The Minnesota State Fair is probably home to more deep-fried foods than any other place on Earth. Which means that eating healthy — OK, healthier — isn’t easy. But it can be done.
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.