At Simply Nuts & More (Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum), go directly for the roasted pistachios. Perhaps the greatest of the so-called superfoods sold at the fair, pistachios are packed with porterhouse levels of protein, along with plenty of iron, vitamin E and bone-nourishing phosphorus. They’re also full of good fats, of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties. Decent fiber and omega-3 fatty acid levels, too. They’re sold in the shell, which gives idle hands a fairgrounds workout, and owner Chris Carney keeps the sodium content low. Oh, and be on the lookout for Carney’s salt-, sugar- and oil-free trail mix.
In a pickle
Remember, the signature item at Pickle Dog (Liggett St. and Carnes Av.) isn’t just a pickle. It’s a vegetable! And vegetables — in this case, a whole cucumber — are good for you, right? Like most self-respecting State Fair foods, this one is served on a stick, yet it gets nowhere near a deep fryer. You’ll feel virtuous with each snappy, vinegary bite.
Gluten-free at the fair
The French Meadow Bakery & Cafe (Carnes Av. and Underwood St.) makes a point of showcasing vegan and gluten-free repasts, including vegan scones as well as gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, brownies and croquette-like rice-black bean “poppers ” paired with a chipotle dipping sauce.
Hot dog fans following gluten-free diets should place Chicago Dogs (the Garden) on their itineraries; the stand offers its plethora of beef and bison dogs on gluten-free buns. A gluten-free rice flour-and-beer batter, for a deep-fried brat on a stick, is grabbing attention at Sonny’s (Food Building).
Beer drinkers, take note: Cafe Caribe (Carnes Av. and Clough St.) is pouring a gluten-free Pilsner-style beer from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, and O’Gara’s (Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.) is serving a gluten-free American pale ale from Burning Brothers Brewing in St. Paul.
It’s baking as performance art at the Pretzel Haus (Liggett St. near Carnes Av.), where half the draw is watching the crew manipulating long stands of dough with the theatrics and dexterity of a rope-twirling rodeo rider. Another bonus: As snacks go, it’s tough to beat pretzels, health-wise. Cholesterol-free and low in fat, and the stand’s wonderfully chewy, big-enough-for-two versions manage to taste like something even without salt. But go ahead, live large and get the salted version. It goes without saying that the butter, cinnamon-sugar and Asiago variations, as well as the Cheddar cheese sauce, are out of the question. Instead, load up on the naturally fat-free French’s mustard.
Keeping cool º
Perhaps the most efficient way to cool down on a sweltering State Fair day — outside of a beer garden, that is — just might be the frozen fruit on a stick at Veggie Pie (Food Building). The tart pineapple is terrific, but the grapes are even better, each one a chilly, humidity-busting burst of sweet juiciness. Bayou Bob’s (Nelson St. and Dan Patch Av.) is also in on the act, offering a paper basket filled with icy and gloriously refreshing frozen red grapes.
The pita sandwich is the name of the game at Middle East Bakery (Dan Patch Av. and Cooper St.). While pressed turkey or roast beef are menu mainstays, consider the lighter, brighter tabbouleh version, a colorful, aromatic and parsley-packed blend of tomatoes, onion and couscous that’s stuffed into — what else? — a whole-wheat pita.
Essence of August
Of course, there’s always the Corn Roast (Dan Patch Av. and Nelson St.), where $3 buys a freshly picked, just-roasted ear of locally grown sweet corn, a taste treat that pretty much embodies all that is beloved about late summer in Minnesota. Just be sure to steer clear of the butter and salt.
From the orchard
Dieters, the flaky Apple Rollover pastries at the Minnesota Apples stand (Agriculture Horticulture) are probably not your friend. But take refuge in the just-picked output from Pine Tree Orchard in White Bear Lake, including Beacon and Paula Red apples and Whitney crabapples. The orchard’s pure-as-pure-can-be applesauce is also on hand, as is its fresh-pressed cider, sold by the glass or frozen inside a handy plastic sleeve.
Dole-ing it out
Look closely at the Dole Whip (Carnes Av. and Nelson St.) ingredients breakdown and the first item is, yes, “sugar,” a challenge to the very concept of “healthy.” But this surprisingly refreshing frozen treat, served in cones, cups and floats, also manages to clock in at just 80 fat-free calories per half-cup serving. The lactose-free product manages to achieve a semblance of creaminess, and while the pineapple flavoring isn’t exactly subtle, its Fake Factor is no greater than that of most fro-yo products.
Waist watchers should probably steer clear of the crumbled cookies, chocolate chips, sugary breakfast cereals and gummy bear garnishes, but there’s nothing wrong with going whole hog with the blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pineapple and kiwi fruit toppings at Starberi Frozen Yogurt (Liggett St. and Dan Patch Av.). The fro-yo is of the fat-free variety, and the flavors have a clean, clear taste, particularly the no-frills “tart” option.
Ultimate palate cleanser
It’s not easy to predict what will be gracing the counters at the Produce Exchange (Judson Av., outside Agriculture Horticulture), but this much is certain: It’ll be hyper-seasonal, and irresistible. Perhaps tiny Summercrisp pears from an orchard in Fairhaven, Minn., or crisp, sweet Superior plums, picked the day prior from a Hastings farm and so tasty they more than earned their “flavor grenade” calling card. Or maybe it’ll be red- and gold-streaked Sweet Dreams peaches from Washington state, so lusciously ripe that they can’t help but run juices down the eater’s chin, with abandon. One taste is all it takes to be off fried foods, forever. Or an hour, anyway.
While the lactose-intolerant may view the All You Can Drink Milk stand (Judson Av. and Clough St.) as their personal House of Horrors, tens of thousands of milk-loving fairgoers enthusiastically belly up to the Midwest Dairy Association’s friendly bar for unlimited 12-ounce cups of 2 percent white and 1 percent chocolate. The price remains $1, and while the dairy barn-shaped booth is more wholesome than a kindergarten class celebrating Puppy Day, remember to practice moderation, as the calories can add up fast. A 12-oz. serving of 2 percent white milk runs about 185 calories, and the same amount of 1 percent chocolate chimes in around 240 calories.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib