technically wrong with the item; the sausage gravy was flavorful and the chicken pieces were crispy and pleasantly spicy. But I had expected the chicken to taste freshly battered or breaded and have more of a buffalo kick. Instead, it reminded me of a frozen popcorn chicken product.

Jake and forgotten to order the Chicken in a Waffle without the malted milk ball in the bottom of the cone. He ended up eating this last bite and described it as “interesting,” in true Minnesotan fashion.

Placing a malted milk ball in the cone reminds me of something a panicked Chopped competitor would do. I have this mental picture of a chef saying, “Oh crap, I have fried chicken, an ice cream cone, sausage, and malted milk balls. I forgot to use the candy and have a minute left on the clock. I know, I’ll drop the milk ball inside the ice cream cone!”

The two brothers really enjoyed this food and gave it high marks, while it was too spicy for my dad who has no heat tolerance. Jake thought the popcorn chicken was noticeably higher in quality and flavor than generic popcorn chicken, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I say this time and time again only because I mean it: To each his or her own ☺

I think I might be alone on this one and that’s ok.

Blue Cheese and Corn Fritz: A Heavy Table staff member gave these fritters a dismal rating, writing that he ordered them “to the garbage heap.” In contrast, this was my favorite fair food. I’m not sure if Blue Barn changed their recipe or execution since opening day, but I found them delightfully crispy, corny puffballs. They had a gentle corn flavor with a very mild blue cheese presence, which might disappoint those who wish for a stronger blue cheese flavor. Together, the fritters and accompanying chimichurri sauce tasted refreshing and herby, hitting all of my favorite sweet and savory notes.

Meatloaf on a Stick: The meatloaf’s price made me cringe at $8.25, but we all enjoyed it. The portion really wasn’t large enough to justify the price, but we found the meatloaf flavorful and moist and liked the sweet and spicy sauce. I always glaze my homemade meatloaf with a similar sweet and spicy sauce, so it was right up my alley.

Corn Roast
The corn roast. Oh, the corn roast. We never miss the corn roast.

Corn

Jake takes his State Fair corn seriously.

This massive ear of sweet corn tasted perfectly toasty and dripped with real butter. Jake is the master of seasoning it with the perfect amount of salt and pepper.

Mini-Donut Beer by Lift Bridge Brewing Company & Indeed’s Sweet Yamma Jamma Ale
Jake and his brother enjoy trying different craft beers and made a point to try these two special varieties at the Ballpark Cafe. Lift Bridge introduced this fair only Mini-Donut beer last summer and brought it back. This was our first taste.

Donut Beer

Lift Bridge Mini-Donut Beer

Jake wasn’t a huge fan of the beer because of its sweetness and his preference for bitter IPA’s. Considering that Lift Bridge was attempting to mimic a mini donut, he felt they executed it well. I like smooth, light beers and thought it tasted pleasant, but neither of us liked the sugar coating around the glass’ rim.

I should preface these thoughts by explaining that when the brothers had first returned from the Ballpark with the beers, one of them handed it to me saying, “Try this!” I took a big sip without asking what kind of beer it was and was not prepared for a mouth full of sugar.

We all enjoyed the Slamma Jamma ale brewed with sweet potatoes. The ale didn’t taste distinguishably of sweet potatoes, but we liked its smooth and subtle pumpkin spice flavor. Mmmm. . . fall.

Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, Food Building
Like the roasted corn, Mouth Trap cheese curds are one of our annual fair traditions.

We’ve tried both cheese curd vendors and prefer the Mouth Trap. The stand is run so efficiently, it’s like a machine and the curds STILL cost $5 a boat. No matter how long the line is, you’ll collect your cheese curds within minutes. I wanted to salute them.

Cheese Curds 2014

The thin, crispy batter rocks and the cheese basically squeaks even after spending time in the fryer.

Other Things We Ate (Not Pictured):

Gyro from Demetri’s Greek FoodJake always visits Demitri’s for a respectable and well-constructed gyro. The meat is sliced nicely, the yogurt sauce tastes fresh, and we appreciate the slivers of fresh tomato and onions.

Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick: Once upon a time in grade school, I ordered cheese on a stick at Valley Fair and it was a crushing disappointment I’ve never forgotten. I thought the batter-covered American cheese was just gross. On the flip side, Jake and his brother fondly remember Valley Fair’s cheese on a stick.

Jake’s brother passed around Fried Jalapeno Cheese on a Stick and I was surprised to find I couldn’t stop eating it. It was still made with white American cheese, but the batter was super crunchy, and, for whatever reason, the salty, gooey American cheesiness just worked (for me, at least).

Pronto Pup
One of my fair food traditions is grabbing a Pronto Pup or corn dog from the vendor closest to the fair’s exit. I love how an employee at this stand carefully brushes your choice of ketchup or mustard on the Pronto Pup. It just feels more special than pumping your own.

pronto pup

I wore this hat all the way home.

This year, we tried a few new foods and returned for many of our favorites. Each year’s food trends may come and go and we may continue to live in different parts of the Midwest, but we’ll always look forward to visiting the Great Minnesota Get-Together with our families.

What were your favorite and least favorite fair foods this year? What do you always get at any summer fair?

Whirlwind Visit To The Iowa State Fair

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.

IMG_2240

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.

Gyros Collage

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.

Cheese Curds Collage

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.

Corn Dog Collage

In addition to eating our favorite fair foods, we had the pleasure of meeting Cristen of Food & Swine.

Ice Cream Collage

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.

Next up: The Minnesota State Fair & World Food & Music Fest in Des Moines. Will I see any of you there?  

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