Q: We missed the State Fair this year. Can we experience any of its culinary delights off the fairgrounds?

A: Sure. The example that immediately comes to mind is my pick for the 2015 fair’s best new food: Butter Queen Coffee Ice Cream, a brown butter-infused coffee ice cream filled with hefty chunks of chocolate espresso chips. It’s fantastic. It’s made by Izzy’s Ice Cream, and on the fairgrounds it was sold at the Hamline Church Dining Hall. The good news is that Izzy’s plans to continue featuring the flavor in its two scoop shops (1100 S. 2nd St., Mpls., and 2034 Marshall Av., St. Paul, izzysicecream.com) indefinitely.

“It might be my new salted caramel,” said co-owner Jeff Sommers, referring to one of the shop’s long-standing bestsellers. “It’s our intention to keep it around, forever.” Hurrah.

Another new top-rated fair favorite, Chocolate-Dipped Cherry on-a-Spoon from St. Louis Park-based JonnyPops — a chilly, creamy blend of tart cherries and rich dark chocolate — is available at the Walker Art Center (1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., walkerart.org), in the museum’s Garden Cafe. Quantities are limited, so hurry in.

For those going through battered-and-deep-fried withdrawal, there’s always Deep Fried Goodness (3020 University Av. SE., Mpls., dfgoodness.com), where the kitchen hurls Oreos, Twinkies, bite-size Snickers Bars and other sugary delicacies into hot oil. They leave the on-a-stick presentation to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, however.

Brace for more doughnuts

Q: Did I hear something about a new doughnut shop? In Dinkytown?

A: You did: Sssdude-Nutz (317 14th Av. SE., Mpls., sssdude-nutz.com). Owner Bradley Taylor starts with raised, cut-into-squares doughnuts, then tops them with everything that college students require in portable sustenance: thick buttercream icings, crushed cookies, breakfast cereals and more, all at $3 a pop. The unlikely name? It’s a nod to Taylor’s braces-wearing days, when his orthodontic treatment got in the way of his proper pronunciation of “dude.”


I’ll have a drink; hold the alcohol

Q: I’m not a cocktailer, but I like delicious drinks. Can you recommend a few places that don’t respond with the dreaded “Coke products” when I ask what they have in terms of non-alcoholic beverages?

A: That’s a pet peeve of mine, too. Really, Mr. or Ms. Barkeep, your Sidecar contains a dozen carefully selected ingredients — half of them cultivated on your own urban farm plot — but you’re content with serving me a Pepsi? I don’t get it.

Cheers to the tart fruit bite of the Cherry Lemon Fizz — as well as the handful of other vibrant, booze-free drinks (lime-passion fruit, anyone?) at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant (1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., dakotacooks.com), and the gorgeous mocktails that Adam Gorski serves in the equally gorgeous lounge at La Belle Vie (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., labellevie.us).

I’m sold on the half-dozen soda fountain concoctions — most enriched with a bevy of artisanal bitters — that light up the bar at the lively Eat Street Social (18 W. 26th St., Mpls., eatstreetsocial.com).

At Marin Restaurant & Bar (901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., marin restaurant.com) and Mill Valley Kitchen (3906 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, millvalleykitchen.com), chef Mike Rakun places an emphasis on refreshing, not-so-sweet, alcohol-free libations, including a zesty house-made ginger beer (at Marin) and a soothing cucumber-lemon soda (at Mill Valley).

Count me a fan of chef Beth Fisher’s effervescent, super-seasonal sodas at Wise Acre Eatery (5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., wiseacreeatery.com), made with syrups composed of just-off-the-farm ingredients (plum! melon-mint!). I’ve developed a thing for the intensely colorful (and not sugary) house-made soda of the day at chic Saint Dinette (261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, saintdinette.com).

The house-made ginger ale at Tilia (2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., tiliampls.com) doesn’t pull any punches, and the cool aguas and frothy horchata at Sandcastle (4955 W. Lake Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., sandcastlempls.com) won’t be around forever; the lakeside destination closes for the season in mid-October.

More changes at Union

Q: What’s going on at Union?

A: What isn’t? The restaurant’s dazzling indoor-outdoor rooftop (731 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., unionrooftop.com) remains unchanged, thank goodness, but its street-level companion is now on its fourth iteration in three years. Say this for owner Kaskaid Hospitality: They don’t give up easily.

Chef Stewart Woodman is out — he’s now overseeing dining operations at the historic Kahler Grand Hotel in Rochester — and his short-lived (and, I thought, pretty terrific) Workshop at Union is gone, replaced by Union Bar and Grill, a sports bar-esque operation with a populist all-American menu (bar snacks, burgers, sandwiches, from chef Kyle Darling) and a casual environment peppered with TV screens and video games.

Woodman’s exit is a watershed moment. From the moment in 2003 when he appeared at Levain, through his dynamic work — in partnership with former spouse Heidi Lerman — at Five and two iterations of Heidi’s, Woodman advanced the Twin Cities’ dining scene. Here’s hoping his work will have a similar impact on Rochester.

Celebrating conversation

Q: Where should we celebrate an 80th birthday? Price isn’t an issue, but we’re looking for a place where we can hear one another.

A: I’d book a table at Vincent. Even when it’s a busy night, the wide-open but quietly elegant dining room never impedes conversation, and after sundown it has a celebratory, big-city feel to it that few other restaurants can match. Service is first-rate. As for the menu, chef/owner Vincent Francoual has all kinds of delicious, scrupulously prepared (and French, of course) ways to mark eight decades: a supple sweet corn veloute, halibut with fennel and fava beans, a memorable steak tartare and the ultimate in birthday cakes, a chocolate-hazelnut confection paired with a red wine-poached pear. There’s a fine cheese selection, too. If you’re really splurging, go all in and order the five-course, $60 tasting menu.

A deal for date night

Q: We’re always on the lookout for a date-night deal. Any ideas?

A: Sure. Check out the three-course, $30-per-person dinner served Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at fun, hip Coup d’etat (2923 Girard Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3575, coupdetatmpls.com). Chef Tommy Begnaud changes it up every week, and the bar adds a wine pairing for an additional $15.

Much to look forward to

Q: Are there any new restaurants on the horizon that have captured your attention?

A: Plenty. I can’t wait to see what Bachelor Farmer (50 N. 2nd Av., Mpls., thebachelorfarmer.com) chef Paul Berglund and his crew are going to do with the casual cafe that’s replacing the former home of retailer Askov Finlayson.

When Upton 43 (4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls.) debuts in mid-October, I’ll be among the first in line to get a taste of chef/owner Erick Harcey’s Swedish-American fare, including meatballs, pickled herring and modern lutefisk that he promises won’t resemble “a bowl of fish Jell-O.” Harcey is also planning to launch Dirty Bird — a rotisserie-chicken-and-sides takeout operation — from the same address.

We should all be interested in whatever Tilia chef/co-owner Steven Brown is up to, and right now that means Saint Genevieve (5004 Bryant Av. S., Mpls.), his French tavern that’s going into the former Lynn on Bryant.

It’s exciting to see construction commence on Heirloom (2186 Marshall Av., St. Paul), the “modern farmhouse” restaurant from former W.A. Frost & Co. chef Wyatt Evans.

Then there’s the long-awaited remake of the Lexington (1096 Grand Av., St. Paul), brought to you by the same team behind Il Foro (36 S. 7th St., Mpls., il-foro.com), the reinvigorated former Forum Cafeteria. Co-owner Josh Thoma said that he hopes the Grand Avenue landmark will reopen in mid-November.


Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib