Here's how critic Rick Nelson will get a fill of his State Fair favorites this year
Waffles from Nordic Waffles
When owner Stine Aasland debuted her stand at the 2018 fair, the long lines were instantaneous, and with good reason. Aasland and her crew have perfected this tender and golden staple from her native Norway, and it’s an ideal platform for all kinds of sandwich-like shenanigans: smoked salmon with cream cheese, a s’mores-esque combo of Nutella, crumbled graham crackers and marshmallows. Fortunately, Aasland has set up shop at Potluck, the Rosedale food court. She’s also stocking a heat-and-serve version of her divine “All-Day Breakfast” waffle — an appropriate mix of Cheddar cheese, thick-cut smoky bacon and scrambled eggs — in the freezer case at Lunds & Byerlys and, for a limited time, at Cub.
1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, potluckmn.com
BLT from the Minnesota Farmers Union
Truly, this sandwich embodies what the State Fair should be but so rarely (and depressingly) is, a celebration of the goodness, bounty and ingenuity of Minnesota agriculture. Starting in 2018, the Minnesota Farmers Union, in collaboration with the locavore-focused Birchwood Cafe, presented a fairgrounds BLT for the ages, incorporating Minnesota-raised heirloom tomatoes, greens, bacon (oh, that bacon!) and sweet corn. The B’wood culinary brain trust spent many local tomato seasons perfecting this beauty before introducing it to fairgoers, and it’s one of the reasons why we should all look forward to August. It’s available via curbside pickup at the restaurant, and, yes, you definitely should add a fried egg. It’s also available at F&B, the Birchwood-Minnesota Farmers Union restaurant pop-up, for as long at the heirloom tomato season holds out. The pop-up is also selling other popular fare from the Birchwood-Farmers Union collaboration, including lavender lemonade, blueberry Key lime pie and bacon-laced caramel rolls.
Birchwood Cafe, 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, and F&B, 750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., birchwoodcafe.com
Sweet Dream peaches at the Produce Exchange
In the Happy Timing department, the fair coincides with one of Washington State’s most glorious exports, and these juicy, flavorful beauties have long been a welcome alternative to the fair’s deep-fried mania. There’s lots of 2020 good news, peaches-wise. “Fruit quality is expected to be sensational,” said Kevin Hannigan of the Produce Exchange. The PX will be offering grilled peaches kits, a make-at-home version of what is a hugely popular item at their fairgrounds stand, and they’ll temporarily make use of a nearby Midtown Global Market kitchen and serve grilled peaches, a (not-to-be-missed) fair specialty since 2018. Lemonade apples, a talker from the 2019 fair, will also be available.
920 E. Lake St. in the Midtown Global Market, Mpls., 612-879-0050
Buttermilk scones at the French Meadow Cafe & Bakery
Three cheers for owners Debbie and Chris Gleize for offering one of the fair’s great all-day-breakfast extravaganzas, a rich, tender scone that’s split, filled with fresh strawberries and finished with a tangy, not-too-sweet cream cheese glaze. Find it only at the French Meadow’s Minneapolis location, during the scheduled run of the fair.
2610 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-7855
Cider Freeze from Pine Tree Apple Orchard
This must-have delicacy has got to be a reason — along with the crop art exhibition — why there always appears to be a zillion people thronging inside the majestic Agriculture Horticulture Building. Not only is the taste wonderfully refreshing, but these long, plastic-wrapped sticks of frozen apple cider — pressed from apples raised at the Jacobson family’s scenic 116-year-old orchard in White Bear Lake — are the equivalent of a portable air conditioner. Along with the orchard, they’re also available in the freezer case at the ever-discerning Golden Fig (794 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-602-0144, goldenfig.com).
450 Apple Orchard Road, White Bear Lake, 651-429-7202, pinetreeappleorchard.com
Count me a longtime fan of Custard’s Last Stand, which turns out lusciously over-the-top frozen custard from its near-the-Grandstand stand. I’m similarly enamored of the exceptional housemade frozen custard at Wise Acre Eatery. Pick it up by the pint.
5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577
Honey ice Cream
Indulging in a scoop — or three — of honey ice cream (the version with sunflower seeds is particularly enticing) is an end-of-summer ritual for thousands of Minnesotans. LaLa Homemade Ice Cream owner Jennifer Lisburg also has a thing for honey, swirling it into raspberry ice cream that’s also flacked with fresh berries. Who knows? Maybe she’s got a new State Fair standard on her hands.
3146 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-5252, lalahomemadeicecream.com
Spamburgers at Spam
For me, a stop at the fair’s Spamburger stand is a must. Leave it to the Culver’s in Austin, Minn., home of Hormel, the maker of Spam, to offer a trio of Spam sandwiches on its menu: a straight-up Spamburger, a Spam BLT and a Spam-style Swiss melt.
1800 8th St. NW., Austin, Minn., 507-434-0100, culvers.com
Sweet corn ice cream
On the subject of ice cream, I’ve been a fan of the sweet corn ice cream at the Blue Moon Dine-In Theater since the day in 2011 when owners Stephanie and Mike Olson started making it on the premises. Sweet Science Ice Cream owner Ashlee Olds is also a stickler for freshness, and her sweet corn-blueberry ice cream is a total treat. Even better, Olds fashions the leftover kernels into a must-have delicacy: pints of just-picked Minnesota corn, poached in vanilla ice cream and sold by the pint. Hurry, a novelty this delicious won’t last long.
928 W. 7th St. (Keg and Case Market), St. Paul, 651-300-9333, sweetcornicecream.com
Fried green tomatoes
The Fried Green Tomatoes stand is a perennial stop on my fairgrounds itinerary, even if my digestive system thinks that ingesting another deep-fried morsel is a bad idea. What’s not to love? The tomato slice has a cool, snappy bite, a happy contrast to the crunchy, piping-hot coating. The version that chef Sameh Wadi and his crew turn out at Grand Catch improves upon the fair’s version is every way, right down to the spiced-up Cajun-style rémoulade. Enjoy them on the restaurant’s back patio, and pretend you’re at the fair.
1672 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-348-8541, grandcatchmn.com