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.
The line was long but moved quickly. We were impressed by how the barn was open for business from both sides.
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.
The corn roast. Oh, the corn roast. We never miss the corn roast.
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.
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.
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 Food: Jake 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).
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.
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?
Love it!! Sounds like a great time was had!
Oh, that’s a bummer you didn’t like the chicken in a waffle–it was one of my favorites. I think they put the chocolate ball in the bottom to keep the gravy from soaking down and breaking through the cone. I nearly always get fried green tomatoes and fried pickles, and a cider pop. This year, one new-to-me item that will become a regular was the spicy mango blossom–a fresh, peeled mango dipped in lime juice and sprinkled with chili powder. YUM. It can also be gotten without the chili powder.
I think I’m probably weird-everyone else loved the chicken in a waffle and it was also in their top two favorites.
I wish I could have tried more foods, but it was so hot and crowded and I got really full:) I love fruit seasoned with lime and chili so bummer we missed that!
There’s always next year! It’s at the Midtown Global Market stand in the International Bazaar. I was walking down the street eating it and this woman came up to me and shouted, “OH MY GOD WHERE DID YOU GET THAT I’VE BEEN LOOKING AND LOOKING!” Think I made her day.
I think we missed the Bazaar. I love that! It’s fun when you can help people find foods they get excited about.
I always make at least one trip to the Big Fat Bacon booth. And I always have to have a 1919 root beer float. Beyond that, it’s purely based on interest and hunger level.
Funny about the roast corn: I’ve always heard people rave about it, so I finally tried it two years ago. Meh. I don’t know if I didn’t get a good ear, or it couldn’t live up to the hype or what but I didn’t find it to be very satisfying at all. I’ve avoided ever since then. Everyone’s different I guess.
The fair is so massive-we haven’t tried the Big Fat Bacon. Making a list for next year:) It’s fun to seek out the new foods, but since it’s only once a year, we seem to gravitate towards our old favorites. Sorry to hear you got a bad ear:( That’s entirely possible! I love all of the differing opinions on the foods. That’s what makes it fun.
Sounds like a fun trip – you were lucky to try a variety of goodies. That Slamma Jamma beer sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing your bites of the MN Fair. I might have to try to make it there one year!
It was actually a beer I could drink;) If you ever make it to this fair, let us know!
This looks so good! I love Fair Food and am happy that Fair Time only happens once a year 😉 One Fair Food I missed this year, because the vendor didn’t return at our County Fair was deep fried cookie dough!
That sounds very decadent. Do you go to the Clay County Fair?
LOVE this post and I so want to recreate those blue cheese corn puffs!! I plan on experimenting tomorrow 🙂
If you figured it out, let us know!!!!
The hot waffle ice cream sandwich was one of my favorites. The waffle was truly hot and crispy with some pretty good vanilla ice cream in between.
I saw Ms. Dara M. mention that in her top five and, although, it was on my list, we didn’t make it:( In hindsight, we see Saturday of Labor Day Weekend was the busiest day. It was a blast, but hard to get around quickly. I agree on the prices! Sooooo high.
. . . and although I liked the Blue Barn’s offerings, I was also highly annoyed by their prices. We tried the chicken waffle, but would have also tried the Handwich, if the prices hadn’t felt so outrageous, approaching gouging territory.
I’m headed to the Clay County Fair on Saturday! I grew up in Clay County and have missed very few fairs. The first stand we head to is Tom Thumb Donuts. Can’t wait for those fresh, hot donuts!
Mini Donut Beer! Where have I been! I secretly also was hoping the bbq drippin’ meaty item on a stick in the trio of pictures leading off the post to be juicy pork tenderloin or something… not meatloaf! You had a great day at the Fair! 🙂
They also had a s’mores beer somewhere where the glass’ rims were covered in crushed graham crackers. Now I want a pork tenderloin:) We had such an amazing one at the Franklin Fair’s 4-H food stand.