FAIR FOOD: Mini reviews of eats at the Minnesota State Fair
It was a moody teen scuffing along in front of us who won for most absurd statement overheard at the Minnesota State Fair — and, trust me, there were a lot of absurd statements:
“I’m just looking for food,” she said in a monotone.
It would be harder to not find food.
Everyone is noshing on something, whether it’s deep fried, on a stick, or deep fried and on a stick. It’s also presented in buckets, wrapped in foil or poured into a pint.
Here are the deets on some of the fair’s fare, a collection of old favorites and new oddities. Food was selected based upon research, crowd sourcing and a good old-fashioned “Hey! What’s that?!”
Top Pick: Original Giant Turkey Sandwich
Turkey to Go
Corner of Judson and Clough
Far from the on-a-stick craze and the quirkily miss-matched flavors phenomenon is a thing of simple greatness: the original giant turkey sandwich from Turkey To Go.
Consider this for your base food, the one that will act as a cushion for further damage.
This fist-sized fare isn’t fancy, although you can dress it up with self-serve sides, like bleu cheese and hot sauce. The pulled meat is so tender and juicy you would swear it was allowed to simmer in a crockpot with the timer set for infinity.
It was a friend who pointed out the cruel placement of Turkey To Go: Across from the Poultry Barn.
For those who won’t be attending this year’s Great Minnesota Get Together can also find Turkey to Go at Target Field and at Skyway level of the Roanoke Building in Minneapolis. They also have a food truck.
Hot Dish on a Stick Ole & Lena’s
West side of Liggett St. south of Midway
If the Minnesota State Fair had a food mascot, it would be this: Hot Dish on a Stick.
This very “You Betcha” pick alternates meatballs with tator tots and has a corndog-style casing.
It’s served with hamburger mushroom sauce for dipping.
I’ll say this: The on-a-stick factor eliminates the need to pen your name on the bottom of the casserole dish.
Grain Belt Blu
West End Market
Don’t be surprised if the head on the Grain Belt served at Schell’s Brewing looks a little … blue.
One of Minnesota’s most-Minnesota beers has added a special edition of blueberry beer topped with frozen blueberry foam, which is dispensed soft-serve style on top of a pint.
It reminded me of the summer of 1998 when my friend and I mixed honey wheat beer with berry beer and drank it on the rocks — all while lounged on a deck overlooking Highway 52, which we pretended was a lake.
But I digress: The technique was invented by a Japanese brewery as a way to keep beer cold. The beer is chilled to 23 degrees Fahrenheit and air is blown through the mixture, according to a bit about the invention that ran in Time magazine in 2012.
The foam seemed to work on a 90-degree day. Actually, so did the beer.
“That takes the edge off,” my food partner said, wiping frozen foam from his lip.
Fried Olive on a Stick
Carousel Park, east of Grandstand Ramp
I’ll forgive the girl who took my order for looking a little bored at my lack of creativity. She must get this all day, every day during state fair season.
“Is this your most popular item?” I asked.
“Yes,” she responded, without hesitation.
Fried Fruit batter-fries a skewer filled with cream cheese-stuffed olives. This is a clever concoction from a stop that fries everything from honeydew to kiwi to pineapple.
The outcome on the olives: it’s reminiscent of jalapeno poppers — with a salty olive bite.
It’s served with a ranch-style dip.
Mancini’s al Fresco
Carnes Ave. and Nelson St.
Every State Fair season must include at least one menu item that is a mish-mash of food groups that makes the Fair foodies say “Wha?”
It must be so nonsensical that it would be regretful to not eat it.
This year: beer gelato.
The initial impact of this what-huh is more sensory than flavorful, cold and dense, but it’s got a beer-y after-bite. Good isn’t really the right descriptor. It tastes like something that would happen during a bar league softball tourney in Austin, Minn.
Imagine taking swigs of swill between licks of a cone.
Be prepared: This might be the only time in your life that you get carded for gelato.
Top Pick: SnoRibbons
Blue Moon Dine-In Theater
Corner of Chambers St. and Carnes Ave.
One of the new foods this year is a pretty, pretty dessert that has a sort of moon landing-ness to it.
SnoRibbons are artfully rolled layers of an ice cream-like confection. It’s topped with a berry sauce that matches the flavor — mango tangside —but there is also coffee & donuts, strawberry pretzel cream cheese and salted caramel corn flavors. There is a coated pretzel garnish.
This is so thinly shaved, light, airy and flavor-filled. It’s also billed as being gluten-free and low in calories and sugar.
Top Pick: Cheese Curds
Inside Food Building
This stop does one thing and it does it incredibly well: cheese curds.
It’s obvious they know the biz. The line winds like a maze and behind the counter is an assembly line setup with at least a dozen employees in orange shirts pushing product.
It feels pretty blah-blah to get nutso for such common fair food, but these are the best cheese curds that have ever melted in mouth.
The difference is one I’d never stopped to consider: the vessel. Lots of shops dump breaded curds into a vat of oil and voila. These are battered, which puts the emphasis back on the cheese.
I’ll never eat the other kind again.
Harry Singh’s Caribbean Restaurant
Inside Food Building
On a day that included hot dish on a stick and beer-flavored gelato, the Trinidad doubles were the food that had the most impact.
In Trinidad, this fistful of flavor is considered a street food.
I opted for the spicy version of this fry bread sandwich filled with curried chickpeas and chutney.
It’s messy, and it was also the most memorable concoction of the day.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar
South side of Carnes between Nelson and Underwood
The most popular State Fair accessory: the bucket o’ Sweet Martha’s cookies.
It can seem like everyone is swinging one.
This is totally warranted. These cookies are served warm and the chips are gooey and even the most refined eater will struggle to keep her face free of chocolate smears.
You should also know this: on the north side of Judson, between Clough and Nelson, is All The Milk You Can Drink.
IF YOU GO
What: Minnesota State Fair
When: Runs through Monday
Where: Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul