Our state fair is better than your state fair.
I haven’t been to many state fairs, but I just know Minnesota’s is the best. That includes you, Texas. Sorry.
This year, we went with Jake’s family. They served as excellent hand models. Roaming the fair as a group is more challenging in terms of efficiency and coordinating potty breaks, but ideal for sharing food. Everyone pitches in and everyone gets to try a bite.
The Minnesota State Fair really is the great Minnesota get together: Lingonberries, lefse, Prince blasting from every corner, all blessed by a purple sunset. It felt like the perfect homecoming.
Here’s what we enjoyed this year:
Every year we look forward to the grand unveiling of the state fair’s new foods. This is serious business, people. The local food critics hit the fair first thing on opening day and we wait to see what they think.
I love that their thoughts differ. If they all declare something a home run, it probably is. But, many times dishes that appear on someone’s “nay” list appear on another’s “yay.” If a food strikes your fancy, try it! You might be surprised where it lands on yours.
Carpe Diem, The Rabbit Hole – Midtown Global Market
This seemed like the hot new dish to try, or at least the one to Instagram. This soft, fish-shaped buttermilk-miso cone is filled with vanilla ice cream and balsamic-roasted strawberry compote. The dessert is finished with a sprinkle of graham cracker crumbs and a fresh strawberry.
The fish cone was a hit. All of the components worked together and didn’t taste too sweet or rich, while the cone had pleasant bites of chew and crisp. There’s no easy way to share it among eight people; we tore into the cone and used pieces to scoop up the ice cream and strawberries. I absolutely loved the strawberry sauce.
Rabbit Hole was selling the waffle and Kimchi n’ Curry Poutine for $10, so we tried them both. Although I read mixed feedback on Twitter, we enjoyed this poutine. It was a little too saucy and I wish there were more fries, but I loved the flavor of the kimchi, curry, and mayo so much that I want to eat more right now. Right now!
Cheesy French Onion Monkey Bread, Blue Moon Dine-In Theater
For $7, the Blue Moon gives you a big round of scored bread, topped with gooey cheese and doused with a ladle of hot, fresh onion soup. Don’t be delicate with a knife and fork. Rip off a wedge and run it through the soup puddle at the bottom.
I liked the cheesiest bites sopped in fresh onion soup the best. Share this with a group of people, or lose a lot of stomach space. I’m glad I tried it, but wouldn’t order it again.
Burnt Ends, RC’s BBQ
These have nothing on STL BBQ.¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Still, I found myself wanting to return for more bites of tender pork, pickled jalapeno, and raw onion.
Red Citrus Sangria Beer, Schell’s Brewery (Near LuLu’s)
This beer won all of our hearts. I wish it was widely available to enjoy again.
Even the people who only drink IPA’s liked the sangria beer. It’s not too sweet and has complex fruit notes that we didn’t get tired of. Plus, the icee-like foam on top makes the beverage extra refreshing and extra special.
The brothers also ordered the Grain Belt Blu topped with the Blue foam and felt it bordered on too sweet. I liked it, but preferred the sangria.
Bang Bang Chicken Tenders, LuLu’s Public House
I remain partial to our old favorite MN State Fair foods, but am making room for the sangria beer and LuLu’s chicken tenders to join my inner circle.
The outside coating was crispy, not greasy, and perfectly seasoned with a slighty spicy salt blend. The sweet and spicy dipping sauce added another extra kick.
Probably the best chicken tenders we’ve ever tried.
New foods come and go. But our classic favorites are the foods we’ve returned for year after year, since we were young and our parents were younger.
Roasted Corn, Corn Roast Stand at Dan Patch & Nelson
The uninitiated might wonder why someone would pay $3 for corn on the cob at the fair. “But you can buy a dozen ears of corn for $3,” some might say.
Here’s the bottom line: It’s the best damn corn on the cob you will ever eat. You can not make corn on the cob like this at home. Your grilled corn might taste good, but it is not better. I don’t even have to try yours to know this is true.
The ears are freshly picked the day before, and they are huge. After you purchase your corn ticket, watch in awe as the corn roast works like a well-oiled machine. Employees pluck ears from an open fire, peel back the crispy husk, and dunk them in a vat of melted butter.
Wisps of charred husks poof into the air and dance above the fire. Try not to let them hypnotize you.
(Minnesota nicely) push your way to the front of the ticket-holding crowd and wait for someone to place an ear into your outstretched hand. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and squirm your way back out. The corn is sweet and juicy, kissed with char from the fire. Like I said, it’s the best.
Cheese Curds, Mouth Trap – Food Building
Mouth Trap makes our gold standard cheese curds. Every time we encounter good cheese curds, we compare them to the Mouth Trap’s. Even the best are probably not quite as good.
Some people swear by the other cheese curd stand. Mouth Trap is the only one stand for us. This year we bought the $14 bucket to share among our group of eight.
My brother-in-law felt self-conscious holding the bucket o’ curds as we waited for the rest of our party. “People are going to think I’m greedy!” he said.
“Dude! I replied. “It’s the state fair!”
The crisp batter, the stringy curds; they’re pretty much perfect. That’s about all anyone needs to know.
French Fries, Fresh French Fries Stand
There’s a lot of french fries at the Minnesota State Fair, so how will you know how to identify this one?
When you see the Fresh French Fries Stand, you’ll know by the hand-cut golden crispy fries and huge crowd. You just will.
Gyros, Demetri’s or Holy Land Deli
One of Jake’s favorite foods is the gyro from Demetri’s. This year, he shared one from Holy Land. The thinly-shaved meat, fresh veggies, and yogurt sauce hit the spot.
Lefse, Lynn’s Lefse – Food Building
My sister-in-law shared a big piece of lefse rolled around butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. We compared and contrasted the ways our families serves lefse; one with cinnamon and another with only butter and brown sugar. Then, we basked in feeling very Minnesotan.
Apple and pumpkin Minneapple Pies a la mode, Minne’s Diner
When someone shares a bite of their Minneapple pie, you don’t say no. I’m really picky about pie because I hate bad, cheap pie crusts.
Minne’s pie crust is pretty darn good; a far cry from the dense, mass-produced ones that taste like cheap shorting I encounter even at pie-centric restaurants.
The pastry is tender and flaky.
I like that the apples in the apple pie still have a slightly firm bite and intense cinnamon flavor. Die-hard pumpkin pie fans will like Minne’s. The filling isn’t super sweet and tastes like pumpkin. “It tastes like I’m eating roasted squash,” said my sister-in-law. This wasn’t ideal in her book, but pleasing for others.
Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Jake and I have eaten Sweet Martha’s Cookies for as long as I can remember. It’s also one of our parents’ favorites.
Whether you order a cone or a bucket, the Sweet Martha’s will stack so many cookies on top of the filled vessel that you’ll be juggling cookies all the way back out of line.
If someone orders a bucket, I bet a million dollars he or she will badger the group into way eating too tiny many cookies, pairing down the heap until the lid can fit.
Strawberry Milkshake, Dairy Building
Growing-up, my parents always bought a strawberry milkshake from the Dairy Building on the way out of park, while Jake’s buys them at the beginning. They’re a treat that feels as old as time, and, at the state fair they seem to taste better.
And with that, I conclude our 2016 Minnesota State Fair recap.
Happy Minnesota State Fair-going! What were your favorite new foods this year? Which ones do you always return for?
Enjoy my favorite State Fair food round-ups: