At Minnesota Wine Country, the clever Pork Belly Sliders (⋆⋆½, $9) are served three to an order, ideal for sharing over flights of Gopher State reds.
Green Mill is forming hash browns, mozzarella and diced sausage and pepperoni into bite-size corks, which explains why they’re dubbed Pizza Tots (⋆⋆⋆, $4). Think of the booth’s Pizza Cone (⋆⋆ ½, $3) as a sculptural three-cheese calzone.
Although Pretzel Curds (⋆⋆ $6.75) aren’t a deep-fried revelation, they ably demonstrate the wisdom of a pretzel crumb-fortified beer batter, which makes for a crisper cheese-curd experience.
So many new ice creams, so little time. The pick of the litter, the Jell-O Salad Ice Cream (⋆⋆⋆⋆, $4.50 and $6.50) at Hamline Church Dining Hall, will have fairgoers humming “Kumbaya,” thanks to lime-cranberry-marshmallow cream components that nostalgically hearken back to every church ladies’ auxiliary cookbook. Nice job, Izzy’s.
Ethereal Snoribbons (⋆⋆⋆ ½ $5) at Blue Moon Dine-In Theatre take “frozen treat” to a previously uncharted level, smushing the textures of ice cream, shaved ice and cotton candy into an appealing new form, then dressing the heck out of each one of the 14 semi-exotic (mango, horchata-churro) variations.
The pair of crisp, golden, hot-off-the-iron waffles that constitute the Hot Toasted Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich (⋆⋆⋆, $5) at the West End Creamery are grabbing all kinds of social-media love (tip: Jazz that dull vanilla ice cream with Nutella), but the stand — a Heritage Square stalwart previously known as the Ice Cream Parlour — is well-schooled in the art of milk shakes (⋆⋆⋆, $7), and has thoughtfully added a dozen new flavors, including a pale and lovely lavender and a kids-will-love-this Cap’n Crunch.
When President Obama dropped in unannounced at St. Paul’s Grand Ole Creamery in late June, he flipped for the shop’s No. 1 seller, a sweet cream-Oreo-pecan praline-caramel concoction called Black Hills Gold. Fairgoers can experience it — on a stick, naturally — filed under the Presidential Bar name (⋆⋆⋆, $5.75) at the Minnesota Farmers Union.
For its inaugural State Fair gig, JonnyPops, a local maker of all-natural, gently creamy, ultra-fruity frozen bars, made a special flavor dubbed Snelling Strawberry Rhubarb (⋆⋆⋆, $4). Buy it.
Three cheers for novelty at Mancini’s al Fresco, which produces its supple Beer Gelato (⋆⋆ ½, $5 and $7) on site, teasing rather than hammering taste buds with Summit Brewing Company’s robust oatmeal stout.
R & R Ice Cream’s tractor-churned product has a lovely just-cranked-on-the-front-porch quality, but its Caramel Apple Ice Cream (⋆⋆, $5) could go heavier on the caramel and lighter on the Granny Smiths. Kids will enjoy the bubble gum version, dotted with colorful Chiclets.
Two specialty beers are worth checking out. A deep porter, with chocolate and coffee grace notes, is the backbone for the amusing S’more Beer (⋆⋆⋆, $4.75 and $8) at Giggles’ Campfire Grill. Not that anyone needed it, but owner Tim “Giggles” Weiss reaffirms his sense of humor by serving it in a glass rimmed in chocolate and crushed graham crackers. And yes, it’s garnished with mini-marshmallows.
Meanwhile, a few of the guys at LuLu’s Public House were sitting around last fall — over beers, of course — when they brainstormed up the idea for Grain Belt Blu (⋆⋆⋆, $4.25 and $7), a shandy-style thirst quencher that infuses Grain Belt Premium with blueberry juice and ingeniously capped by an icy slushy of the same beer-berry formulation.
The “while supplies last” signs at Minnesota Apples should compel anyone to nervously stock up on the wonderfully old-fashioned and utterly divine Apple Rollovers (⋆⋆⋆⋆, $3), layers of flaky pastry filled with cinnamon-tossed apples (from White Bear Lake’s Pine Tree Orchard) and finished in an apple cider glaze.
Siblings Cherie Peterson and Merry Barry have turned to dessert at their My Sausage Sister & Me, and their surprisingly elegant Chocolate Salami (⋆⋆⋆, $6) — a semisweet chocolate-butter-almonds-walnuts combo, infused with like-minded hints of orange and coffee — is a well-crafted treat.
Not every item at the Blue Barn is a hall-of-famer. Bacon Brownies (⋆⋆ ½, $6.25) are too much of two good things, namely bacon and chocolate, and a superfluous layer of french fries pushes a Shredded Beef Sandwich (⋆⋆ ½, $9.75) overboard, even by State Fair standards.