Russell Klein,Meritage, St. Paul

“I’m not the biggest fairgoer. To say otherwise would be untrue. I go maybe every other year. Desta [Klein’s spouse and business partner], she loves the fair. I don’t go for the new, trendy stuff. I’m like Meritage. I like the good, solid classics. I like the chocolate chip cookies. I’m glad that I’m able to help Martha reach the pinnacle in food sales. Is that how it was put in the newspaper? There’s big money in chocolate chip cookies. I had no idea. I like the roasted corn, I like the Pronto Pups. There are no bad memories of corn dogs. I’m not repulsed by the sight of a corn dog; I just follow the Pronto Pup side of the equation. That’s Desta’s influence. I have them with mustard. I’m a mustard guy; ketchup is for 6-year olds. This is probably going to get me into trouble, but would it kill anyone to put out a spicy brown mustard? It’s always that yellow French’s mustard. And I drink beer at the fair. I love seeing all the local craft beers. That’s great.” 

Sameh Wadi,World Street Kitchen and Milkjam Creamery, Minneapolis

“I have to stop and get one of the weird things, the novelty things, like deep-fried pickles stuffed with cream cheese. There’s the smoked turkey leg, obviously. I don’t know if it’s illegal, or not, but I smuggle in a Ziploc bag with a condiment made with fish sauce, peppers, garlic, a little bit of lemon juice, salt and chiles. And I’ll have some sticky rice with me, too. Every year when I walk in I think, ‘Is this going to be the year that they bust me?’ I’ll sit in a corner with my turkey leg, and my sticky rice and my pepper sauce, and it’s the best. Let’s not forget the corn. That’s got to make it in there, somehow, some way. I have a huge sweet tooth, so I’m always looking out for something new in terms of dessert. I love the honey ice cream; it’s comforting to me. And every once in a while I want one of those tiny [Sweet Martha’s] chocolate chip cookies, for nostalgia’s sake. Just one. I don’t buy a whole bucket. I just walk up to people and offer them a dollar for one cookie. Yeah, that’s not creepy, not at all.” 

Jack Riebel,the Lexington, St. Paul

“I love the fair. I think it’s amazing. Anything that’s overly sweet and on a stick, I’m not interested. The onion rings are a must for me; that’s the first thing I always get, right out of the gate. Then cheese curds, at the original stand, I’m nostalgic that way. A corn dog, on Machinery Hill, always, and mini-doughnuts. I love the honey ice cream with sunflower seeds. Those frozen apple ciders in the Agriculture Horticulture Building? That’s the best cheap treat at the fair, it’s so cold and refreshing. My guilty pleasure is fried potatoes, so I always have to have a bucket of fries. My cold beer break is at the Midway Mens Club. It’s all-volunteer, and they raise money for kids. And I’ll have a malt at the Kiwanis stand, to avoid the line in the Dairy Building. Oh, and the corn. When I’m really hungry, two ears of the corn. I love, love, love the corn at the fair. Hopefully it’s not too late for a funnel cake shout-out; for sure, that’s a must. And believe it or not, I really dig the Spam burger. I grew up eating Spam. It’s uniquely Minnesotan, and yet it’s known throughout the world.” 

Carrie Riggs, Restaurant Alma and Cafe Alma, Minneapolis

“I feel like it’s not very Minnesotan if you’re not a fan of the fair. I can’t remember not going to the fair. I grew up in Roseville, so the fair has always been directly in my backyard. I like going at night, when everything has cooled off and it’s not so crazy. I’m pretty efficient, so I can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. For me, there are always the staples. I have to get cheese curds, obviously, in part because I don’t let myself eat cheese curds for the rest of the year. I only eat them at the State Fair. Usually I get Sweet Martha’s cookies. I actually think that they’re really good. I usually get mini-doughnuts, too. And a malt, and French fries, and they have to be eaten together. Beyond that, I usually just wander, and see what happens. You can’t go wrong with most of the fried stuff, although sometimes that gets a little overwhelming. I really like the deep-fried pickles, and any type of fried onion is right up my alley. I heard that last year there was some kind of mini-doughnut beer. How did I miss that? That’s definitely going to be on this year’s schedule.”

Jordan Smith, Black Sheep Pizza, Minneapolis and St. Paul, and StormKing Barbecue, Minneapolis

“I grew up in Minnesota, so I’ve been going to the fair for forever. We try and go every other year, that’s our regimen. I’m sort of a daytime fairgoer, and I’m really boring. It’s hot dogs, corn on the cob, beer and mini-doughnuts; that’s what does it for me. They have really terrific foot-long hot dogs at the stands that are sort of Germanic looking. Last year, they remodeled them, and they’re not so Germanic looking anymore, but the hot dog didn’t change; they’re still terrific. I’ll try a novelty — a deep-fried Snickers Bar, all that stuff — and I’m not afraid to throw something away if I don’t like it. When I was a kid, I’d do the All You Can Drink Milk thing, but I don’t want to drink a half-gallon of milk anymore; that’s a lot of calories without much return. Up on Machinery Hill, I like to go to that church stand [Salem Lutheran Church] that has the coffee with the eggshells. My grandma did that. Percolated coffee, it just might come back. It’s not about lovely, hand-selected beans. It’s boiled coffee, brutally strong, full of caffeine.” 

John Sugimura, PinKU Japanese Street Food, Minneapolis

“I go to the State Fair, every other year, for one reason, and it’s not because I love the food, or because I want to see barn door hinges or whatever. I go because my family always went, and I have really fond memories of that, of getting into the station wagon at 7:30 in the morning, and fighting with my siblings, and sharing a bucket of French fries with my mom, and she’s been gone for 20 years. I’ll get the strawberry shake at the [Kiwanis] stand by the art building, because that’s what I’ve been doing for 50 years. And then I’ll walk over to the place by the political booths, the one that sells the skin-on, all-beef hot dogs, because they have the raw onions, not the grilled onions. And then maybe some fries, but the small, or the medium, and you share it with a bunch of people. My parents weren’t thrifty, or cheap, it’s just that you didn’t go crazy back then, the way you do now. I’m not saying that I never had corn on the cob, but it was extra, you know what I mean? Sorry to be so sappy about it, but that’s how I do it, in keeping with the way my parents did it.”