A honey of a destination
It’s all honey, all the time at the Minnesota Honey Producers, a 75-plus-year fair tradition. There are ice creams: honey almond fudge, and honey sunflower (the latter outsells the former 3-to-1). Sold by the scoop, or served in sundaes blanketed in, yes, honey. A refreshing honey-sweetened lemonade sells like crazy. For something chillier, check out the honey lemonade sorbet crafted by Sweet Science Ice Cream in Minneapolis. Honey candies by the dozens are also on hand, along with honey products (and free samples) from 18 Minnesota producers. Proceeds from this nonprofit benefit bee and honey research, including the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab.
Sixty years young
The fairgrounds are peppered with countless single-item food stands. One of my must-visits is
Danielson & Daughters
, a modest, top-quality venture operated by siblings Tracey Donnelly, Leanne Mear and Sheryl McGuire. Their late father, Bill Danielson, founded the family business in 1956, and those six decades of deep-frying experience — coupled with a tried-and-true recipe that’s just fresh-cut yellow onions, a pancake-like batter and bubbling vegetable oil — are evident in each batch of tantalizingly crisp, delicately sweet, piping hot onion rings. Deep-fried genius, all for $6.
Food Building, south exterior
Campfire songs optional
OK, another one. I find the charms of the S’mores stand — now in its 44th year — to be somewhat irresistible. Not only is it a no-brainer of an idea, it’s one of the fair’s better bargains, clocking in at $3.50 (the original 1973 price was 25 cents), or $6 for a double. And the marquee item is everything s’mores should be — and nothing more. The recipe follows the strict party line of graham crackers, gooey Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallows (“The best on the market,” said owner Mark Andrew) and Hershey’s chocolate. It’s a transporting combination on par with another beloved three-ingredient summertime staple, the BLT. That makes me wonder: Where is the fair’s BLT stand? The Great Minnesota Get-Together coincides with peak tomato season, and the state has no shortage of blue ribbon bacon producers. State Fair officials, get on that.
Dan Patch Av./Underwood St.
There are countless ways to beat the heat during a sweltering day at the fair (“beer” being a timeless favorite), but one of the most ingenious comes by way of the good folks at
. The specialty of the house is alligator (tastes like chicken!), but heat-wilted insiders know to get in line for the frozen grapes. It’s a paper basket filled with about a third of a pound of seedless red grapes, each one a sweet, humidity-busting frozen flavor bomb. These $3 portable air conditioners are popular. This year, owner Dallas Simonette estimates he’ll sell 3,600 pounds of grapes.
Dan Patch Av./Nelson St.
Honoring His Royal Badness
West End Creamery
, enjoying its 49th year on the fairgrounds, is keeping the Prince love alive through the fair’s 12-day run with its Purple Reign floats. Picture this: Effervescent Sprite soda takes on a Paisley Park-like lavender hue, thanks to generous scoops of raspberry-chocolate chip ice cream. The stand’s 39 milk shake flavors include several newcomers: bourbon caramel (alcohol-free), a Mojito-like lime-mint, ginger-lemongrass and butter pecan, plus a handful of breakfast cereal-themed options — Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap’n Crunch Berries.
West End Market
A very good morning
The fair’s can’t-be-beat a.m. bargain is the $4 breakfast burrito at
. The technical details are as follows: fluffy scrambled eggs, along with Jack and Cheddar cheeses, and grilled peppers and onions, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla. It’s a jumbo-scaled portion, easily dolled up with the kitchen’s first-rate salsa, a flurry of wood-grilled tomatoes and jalapeños, and plenty of roasted garlic. It’s the same memorable formula that co-owners Wayne Kostroski and Mark Haugen relied upon at their former Tejas restaurant in Edina (and, before that, downtown Minneapolis). Even better? Kostroski and Haugen throw in a free cup of coffee. Don’t delay, because this deal has a short shelf life, served from 8 to 11 a.m.
Made in Minnesota
Oh, the many riches at the shade-filled gathering spot known as the
Minnesota Farmers Union
. St. Paul’s Grand Ole Creamery keeps a handful of gotta-have ice cream bars on hand (don’t miss the sensational Mocha on a Stick, or this year’s talker, a sweet cream ice cream packed with sweet blueberries and tart chokeberries from a Winona, Minn., farm). The Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis supplies fresh-baked blueberry-sweet corn muffins (easily the fair’s top-performing gluten-free treat) and swoon-worthy maple-bacon rolls, all made using Minnesota-raised ingredients. The B’wood’s chocolate crinkle cookies are the foundations for a terrific ice cream sandwich. The Bean Factory in St. Paul supplies a full line of coffee drinks, enriched by milk and cream from the Schoenberg family’s Stony Creek Dairy in Melrose, Minn. Two other perks: Doors open for early birds at 6 a.m., and the stand hands out what’s easily the fairground’s best foodie freebie: the gorgeous 2017 Minnesota Cooks calendar.
Dan Patch Av./Cosgrove St.
Take the kids
I know, I know, I tend to prattle on and on about Giggles’ Campfire Grill, for all kinds of reasons. Here’s another one: value, because owner Tim “Giggles” Weiss might have the kids’ meal to end all kids’ meal deals: chicken nuggets, fries and a dessert, for $1.25. Last year’s price? $1.75. “Giggles’ is going backward,” said Weiss with a laugh. As for the grown-ups, go for the walleye/wild-rice cakes, stay for the ⅓-pound elk Cheddar cheeseburger.
Lee Av./Cooper St.