“I do like the Big Fat Bacon on a stick. I mean, it’s pork belly, so what’s not to like? My wife and her family are really big State Fair people, and they taught me that a corn dog is way better than a Pronto Pup. The corn dog has that delicious and slightly sweet cornmeal breading, and now I’ve totally sworn off the Pronto Pup. We definitely love the French fries, and if the line isn’t too long, we’ll get those warm Sweet Martha’s cookies. And I’ll usually get a sundae or a shake in the Dairy Building. When it comes right down to it, so much of the food at the fair is really about tradition, and nostalgia. I don’t know if the shakes at the Dairy Building are the best that I’ve ever had, but at the time I’m having one, it tastes like the best that I’ve ever had, because I’m at the fair.”

— Don Saunders, the Kenwood, Minneapolis

 

“I’ve been a fairgoer since I was a kid. I like the classics: the cheese curds, the Sweet Martha’s cookies. Nothing too crazy, I don’t really follow the new stuff. I like the Pronto Pups, there’s a flavor in the batter that I love. Oh, and the fried green tomatoes; they’re super-good. They’re served with a little ranch dressing, and even though the tomatoes are fried, they still have a little bit of freshness to them. There isn’t enough of that at the fair.”

— Jim Christiansen, Heyday, Minneapolis

 

“I’ve been emceeing the afternoon program for Minnesota Cooks for almost 10 years now. I always arrive hungry. I let my appetite tell me what I’m going to be eating that day. I’ll usually go to the Food Building and walk around. If I wave at Manny at Manny’s Tortas, he’ll usually shove his frozen pineapple drink in my face. I love hitting Harry Singh’s. Oftentimes I’ll grab a gyro; last year I got one at Falafel King. After the program, I stay pretty mainstream, pretty middle of the road. I’ll get myself a Summit, and the obligatory corn dog. I mean, you have to have a corn dog.”

— J.D. Fratzke, the Strip Club Meat & Fish and Saint Dinette, St. Paul

 

“I’ve been going since I was a little kid. It’s part of growing up in Minnesota. My first job ever in the food business was at the State Fair, at Rainbow Ice Cream, scooping cones from 7 a.m. until midnight. I was maybe 14. I always go the first day it opens — because it’s still clean — and I have my routine. This is going to be disgusting, because it’s a lot. I always have a foot-long hot dog, and fries, and mini-doughnuts, and a Pronto Pup, and roast corn. I always have the pork chop on-a-stick. Can you believe it? This Jewish girl, telling you that I have to eat a pork chop. It’s once a year. Oh, and a peach, from the Produce Exchange. They are the world’s best peaches. I took some home last year and showed them to our U.S. Foods rep and said, ‘Can’t you get these for me for the restaurant?’ I’m obsessed with them.”

— Patti Soskin, Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, St. Louis Park

 

“I’m one of those rare people who don’t like going to the fair. I know: ‘She doesn’t like going to the fair? What?’ I grew up in an Asian home. My parents didn’t know what the State Fair was, so we didn’t go. I’ve told my colleagues that I think I need to go with people who really love going to the fair, who really have it in their blood, and see it through their eyes. Last year I made a conscious effort to go and enjoy it. A friend told me to visit the deep-fried pickles booth; it’s her favorite. And I thought, ‘Why the hell does she love that?’ But they were fantastic, so delicious. I look at the things like the deep-fried candy bars, and they don’t look appealing. They’re like reality TV time. The simple stuff — the honey ice cream with sunflower seeds, the corn — all the stuff that no one makes a big deal about anymore, they’re all kind of great.”

— Ann Kim, Pizzeria Lola, Minneapolis and Hello Pizza, Edina

 

“I have four kids, and going to the fair is definitely a highlight of their summer. I heard that Rabbit Hole is going to be there this year for the first time, so I’ll be in line for their poutine fries. I love to hit the Dairy Building. I’m a milk shake guy, and I like the cheese curds, both the fresh and the deep-fried. It’s not the kind of stuff that I eat during the rest of the year. Apparently I get all of my dairy for the year at the State Fair. The people-watching at the fair is so great, and as long as you have some kind of dairy in your hand, you’ll be all right.”

— Erick Harcey, Victory 44, Minneapolis

 

“My husband is super into the fair. He and his dad go every year. They’ve been doing it for as long as my husband can remember. I’ve gone with them the last two years; it’s fun. They have a routine; it’s almost like they follow a map. We get there super early, right when it opens, and we start with an egg sandwich, the kind with American cheese. Then we wait until the Dairy Building opens, for the milk shakes. I’ll usually have the corn on the cob, dunked in all that butter. Drenched, really. That butter vat is just amazing to me. I love the Hawaiian Shave Ice; it’s such a good cool-down halfway through the day when you’re super-hot. I’m not huge into the things on-a-stick, all that deep-fried stuff, but I don’t leave without mini-doughnuts. I have a 4-month-old, Bruce. This is going to be his first year at the fair, and I’m totally excited for him to get the tour. Maybe he’ll get his first little taste of corn dog. You’ve got to start them early, right?”

Anne Andrus, Honey and Rye Bakehouse, St. Louis Park

 

“I love the fair. I always go once or twice a year and my must-haves are a Pronto Pup — with yellow mustard only — and a honey ice cream cone at the Agriculture Horticulture Building. The craft beer stand is a favorite of mine, too.”

— Beth Fisher, Wise Acre Eatery, Minneapolis

 

“The night scene there is what I really enjoy. The sun goes down, the music starts to kick in and the crowd turns more festive. It almost turns into one big party. You go for a Summit or another beer from any of the other local breweries. The fair has become this great showcase for the indie beer scene in Minnesota. I think that’s so great. The corn booth, that’s just insane, I can’t miss that. And those turkey legs, you know, the giant ones? They’re huge. You walk around eating one of those, you feel like a caveman.”

— Benjamin Rients, Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar, Richfield

 

“We go in a group, up to 10 people, from the restaurant. We’ll look at each other and say, ‘Let’s get some beer and see what’s on the menu.’ There are three or four things that I have to get. The corn, for sure. A big chunk of meat, whether it’s bacon on-a-stick, or pork chop on-a-stick. And it’s ridiculous, because I have this huge sweet tooth, but I have to have one of those deep-fried candy bars on-a-stick. Then the eight or nine other items, they’re entirely random, and a mystery to me until I get there. Then we go bounce around and play some games. If you’ve seen the big animals that we have hanging in the rafters of the restaurant, well, we’ve won all of them at the fair over the past five years. There are probably 20 of them. The blue gorilla — it’s bigger than any stuffed animal I’ve ever seen — I won that throwing a softball onto a milk jug, on my second shot. My brother Matt won the big pig with some sort of baseball pitch. It gets pretty stupid. We walk out of there super-full, with stuffed animals.”


— Mike Brown, Travail Kitchen & Amusements, Robbinsdale

 

“I grew up in northeast Minneapolis, and I’ve been going to the fair my whole life, once if not twice a year. Now I go with my mom and my kids, and we go for eight hours. We kind of hit the entire thing; we stroll the whole grounds. I’m a really boring fair eater. The first thing we do is go to the Agriculture Horticulture Building — I love that building — and get an apple, and I get teased by my friends for it. Then I buy two bags of that hard honey candy — it has honey in the middle — and I stuff my purse with it for the next few months. Cotton candy, for sure. Can you tell that I have a sweet tooth? We get a chocolate malt in the Dairy Building, because that’s what my grandpa did. And I get a Pickle Dog. It’s a pickle spear with cream cheese and pastrami. It’s very Minnesota, and very delicious. With a red Kool-Aid. Yeah, red Kool-Aid and a Pickle Dog. That’s this chef’s favorite thing to eat at the State Fair.”

— Carrie McCabe-Johnston, Nightingale, Minneapolis

 

“I’ve been going every year since my son was 5. He’s 14 now. We have to go, usually two or three times a year; it’s a tradition. Thomas loves it. My daughter, Lily, she’s 10 and she’ll go, but she’s the first to say, ‘It’s so hot; can we go home?’ We have to have Sweet Martha’s cookies. We always get two buckets; one for there, and one to go. We’ve got to have the cheese curds. Pronto Pups, for sure, and the fries. The deep-fried pickles, too, and we always split a turkey leg. We always go on the Giant Slide, and then after that we always get the corn on the cob. The pork chop on-a-stick is my favorite. You think it’s going to be dry, but it’s really juicy. Oh, and I love the International Bazaar. We always go there and try different foods, and I end up buying something that I don’t need. I also can’t wait to try the new stuff. Last year I tried the deep-fried Twinkie. I was thinking, ‘Ewww, am I really going to eat that?’ Then I took a bite, and wow, not bad. Really good, actually.”

— Diane Yang, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis

 

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