Here's a look at what some of the top chefs in the Twin Cities eat when they go to the fair.
Jamie Malone, Grand Cafe, Mpls.
“I try to be able to have a whole day at the fair. I like it all, the whole thing. I love the haunted house, and the Midway at night. I love the baby animal barn and always try to go, although that’s hard to reconcile with everything you’re going to eat that day. There’s an onion ring place that’s outside the Food Building. They do these shoestring onions and I love them. I like the Dairy Building; I always get a shake. But I’m obsessed with corn dogs. When I was a kid, I remember my dad would drive to the gates of the fair and I would run in, get corn dogs and run out. I don’t get into the new stuff. It’s the one day of the year when I’ll eat three corn dogs, and nothing is going to sneak in and take a corn dog’s place.”
“We go every year and look forward to it. We spend 12 hours there and really pack it in. Hands down, it’s all about Pronto Pups. They’re my go-to. I’m not a corn dog fan. There’s something about cornmeal that I absolutely dread. I don’t know what it is, but I just hate it. And I have to have cheese curds, for sure. I’m pretty sure that I’m addicted to cheese, and this is fried cheese, so it’s perfect. It’s salty and tangy and delicious, and you dip it in ketchup, and there’s nothing more American than that. I’ll always try one weird fried thing. They deep-fry everything now. I had a deep-fried pie last year. It was interesting. I really enjoy the blueberry beer. And I definitely find myself at the all-you-can-drink milk stand. I love chocolate milk; it’s my favorite thing. What better to drink on a 110-degree day than chocolate milk?”
Danielle Bjorling, Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen, Mpls.
“I guess that we’re neutral on the fair. We appreciate it, but we’re not obsessed, although we do have our favorite things. I like the pork chop on the stick and the corn on the cob. With the pork chop, the texture is so wonderful — pork chops can be tough and overdone, but they nail it — and the brine is really good. And the sweet corn, dripping with butter; I just love it. This is hilarious: My husband [and business partner, Chris Bjorling] married someone with a passion for cake, so we have this wonderful bakery where we bake these beautiful cakes. And he only likes Oreos and chocolate chip cookies. That’s what he gets at the fair: the deep-fried Oreos, and the Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies.”
Barb Zapzalka, Pumphouse Creamery, Mpls.
“I’m not a die-hard fairgoer, but I’ll go occasionally, if there’s a group of my friends going. I’ll have the cheese curds, for sure. It’s that breaded coating, it’s the squeakiness of the cheese, it’s the indulgence of it. That’s such a fair thing. I don’t generally have them anywhere else. You’re at the fair, you have to have them. Even that ‘fried’ smell is in the air, you know? I’ll also have some other fried something or other, too. Nothing in particular, just fried. Again, because it’s the fair. You’re walking around; you can burn off the calories. In terms of dairy, the last time I was there I had the all-you-can-drink milk, which, if you think about it, is kind of weird. But it’s also something to support. I’d probably go there again, if I have Sweet Martha’s cookies again.”
Karyn Tomlinson, Corner Table, Mpls.
“I have no moral objections to going to the fair, but I’m not consistent. I don’t go every year. But when I go, there are two things that I have to have. The first is a Pronto Pup, because you can’t get them anywhere else. There’s something special about a Pronto Pup. It’s the wheat flour batter. It’s not as dry as a corn dog — and I love corn dogs — and it gets that nice crunchy exterior. Now I put a little mustard on them, but when I was a kid, nothing would touch them. I was a purist. My second is the cold milk at the all-you-can-drink milk stand. It’s always so hot and sticky at the fair, and there’s something so special and so refreshing about the milk when it comes out of those metal spigots, with the foam on top. As a kid, that was so special to me, and today it’s one of the most unassuming things about the fair.”
Steve Horton, Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, Mpls.
“I do go to the fair, maybe not yearly, although my kids love to go. I have to say that I have fidelity to the dairy barn, and I most look forward to a malt. Here’s a little-known fact: My mom was the Princess Kay — she was the eighth one crowned — so I’ve got familial obligations. The Pronto Pup is a highlight, too, with only mustard. My girls love the roasted corn. I’ll go this year, as the Birchwood Cafe is serving a BLT on Baker’s Field focaccia. It has been fun to watch the food choices evolve over the years.”
“I love the fair; it’s so fun. I usually go on the first day, when it’s not so crowded. I always have the corn. It’s not necessarily the greatest sweet corn, but it sure tastes good at the moment. It’s about the aroma of it roasting, it’s watching them shuck it, and it’s fun to see the cute faces of the kids working their first jobs. I always try to have a macaroon from the Salty Tart. I like the French fries, with vinegar, and tons of salt. They’re super-fresh, and yummy. Then I might get a smoothie, which is so lame, I know. And I’ll usually get something chocolate. When I was a 4-H-er, the fair was the highlight of the summer. We’d pull up in our camper, with our horses. Those were the days. One year, my best friend — her kids now go to the fair — we broke into the Ye Old Mill at night, and rode those little boats in the pitch black. It was terrifying. It was the best.”
Luis Patino, Cafe Racer Kitchen, Mpls.
“I’m been going to the State Fair since I was 5 years old, and I go two or three times a year. Every single year I start with 100 percent the same thing: the big piece of bacon, a Pronto Pup and French fries. I get them out of the way. I’m old school; I go for the classics. There’s the roasted corn, for sure. I’ll even do the pork chop on a stick. Oh, and cheese curds. You can never have enough cheese curds. Can you trust someone who doesn’t eat cheese curds? I’m really particular on my sweets, and everything at the fair leans so sweet. I can’t do minidoughnuts; I had a bad experience as a child. Maybe a funnel cake; you can’t go wrong with that. You will never find me eating a deep-fried candy bar. I tried it, once, and it was delicious, but it’s not good for you. What is it, 14,000 calories? It should be illegal. My wife, her thing is always trying the new stuff. She gets annoyed with me. She’ll ask, ‘Don’t you want to try anything new?’ Nope. I’m horrible and Midwestern that way, a real creature of habit.”