More, more and more to eat at the Minnesota State Fair. Will the nibbling never end?
Atypical day during pig-out-on-a-stick season: Greet the morning with a pancake breakfast at one of the church dining halls. Then it's on to a pork-chop-on-a-stick and a bucket of fries before seguing into a Pronto Pup and a bag of Tom Thumb Donuts, washed down with a malt. Snacks include Sweet Martha's chocolate-chip cookies, chased by a basket of cheese curds. How about some cotton candy and a Sno Cone before climbing aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl? And beer. Don't forget about the beer.
They're not called classics for nothing, and every fairgoer has a favorite -- or three or four -- that they return to year after year. But with hundreds of food items at your fairground fingertips, why not branch out a little and add a few to your grazing repertoire? Leave it to a pushy critic to offer his suggestions for possible new classics.
Starting with Corn Fritters (Dan Patch Av. and Cooper St.), just don't let the name fool you; this stand is all about superb fried green tomatoes. Start your day with bite-size, caramel-drizzled mini cinnamon rolls at Cinni Smiths (Murphy Av. and Cooper St.) or warm-from-the-oven scones -- naked, or with jam or fruit -- and great java at Country Scones & Coffee (Food Building). For a true North Woods taste sensation, don't miss the divine deep-fried smelt at Walleye on a Stick (Food Building).
Nitro Ice Cream (Food Building) could do standing-room-only business in the midway, because its patented flash-freeze process is an attention-grabbing sideshow, converting milk into premium vanilla ice cream in a flash. Count me a fan of the nostalgic strawberry and chocolate ice cream sodas at Bridgeman's (Judson Av. and Liggett St.). Keep it simple and ask for the butter-sugar combination at Lynn's Potato Lefse (Food Building), a grilled potato flatbread that's a kind of Norwegian tortilla.
The jerk-style chicken wings at West Indies Soul Food (International Bazaar) start with a spicy whisper before erupting into a delicious shout. Preferred Pickle (Food Building) takes dill slices, adds cream cheese and a crumb coating before deep-frying them, with fabulous results.
I usually find myself stopping at Nut Rolls (Dan Patch Av. and Underwood St.) for fresh-roasted peanuts rolled in white nougat, dipped in a high-quality dark chocolate and skewered on a stick. The deep-fried green pepper rings at the Big Pepper (Liggett St. and Judson Av.) are a love-at-first-taste phenomenon. And I can't imagine visiting the fair without a pit-stop at the Cream Puffs stand (Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St.) and a meal of walleye cakes and elk-wild rice meatballs at Giggles' Campfire Grill.
The fair's most encouraging food trend is the ever-growing availability of locally raised foods. What better venue to showcase the bounty of the state's farmers than the Great Minnesota Get-Together? Here's a rundown of just some of the most memorable locavorian options for 2008.
Fergus Falls-raised bison is now on the menu (along with Minnesota-produced beef and poultry) at Minnekabobs (Food Building, and Dan Patch Av. and Underwood St.). The burgers at Blue Moon Dine-In Theater (Carnes Av. and Chambers St.) are made from grass-fed beef from Thousand Hills Cattle Co. in Cannon Falls. This year the Boulevard Grille (Coliseum) is featuring pork sausages from Tim Fischer's Purebred Hog Farm in Waseca; bison burgers using meat from Dan Laura Kreofsky's Rattlesnake Ridge farm in Kellogg; beef burgers from Duane Hager's Wabasha farm, and Minnesota-brewed beers, including Summit, Surly and Schell's.
Hutchinson, Minn., farmers showcase their farm's signature product at their Food Building outpost, the Lamb Shoppe (Food Building). Big Fat Bacon (Carnes Av. and Nelson St.) is frying up heaven-scented pork from Tim Fischer's farm as well as Hidden Streams Farm in Elgin. I smiled when I saw the sign at the All-You-Can-Drink Milk stand (Judson Av. and Clough St.) that reads, "You're being served by a Minnesota dairy farmer" (while you're there, order a half-and-half, an equal-parts chocolate and white blend); the stand pours made-in-Minnesota milk from Kemps.
Mocha on a Stick at the Minnesota Farmers Union Coffee Shop (Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.) is a Fudgsicle-meets-Starbucks blend of ice cream, chocolate and espresso made especially for the fair by St. Paul's Grand Ole Creamery. The divine grilled sweet corn at the always-busy Corn Roast stand (Dan Patch Av. and Nelson St.) is raised in Monticello and picked fresh daily; last year the stand started a composting program, and 33 tons of nibbled ears were diverted from landfills to green-minded compost sites.
The Minnesota Apples (Agriculture/Horticulture) name says it all: Crunchy, super-juicy pink-and-chartreuse Paula Reds and refreshingly frozen Minnesota-pressed cider in a push-up plastic sleeve; both are 75 cents, a major fair bargain. The honey in the marvelous honey-sunflower ice cream and honey sweetened lemonade at the Bee Hive (Agriculture/Horticulture) is sourced from Minnesota producers.
The strawberries and apples going into sundaes and malts at the Dairy Goodness Bar (Empire Commons) hail from Pine Tree Farm in White Bear Lake. The super sausages at Sausage Sister & Me (Food Building) are crafted at Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls. Minnesota-made wines are the stars at Schumacher's New Prague Hotel (Carnes Av. and Nelson St.). Get a taste of the state's official grain at Wild Rice Specialties (Food Building), which puts the Minnesota-raised ingredient into burgers and sausages. Cool down with a few swigs of 1919 Root Beer (Dan Patch Av. and Underwood St.), brewed in New Ulm. And it doesn't get much more Minnesotan -- or more kitschily fair-like -- than the Spam Burgers stand (in front of the Grandstand), which fries up fat slices of the pride of Austin and slips it into a sesame-seed bun. Perfect.
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757