Fairgoers, start your diets.

The Minnesota State Fair announced its 2018 class of new foods on Tuesday morning, which means that nine weeks from now, those grazing their way across the Great Minnesota Get-Together will indulge in their annual mass taste-testing, determining which entries are destined for "classics" status, and which newcomers will be labeled "flops."

There's a shocker, too: There are no on-a-stick entries, a development that is positively un-Minnesotan. Have State Fair purveyors finally run out of ways to spear edibles on a stick?

This year's official list of 27 is slimmer than previous entries. Last year's roster topped out at 31; there were 32 in 2016 and more than 50 in 2015. This year's fair opens Aug. 23 and runs through Sept. 3.

Is a trend still a trend when that trend hits the State Fair mainstream? That burning question will be answered when Cafe Caribe places the poke bowl in the spotlight. Think "rice bowl," topped with ginger- and soy sauce-marinated raw tuna and a colorful blend of avocado, mango and pico de gallo.

Shrimp is popular. For its second year at the fair, the Hideaway Speakeasy is filling an avocado half with Gulf white shrimp, black beans, tomato, onions and roasted corn. And Shrimp Shack will be featuring a jalapeño-fueled shrimp-cucumber-onion ceviche, serving it with tortilla chips.

Each edition of the Great Minnesota Pig-Out is always good for a few talkers, valued for their novelty and ability to become social media darlings. This year's roster just might include the gravity-defying Rainbow Cloud Roll at Rainbow Ice Cream, which is described as "three scoops of hand-rolled ice cream sprinkled with fruity cereal and wrapped in a pillow of cotton candy."

Another contender? The Mangonada Shave Ice at Minnesnowii Shave Ice, a mango-flavored shave ice that's dressed with a Mexican sweet-spicy condiment, Tajin chile pepper seasoning and popping mango boba pearls. It'll be served with a tamarind candy straw, of course.

French Meadow Bakery & Cafe is one of several vendors appealing to those following a gluten-free diet. The popular stand is taking a vegan approach to the chicken wing, replacing the bird with cauliflower dipped in a seasoned batter and deep-fried, a sesame barbecue sauce on the side.

A waffle-pizza mash-up sounds tailor-made for fairground appetites, which probably explains why Green Mill is taking it on, filling finger-shaped waffles with pepperoni and mozzarella. An herb-Parmesan blend is the finishing touch, and they'll be served with a side of marinara or pepperoni-infused maple syrup. Behold, inevitably, "Za-Waffle Sticks."

The Tater Tot gets an Irish spin at O'Gara's at the Fair. They're a jumbo-scaled blend of potato, corned beef and Swiss cheese, served on sauerkraut and drizzled with Thousand Island dressing.


You've seen her Nordic Waffles stand at festivals and markets around town. Now Norwegian entrepreneur Strine Aasland is headed to the State Fair, hawking seven varieties of fresh-made waffle wraps (egg-bacon-Cheddar, raspberry-strawberry-vanilla cream, cinnamon-sugar-butter, smoked salmon-cream cheese, marshmallow crème-Nutella-crumbled graham crackers, turkey-bacon, and black bean veggie burger with Cheddar). Beverages? Lemonade flavored with blueberry or lingonberry saft, a concentrated syrup.

The Anchor Coffee House will feature cold-brew coffees, lattes, fresh-brewed drip coffee and banana chocolate chip gluten-free muffins.

Flights of three slider sandwiches (brisket, burger and pulled pork), each with a variety (coleslaw, candied bacon, smoked Gouda and others) of toppings are the headliners at the Hangar, which will also offer smoked turkey legs, smoked brisket sandwiches, jumbo burgers, bacon-wrapped pork belly, kids' meals (hot dog, chicken nuggets, burger with fries or fruit) and a real Tums magnet: candied bacon-topped chicken-and-waffle ice cream split. Also serving fresh-squeezed lemonade, soda and craft beer.

After several years of hosting Hot Indian Foods and the Rabbit Hole at the fairgrounds, the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis has two new State Fair ambassadors in 2018, splitting time at a stand in the International Bazaar.

Taco Cat (Aug. 23-28) will be serving a pair of flour tortilla tacos — smoky black beans with Cotija cheese and pickled cabbage, and battered-and-fried chicken with seasoned cream cheese and wonton crisps — along with nacho fries (including a chorizo option) and a cold-press coffee/horchata drink. And Mama D's (Aug. 29-Sept. 3) will specialize in mac-and-cheese (including a gluten-free version), pulled pork sandwiches, sweet tea and the headliner, the "BBQ Split," which is scoops of barbecue pulled pork, mac-and-cheese and coleslaw, with a pickle spear.

Several top-performing fair vendors are putting up compelling new entries. Blue Moon Dine-In Theater is betting on smoked soft serve ice cream, a housemade product that'll be available in two flavors: cold-brew and Muscovado sugar vanilla, both served with like-minded toppings.

Farmers Union Coffee Shop is continuing its fruitful collaboration with the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis via a cornmeal biscuit cobbler filled with organic blueberries and rhubarb and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

Who doesn't love to say "Turducken"? That popularity is what owner Tim "Giggles" Weiss is surely banking on, because the blend of turkey, duck and chicken is the star of a new sandwich at his Giggles' Campfire Grill.

The Blue Barn — from the folks behind the Blue Plate Restaurant Co., which operates the Highland Grill in St. Paul, 3 Squares in Maple Grove and the Freehouse and the Lowry in Minneapolis — are putting a Swedish accent on the meatball sandwich, jazzing up three pork-beef meatballs with lingonberry sauce, dill pickles and white gravy.

With sweet corn season in full bloom during the fair's run, isn't about time someone took a stab at elote? Tejas Express is grilling corn on the cob over an oak-fueled fire, then adding a chile-spiced mayo, queso Cotija cheese and fresh lime juice. Can't wait.

Oh, and Sausage Sister & Me is baking a porketta sausage, cheese curds, chopped dill pickle and a coarse-grain mustard inside a pepper- and sea salt-crusted puffy crust, and giving it an Iron Ranger name: UpNorth Puff Pasty.

Sausages, sausages

It appears as if the fair's decisionmakers have finally grown tired of bacon, because sausage seems to have ascended to Favored Meat Product of the Moment status.

Witness the year's best-named entry, the Messy Giuseppe, a sandwich built on crusty Italian bread that's filled with Italian pork sausage, seasoned ground beef, marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese.

Sausage by Cynthia will be transporting fairgoers to Morocco with a North African-seasoned bowl filled with lamb-ground beef sausage, carrots, turnips, chickpeas and onions.

The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich will get a figurative spin through the Midway via Gass Station Grill, which is combining peanut butter and cherry jelly (with a dash of cayenne) into a quarter-pound sausage.

And LuLu's Public House hopes to draw folks to its rooftop patio with fried pepperoni chips paired with a warm roasted red pepper queso. Great with beer, right?

Sugar rush

Finally, no day at the fair would be complete without a sweet. Or two. Or three.

The good folks at Hamline Church Dining Hall, aka Ham Loaf Headquarters, are going full-on decadent with a bananas Foster rendition of French toast, using cinnamon-swirled bread, an orange (and rum-flavored) caramel sauce, fresh banana slices and whipped cream.

Get ready for the Sweet Greek Cheese Puff. Dino's Gyros is pledging to fill phyllo dough with feta and ricotta cheeses, giving each triangular puff a spin through the deep fryer before finishing with honey and powdered sugar.

At Sweetie Cakes, expect to encounter a trio of warm baked-in-a-cup cakes (chocolate-peanut butter, Black Forest, birthday) that are filled with pecan-toffee bits and topped with whipped cream.

The Strawberry Patch is taking strawberry shortcake to another level, by subbing out the usual biscuit with a chocolate chip-packed chocolate cake glazed in chocolate icing. Strawberries and whipped cream, of course.

Finally, on those sweltering late-summer days and nights, cool down with a honey cream soda float at Minnesota Honey Producers Association, a sugar-free honey cream soda poured over honey ice cream. It sounds as wholesome as a spin through the nearby Ye Old Mill.

Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib