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Bacon is clearly the ingredient du jour. Witness the harmonious blend of bacon tucked inside a dark chocolate-covered, ricotta-stuffed cannoli ($7, ⋆ ⋆ ½) at Ole’s Cannoli. Meanwhile, Double Bacon Corn Dogs is true to its name, wrapping bacon around a hot dog prior to its cornmeal batter dip, then rolling it, post-fryer, in bacon bits ($5, ⋆ ⋆ ½). The stand’s other attempts at corn dog gentrification — adding roasted corn or jalapeño garnishes ($5, ⋆ ) — are pretty lame.
The beloved mini doughnut is placed on the pedestal — where it belongs, frankly — not once, but twice. Hamline United Methodist Church Dining Hall has teamed up with St. Paul’s Izzy’s Ice Cream to introduce Mini-Donut Batter Crunch Ice Cream ($4 and $6, ⋆ ⋆), an adorable idea that unfortunately doesn’t really taste much like mini doughnuts (stick with the divine Church ‘Elder’ Berry instead).
Ball Park Cafe has a talker in its Mini Donut Beer ($4.75, ⋆), a limited run by Lift Bridge Brewing Co. that’s served in a cinnamon- and sugar-rimmed glass, a hilarious touch. But it’s more flash-in-the-pan novelty than anything else.
The flops get bigger. There’s a pumpkin alternative ($6, ⋆ ½) at the Original Minneapple Pie, but stick with the original — and far superior — apple. Kudos to Blue Moon Dine-In Theater for offering some true dramatics with its Comet Corn ($5, ⋆). The process — which involves liquid nitrogen — is a Midway-worthy sideshow, but the freeze-dried snack-food medley quickly loses its appeal.
Better to stick with the stand’s other newbie, two thick slices of butter-drenched toast filled with chopped wieners ($5, ⋆ ⋆ ½); they’re from Kramarczuk’s, which means they can’t be beat. On the sausage front, there are perfectly presentable newcomers at Pitchfork Sausages ($5, ⋆ ⋆) and Sausage by Cynthia ($6, ⋆ ⋆).
Room for improvement
A number of newcomers were either so similar to existing fairground staples, or so mundane — or both — that it makes me wonder if the powers that be are almost willfully unaware of the tsunami of street-food creativity that the food truck community routinely unleashes across the sidewalks of downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. Shouldn’t the State Fair be a showcase for innovation and excellence?
Instead, fairgoers get soft-serve vanilla ice cream and a host of canned toppings over a funnel cake ($8, ⋆) at Funnel Cakes, or deep-fried Cheddar cheese rolled in crushed Cocoa Puffs ($5, ⋆) at Axel’s. Absolutely no good comes from dipping the fabulously crunchy and vinegary deep-fried dill pickle chips at the Perfect Pickle in a chintzy chocolate sauce ($7, ⋆), and R&R Ice Cream cranks out chile-infused chocolate ice cream ($5, ⋆ ½), but makes it disappointingly Minnesota Spicy, which is to say not at all.
When beautifully made arepas, foie gras-topped bison burgers and rice bowls crowned with feisty Korean-style barbecued beef short ribs and soft-cooked eggs are routinely available out of local food trucks, it isn’t terribly energizing to turn to Tracy’s Idaho Taqueria for a gigantic plate of prepared-to-order waffle fries doused with standard-issue taco fixings ($9, ⋆ ⋆), a rote gyro sandwich from Gyros ($8, ⋆ ⋆), Hot Pockets-esque rolls of pizza dough wrapped around hamburger, pico de gallo and cheese ($5, ⋆ ⋆) at Green Mill and overpriced bacon-wrapped shrimp ($8, ⋆ ⋆) at the Shrimp Shack.
Come on, Minnesota State Fair, you can do better than this.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib