Elk meatballs. Mini donuts. Cheese curds. Ham loaf and Jell-O Fluff. Lefse. Wild rice burgers. Sunflower-honey ice cream. Frozen apple cider. French fries. And a bottomless glass of milk. It's pig-out-on-a-stick season, and we've got the guide to good eating at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Sticks and the Minnesota State Fair share a proud history. Teddy Roosevelt delivered his famous "Speak softly and carry a big stick" speech at the fairgrounds in 1901, and the Pronto Pup, a batter-dipped and deep-fried hot dog on a stick (today sold at seven State Fair stands), has exemplified quintessential fairgrounds fare since 1947. That staying power has surely inspired countless vendors to impale -- and inevitably plunge into simmering grease -- everything but the kitchen sink in their search for enduring fair-wide acclaim.
This year's Great Minnesota Get-Together boasts 56 speared taste sensations. Standouts include Mocha on a Stick (Minnesota Farmers Union Coffee Shop, Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.), a Ph.D-level Fudgsicle that blends ice cream, chocolate and espresso, crafted especially for the fair by St. Paul's Grand Ole Creamery; the hugely popular Pork Chop on a Stick, a sizzling, smoky hunk of meat (Carousel BBQ, Liggett St. and Dan Patch Av. and Peterson's Chicken and Chops, Underwood St. and Judson Av.), and the self-explanatory Key Lime Pie on a Stick, which doesn't sound terribly Minnesotan, except that it's frozen. And chocolate-covered. And fabulous. (Original Key Lime Pie Bar, Carnes Av. and Underwood St.)
Bored by corn dogs? Whether they're wrapping zesty chorizo with bread dough or twirling puff pastry around soy- and ginger-laced pork sausages, siblings Cherie Peterson and Merry Barry (with an assist from the skilled sausagemakers at Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, Minn.) playfully ramp up the fair's Pronto Pup quotient.
Don't hold their Iowa roots against chemical engineers Will Schroeder and T.J. Paskach. Their patented flash-freeze process -- which doubles as a trippy "Young Frankenstein"-ish side show -- transforms milk into rich, silky vanilla ice cream in a split-second. Have it scooped into a pretzel cone.
Stop by for cool, sweetly refreshing cider, pressed from Beacons, Paula Reds and other poetically named Gopher State apples. Then stay for a Cider Freeze, an icy cider shard squeezed into a plastic sleeve that should really be renamed Air Conditioner Not on a Stick.
Silver-dollar-size chocolate-chip cookies, warm from the oven and stacked, perilously high, in cups and buckets; what's not to like? And talk about truth in advertising: Owner Martha Rossini Olson, the fair's version of Mrs. Fields, really is a sweetie.
Its screaming chartreuse color and fizzy Granny Smith apple flavor make Batch No. 6 soda -- bottled in St. Cloud, Minn. -- a welcome alternative to the fair's relentless cola and lemon-lime landscape.
Co-owners Doug Holter and Tim Weiss, the fair's leading culinary innovators, take their North Woods shtick way beyond the log cabin setting with a lengthy (and delicious) wild game-focused menu: elk-wild rice meatballs, pan-fried walleye-trout-wild rice cakes, a venison-boar-elk bratwurst and more. The big yard filled with picnic tables, a fair rarity, is another bonus.
Just how wholesome is the fair? The fairgrounds' busiest bar has been serving milk -- almost 300,000 glasses of Minnesota-made 2 percent (and 1 percent chocolate) annually -- since 1955. It's all you can guzzle, for a buck. Most visitors average three 12-ounce chugs.