Jalapeno poppers at the Twisted Sister Stand in the Food building.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Peach & Cream parfaits at the Salty Tart

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

A taste of the fair's newest fare

  • Article by: RICK NELSON
  • Star Tribune
  • August 27, 2010 - 11:31 PM

The state's largest temporary food court, otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair, is back in business, with a bevy of new, notable and not-so-noteworthy items designed to capture fairgoers' appetites -- and wallets. Some are steering toward instant-classics territory, while others (pig ears, anyone?) seem destined for the Idea Dumpster.

Three of the fair's best newcomers are familiar names to regulars at Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. Manny's Tortas is blending up the fair's best-looking drink, a refreshing made-to-order piña colada (★★★★, $7) that's minus the rum and served in a showy hollowed-out pineapple. The stand's four carefully prepared sandwiches (★★★1/2, $5) are similarly first-rate.

Another blissfully cool treat is the Peaches & Cream parfait (★★★★, $7) at the Salty Tart, where dessert queen Michelle Gayer jazzes up dowdy vanilla soft-serve ice cream with Greek yogurt and coconut water, then layers it with hefty chunks of juicy peaches and zesty gluten-free ginger snaps for a sweet-tangy-smooth-crunchy delight.

Over at Holy Land Deli, owner Majdi Wadi is serving his mom's baklava (★★★★, $2), and this woman can bake. Fatima Wadi layers her tender phyllo dough with crema and finishes it with ground pistachios.

Fair innovators Cherie Peterson and Merry Barry, the siblings at My Sausage Sister & Me, also have a real doozy: a jalapeño popper (★★★★, $5) that's off-the-charts fiery. It's a baked jalapeño stuffed with a green chile sausage and Monterey Jack cheese, then wrapped in bacon, and when a fellow fairgoer saw sweat instantly cascade off my head, she declared, "I'm too Scandi-hoovian for that one." Consider yourself warned.

Speaking of sausages, Kramarczuk's -- the northeast Minneapolis legend -- is now supplying its top-notch brats, Polish and andouille sausages (★★★★, $6) to the folks at Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, who finish them right, with grilled peppers and onions and a decent sauerkraut. There's a lot going on, flavor-wise, in the stand's elaborate chicken-based Korean tacos (★★★, $3, 2 for $5), but they sure are great-looking.

Fruit in the diet

Rutana's Hot Apple Dumplings (★★★, $5) arrived as advertised, a plus-sized serving of tender, cinnamon-flecked apples wrapped in flaky pastry, though it could use a better-quality vanilla ice cream and a more judicious splash of the brown sugar sauce. Another clever notable: A fruit salsa, scooped up with cinnamon-dusted fried pita chips (★★★, $4) at Fried Fruit on a Stick.

The fairgrounds' best-looking new place to stop for a beer is O'Gara's lavishly tricked-out new home, where the menu's talker is the sweet potato tots (★★1/2 , $5). Burgers are plentifully topped with all kinds of like-minded ingredients, including the Danny Boy Burger (★★1/2, $6) and its crown of corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island Dressing.

The two-fisted, thick-cut bologna sandwich (★★1/2, $5.50) at Netterfield's Grille has a punchy bite, but I preferred the stand's battered and deep-fried bologna on a stick (★★★, $5.50), with its snappy meat standing in for a hot dog in a corn dog wrapper. Spamville's pounded-and-fried pork tenderloin sandwich (★★, $6) on a sesame bun doesn't come close to its fried Spam sandwiches, but it's a straight-up version of the genre (tip: add plenty of honey-mustard dressing). Tempura-battered spicy Szechuan shrimp (★★, $6) -- five jumbo shrimp, actually -- at Chinatown Minn didn't particularly live up to their spicy promise. Two words for the bland deep-fried rainbow trout (★★, $5) at Walleye on a Stick: fish sticks.

Fry, baby, fry

Deep-fried novelties are a fair tradition, but their value often lies more in bragging rights ("I ate a deep-fried Flip Flop!") than in deliciousness. Consider this for the deep-fried strawberry shortcake (★★1/2, $7) at Granny's Cheesecake & More, the big paper boat of chicken-fried bacon (★★1/2, $5.50) at Giggles' Campfire Grill (the bacon comes courtesy of St. Paul's Stasny Food Market) and the slider-sized deep-fried cheeseburger (★, $3) at Axel's: All would be better if they skipped the whole battering-and-dunking-in-hot-oil treatment.

The Green Mill expanded its calzone-like pizza-on-a-stick shtick with a chipotle chicken twist (★1/2, $4), but more chicken and less dough would be a big improvement. Count me a fan of the Belgian waffles on a stick at Fudge Puppies, but this year's Caramel Apple Pup (★★, $5) has a been-there, tasted-that quality.

Meat and more

Turkey to Go is also broadening its fine Henry VIII-style product line, slathering slow-roasted turkey legs with a so-so Buffalo sauce (★★1/2, $7), but the original version is better. Sonny's is topping their fantastic spiral chips with a Sloppy Joe-cheese glop combo and calling it "Sloppy Spirals" (★, $7.50), but these thin-cut, Minnesota-raised potatoes deserve better treatment.

On paper, it's a hoot, but in person, the starch-on-starch corn dog pizza (★, $4) at the Pizza Shoppe is totally skippable. Finally, hats off to Famous Dave's for the sheer chutzpah of Pig Ear French Fries (★, $5), but the salty, greasy and ickily chewy results -- they're the fairgrounds' top Maalox Moment, and that's saying something -- are nothing to brag about.

More on fair food in Taste on Thursday. Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757

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