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.


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?  


  1. Katy Flint

    Glad you enjoyed your first visit to our great state fair!

    • Jeni Flaa

      It was so fun!

  2. SDpfeiffy

    That maple syrup is very interesting! Half of my childhood was spent in south central Nebraska and never thought of eating syrup on cornbread. My mother’s family moved into Nebraska from Kentucky and Illinois and we always ate honey on our cornbread, although I most often preferred just butter. After moving to eastern South Dakota, we were introduced to pancake syrup on corn bread through our school lunch. I love it, and introduced my husband to the combination. If the hot dog within the corn bread jacket was replaced by a breakfast sausage, he would be all over that syrup! Thanks for the post! I love fair food 🙂

    • Jeni Flaa

      We’ve always eaten honey on our cornbread but would try maple syrup next time. We can hardly keep it in the house because it is expensive and I end up pouring it in my coffee each morning. I feel like the MN State Fair had a breakfast corn dog of some sort. Thanks for taking time to share:)

  3. Beth Ann Chiles

    The maple syrup on the corn dog is a new concept for me, too, but I can see how it would definitely work. Yum . I love cheese curds and the gyro looked perfect. I bet the shaved meat was a much better fit —especially since you would be walking eating it–not quite so messy maybe??? I am going to miss the fairs this year but I will live vicariously through your posts!

    • Jeni Flaa

      You have a lot on your plate this year! I still need to try Pete’s for gyros in Mason City.

  4. Feisty Eats

    Looks like a good trip. I have gyro envy since the NDSF one was a bust. I love fairs!

    • Jeni Flaa

      Bummer about your gyro! That wild rice burger, though:) I usually think that even bad gyros are good gyros, but they’re definitely not all created equal.

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