Peaches & Cream at the Salty Tart. Star Tribune photo by Tom Wallace.
One of the challenges of writing for a space-challenged daily newspaper is submitting one’s self to the taskmistress that is brevity. I’d love to prattle on for hundreds of column inches on the subject of food and restaurants, but my colleagues in Sports, Metro, Business and Variety might not want to turn over their valuable newsprint real estate so that I might wax rhapsodic on the subject of, say, new foods at the Minnesota State Fair.
Fortunately — at least for me, I can’t speak for readers — the Web offers no such limitations, and so I’m going to take the opportunity to add a few more thoughts to the new-foods-at-the-fair story that was published in Saturday’s paper.
I spent nine hours pounding the fairgrounds pavement on Thursday (truly the most glorious opening day, weather-wise, in all the years I've been covering the fair) , where I tasted 42 different food and beverage items. I spent $274 of the Strib’s cash in the process, not counting my admission ticket, buying roughly 25 new-to-the-fair dishes and 15 or so past hits.
My friend Greg bravely tagged along and dutifully chronicled every morsel on his iPhone. Once we were safely seated on the air-conditioned bus headed back to his car at the U of M (still the fastest and most convenient get-to-the-fair setup for those near campus), Greg quickly reviewed each photograph, swiping his finger across the screen of his phone. There were so many pictures that after about a minute or so he wondered if perhaps he might develop a repetitive stress injury. That’s how much we ate. (Cue unseemly belch).
Fortunately, we left on a high note, with a few swigs of the extraordinarily refreshing mint lemonade at Holy Land Deli in the International Bazaar; read all about that, and other new State Fair food classics, in next Thursday’s Taste. Until then, here’s a more thorough review of some of the highs and lows of our Fried-Food Sojourn on a Stick, on a post-by-post basis.
I love it that Michelle Gayer — Salty Tart owner and a 2010 James Beard Foundation nominee as one of the nation’s five best pastry chefs — is such a Great Minnesota Get-Together enthusiast. Last year she jumped into the fairgrounds frey with her peerless coconut macaroons, and she’s back again for a second go-round. She’s still in the macaroon racket (her pink-and-brown T-shirts, which read “Crack-a-Roon Experience 2010” might be the fair’s coolest food souvenir; $15, with a limited supply, so grab while they last), but this time around she’s found inspiration with the Produce Exchange, her Midtown Global Market neighbors who share their fairgrounds space with her 3-year-old bakery.
The inspiration? Insanely juice Sweet Dreams peaches, imported from Washington State at the very peak of their lusciousness. They’re the foundation for Peaches & Cream, a parfait that bears all the hallmarks of Gayer’s distinctive work: It’s seasonal. Each bite offers a flurry of flavors that on paper might come off as a shotgun wedding but marry beautifully. And underneath its deceptively simple appearance beats the heart of a sophisticate.
Starting with the parfait's vanilla soft-serve ice cream. Not content to be viewed as a glorified Dairy Queen outlet, Gayer doctors that basic ingredient with tangy Greek yogurt, fragrant coconut water and flavorful vanilla beans, and the result is a creamier product with a richer flavor profile. Then she takes those fantastic peaches and sautes them with sugar and lemon zest until they just start to break apart (“I wanted big chunks of peach,” she told me), and starts layering ice cream and peaches, parfait-style, into a 12-oz. cup. No skimpy sweets for her.
“It seems big to me,” she said. “But it’s the state fair, it has to be big, right?” Absolutely. That’s what sharing is all about, although, frankly, I’d keep this beauty all to myself.
The finishing touch: Crunchy, brightly flavored (and gluten-free) ginger snaps. It’s a deliriously appealing combination of sweet-tangy, smooth-crunchy, and those peaches are spellbindingly good.
“It’s healthy, right?” she asked with a laugh. I gave her a doubting look. “Ok, it’s medium healthy.”