Stick-ing around

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2010 - 7:21 PM

Critic Rick Nelson has been rating the new foods for the past 12 editions of the Minnesota State Fair. Here are a dozen newcomers from the past - including three on a stick - that have stood the test of time to become the next generation of fairgrounds food classics.

Tess Thompson of Plymouth enjoys a Twisted Sister sausage in a bread-stick crust.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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1999 - BREAKFAST BURRITO AT TEJAS EXPRESS

Eleven years ago, when co-owners Wayne Kostroski and Mark Haugen launched their breakfast burrito for $2.50, it was a bargain. Today, they're still charging the same price ("much to my chagrin," said Kostroski with a laugh), and it's more like a steal. Served from 8 to 11 a.m., it's a soft flour tortilla liberally stuffed with freshly scrambled eggs, grated Cheddar and grilled green peppers and onions. Doll it up with a dollop of feisty roasted tomato salsa that's definitely a few degrees hotter than "Minnesota spicy." Oh, the deal gets even better: Kostroski and Haugen toss in a free cup of coffee. The Garden, $2.50

 

2001 - WALLEYE CAKES AT GIGGLES' CAMPFIRE GRILL

This is one fair delicacy that actually tastes fussed over. Each pan-fried cake is a hand-formed blend of Canadian walleye, smoked salmon and wild rice, with bits of red pepper for a touch of sweetness; cayenne and smoked paprika turn up the heat in the accompanying dipping sauce. Forget about being one of the best new foods of the past 12 years, they're one of the best foods at the fair, period. Cooper St. and Lee Av., $7.25

 

2002 - TWISTED SISTER AT MY SAUSAGE SISTER & ME

Siblings Cherie Peterson and Merry Barry spiral-wrap their distinctive basil- and oregano-flecked porketta sausage (made to order at Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, Minn.) in a bread-stick dough dotted with Parmesan cheese. This is a baked beauty, there's not a deep-fryer in sight. Don't forget the marinara dipping sauce. Food Building, $6

 

2002 - FROZEN CUSTARD AT CUSTARD'S LAST STAND

It's tough to remain immune to the allure of the luscious vanilla at Nitro Ice Cream (Food Building) and the tangy lingonberry-by-the-scoop at Rainbow Ice Cream (Underwood St. and Carnes Av.), but owner Dan Pederson's ultra-creamy frozen custard, served in five tempting flavors, deserves the mantle of the fairgrounds' Best. Ice Cream. Ever. Even better: a smallish-cone, which more than does the trick, is just $3. Carousel Park, $3 to $6

 

2006 - FROZEN MOCHA ON A STICK AT MINNESOTA FARMERS UNION

The only combination that one-ups chocolate and peanut butter is chocolate and coffee, as proven by this Dixie cup-shaped air-conditioner-on-a-stick. Imagine a lovingly made, super-creamy Fudgsicle, then insert the distinctive but totally complementary flavor of carefully brewed espresso. It's all local, too, made in St. Paul at Grand Ole Creamery, using coffee from the Bean Factory. Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St., $4.50

 

2007 - SPAM BURGER AT SPAMVILLE

Kudos to Kevin Arnold and Tim Duren for putting the Minnesota back into the Minnesota State Fair. "Spam is a world-renowned product and a Minnesota institution, and we thought, 'Why not bring it to the fair?'" said Arnold, and he's right. The duo re-create countless Hormel-fueled camping-trip meals by frying thick slices of the iconic canned pork product until it sizzles, then adding a slice of -- what else? -- American cheese and slipping it into a sesame bun. The condiment bar (don't miss the pineapple rings) adds just the right finishing touch. Cosgrove St. between Dan Patch Av. and Wright Av., $5

 

 

2007 - SMELT AT WALLEYE ON A STICK

These finger-sized delicacies might not be sourced from Minnesota -- co-owner Bill Davis said they're netted in the spring from rivers and streams that feed into the Canadian side of Lake Erie -- but the word smelt evokes a beloved Gopher State ritual that deserves to be enshrined in the Great Minnesota Get-Together. They require almost no embellishment, just a thin breading and a quick trip through the deep fryer, turning them crispy outside, steamy and melt-in-your-mouth tender inside. Food Building, $5

 

2007 - GRILLED LAMB AT THE LAMB SHOPPE

It's a mystery why more Minnesota farmers don't have a presence at the state's largest eat-fest. Enter Connie Karstens and Doug Rathke, who do their best to rectify that oversight. The couple graze their 500-head flock of Dorset sheep on meadows that skirt the Crow River near Hutchinson, Minn. For the fair, they marinate their deeply flavorful lamb in red wine and olive oil before grilling it to tender, juicy perfection and a bona fide taste of Minnesota. Food Building, $7

 

2008 - FISH TACO AT SAN FELIPE TACOS

When asked "regular, or grande?" go for the latter and then watch Sarah and Michael Wentzien's friendly crew carefully assemble an awesome, burrito-sized fish taco, built with crisply fried tilapia, crunchy cabbage, bright pineapple-mango salsa and a sneaks-up-on-you chipotle sauce. Even the regular is big enough to share, but you won't want to. Food Building, $6 and $8

 

2008 - MEDITERRANEAN LEMONADE AT HOLY LAND DELI

It's just four ingredients: fresh-squeezed lemon, sugar, ice and garden-fresh mint (cultivated in owner Majdi Wadi's mother's northeast Minneapolis back yard), yet the sum is greater than its parts, adding up to a slushy, profoundly refreshing repast. "Everyone does lemonade at the fair," said Wadi. "So ours had to be special; it had to stand out." Boy, does it ever. International Bazaar, $4

 

2008 - LUCKY'S HOMEMADE TATER TOTS AT AXEL'S

Each year, vendors compete to create the kind of food-on-a-stick talker that will drive traffic and dollars to their stand. Many disappear as flashes in the pan, but this one has total staying power. Think of them as fortified hash browns (the secret ingredients: bacon, sour cream, chives and Cheddar cheese), extruded through a sausage maker and cut into tot-like shapes. Why didn't someone think of it years ago? Food Building, southeast corner, $4

 

2009 - REUBEN PRETZEL AT FRENCH MEADOW BAKERY & CAFE

The fairgrounds' top-performing bakery demonstrates that it does savory as well as it does sweet with this ingenious sandwich replacement, with corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese baked into a just-chewy-enough rye flour crust. Step up your game, midway carnies: The pretzel-makers putting on a show inside the Meadow's shiny exhibition kitchen just might put you out of business. Carnes Av. between Nelson and Underwood Sts., $5.50

Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757

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