The Great Minnesota Get-Together is on once more to a bevy of local crowds! What can I really hope to try and say about this event known for its yearly display of Produce, Animals, Baked Goods, Music, Food, and of course, random carts filled with odd Inflatables…
After many years of distraction from a certain other (-cough-Medieval…) Fair, I only just returned to the food-fest that is the State Fair in 2012. It was so good to put my recently developed skills in food research, “restaurant” mapping and strategization into this event which I had been absent so long. Thank god I was able to do two days of it then, with how many things I had on the list, from now on I can focus purely on new foods and reserve the favorites for whenever.
Speaking of New Fair Foods, I thought it would be fun to recount all my finds and experiences of this year, both new and old, famous favorites and hidden treasures. It won’t be a list of “every important food you should know” or whatever, but maybe I’ll hit something you haven’t seen yet, and you can share your own opinions on them or adverse experiences if you want!
Well, I went with my sis early on a sweltering summer morning, needing breakfast… so of course we had to have ice cream! Hamline Dining Hall sells Izzy’s Ice Cream flavors, and this year had their new Mini Donut Batter Crunch! Had to get it with a patented Izzy scoop of Salted Caramel, since Sis wanted to try it and they taste awesome together. The ice cream itself was as creamy and delicious as always, and I was very satisfied with the authentic mini donut flavor they were able to get through.
On that train of thought, the Ballpark Café shelled out 12oz glasses of Nordeast’s new Fair-special Mini Donut Beer. I was gonna have it right after the ice cream, actually, but they didn’t start selling until Noon, the bastards. But I got it later, in a glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar. My thoughts leading up to it were quite doubtful; not in the idea of a beer flavored with donut, that would be awesome. Apparently their “criteria” for naming it Mini Donut was simply this: it’s the same color, it’s really malty, and then we put cinnamon sugar on the rim.
I was very pleasantly surprised. Even if the beer, on its own, is probably only average or a touch above in quality, it was interestingly delicious with the cinnamon sugar. They actually combined to create this extra little note that truly did remind me of the donuts in a fun and different way. Definitely a good Fair drink.
The Sis then dragged me into the Food Building, away from my list to grab something from the hall of wonders. One of her Fair items of note, and not too bad a grab from the Food Building Standards (besides the Nitro Ice Cream, oh god), a Jerked Chicken Roti from Harry Singh’s Caribbean Restaurant. We also got a glass of their Ginger Beer, but that was just ok; could tell they just made a ginger-flavored syrup and turned it into a (non-carbonated) soda.
Next was a trip to Mancini’s, which debuted a plethora of new items this year. For me, the focus was the Porketta Pig Wings, basically small pork shanks cooked super tender, on the bone, with a flavorful spice mix seasoning. God these were good, so tender and flavorful; on seeing them I almost wished (and thought before) that there was a sauce, but they really don’t need it AT ALL. Great walk-around food, would be fun to see out of a Truck.
Oh, they also have a Gelato area with multiple areas. Another good place to get ice cream, along with one of my favorite discoveries last year: “Lingonberry Ice Cream.” A great stop for the locals who love it, but especially for any tourists/out-of-towners who haven’t had lingonberries yet.
With a disappointing attempt at their Sweet Corn Ice Cream last year, I once more returned to the Bluemoon Dine-in Theater (with food in front and a screen displaying old movies in the back) to try this year’s new “wonder item:” Comet Corn. Finally, we have another stand besides Nitro playing along with liquid nitrogen, taking a bowl of it and briefly dunking in Caramel Corn to freeze instantly for a fun, chilled Fair Treat. Or at least, that’s the idea… apparently, despite originally advertising it as Caramel corn, it’s also Cheese popcorn and Pretzel gold fish. All of the items of which being that cheap, mass-produced stuff one finds in giant tins; which, if it was just the caramel corn, I wouldn’t have minded. I sorta like it as a junk food, and it works well with the Nitro freezing; you even get to breathe a little bit of that fog, so fun.
I think I’ve sort of figured out something about Bluemoon, because I’ve had two years in a row where I’ve been quite excited to try them and both years I’ve been quite disappointed. It’s just how their items are; each year they come up with this new thing that sounds “so different, so unique, so childish and fun or retro” or whatever, it gets hyped up by them and other people. But at the end of the day what’s actually being made is just… not really that exciting, either in what it really is or how they do it. The Cereal Killer ice cream last year; it’s just mass-produced cereal flavored ice cream. The Sweet Corn was grainy and disgusting; I love corn flavor for desserts, but you have to do it right (I don’t understand how Zimmern liked it; did I just get a bad batch?). And now there’s this Comet Corn, charging us $5 for a small cup of super cheap popcorn.
Well, I needed something to cheer me up, obviously. So I thank my lucky stars my next stop was Ole’s Cannoli for their new Candied Bacon Cannoli! A Fair standard for years, they provide a perfectly crispy shell filled fresh-to-order with a deliciously smooth, sweet cream cheese filling. I expected them to sprinkle candied bacon pieces on the ends (as the picture advertized…), but they did something even better! They basically just took a whole strip and laid it in the cannoli before filling; this way we’re guaranteed bacon with each delicious bight. I hope they bring it back next year.
My sis needed coffee apparently, and a stop to one of her two Must-have items every year, Grilled Chocolate (and Raspberry) Sandwiches, so we stopped at Moe and Joe’s. Luckily for me, they also carried the new Grilled Glaze Donut, next on my list. Which was… quite disappointing. No real flavor comes from the grill, and the donut itself is just a basic, unimpressive donut, not really one you crave. Though it is better dipped in the strawberry sauce they give, and it’s only $2 so a good item for those on budget (but you get what you pay for). As for the Grilled Chocolate Sandwich, normally it might be something I suggest, but I think the quality decreased this year… I could actually taste the “Hershey’s Syrup” aspect of it (could swear they used a different chocolate before). Though I usually stop by each year to see if they have different sandwiches; the Marshmallow Fluff one was tasty.
The next stop was another favorite of my Sister’s, and I think one of the great little hidden gems of the Fair. If you’re ever thirsty for something besides water, try heading to the International Bazaar, go to West Indies Soul Food, and grab a big cup of their Caribbean Lemonade (also with pineapple and I think maybe mango). It’s super tasty. They also sell a really good Jerked Pork Chop, for those who like Pork Chop on-a-stick and wanna try something different.
It’s no trip to the Fair without a Corn Dog (FINE, or a Pronto Pup… evil), and this year a new stand has revealed itself to sell their own “Flavored” Corn Dogs. These include one with extra Corn, a Jalapeno and Cheese, and (as they highly advertise) a “Double Bacon,” which I of course had to get myself. Supposedly they advertise a hot dog, wrapped in bacon, dipped in a batter which has itself been mixed with chopped bacon, then garnished of course. I myself… didn’t taste any of it. I could see the bacon in the crust, but none of the flavor came through; the hot dog and fried batter was too strong. Plus, I don’t think they actually wrapped the dog in bacon… definitely a stand I suggest one avoid. Stick to a regular Corn/Pronto Dog.
Also had some of Sweet Martha’s of course, but forgot to take a picture… oh well we know they’re delicious.
The fact that I even got through all of this, even if I only partially consumed most of it, in 4+ hours was just numbingly tiring. Thankfully we had to leave early, because I needed to lay down after the hot day, but there was ONE MORE stop I needed to make before being completely satisfied.
That’s right, Famous Dave’s. I so loved their Pork Knuckle dish last year, was sad to see it was a one year thing but very happy to get their new Cajun Pork Rinds. Though damn they give you a lot of them! Squeeze a bit of that lemon over (the acid cuts through the fatty fried skin really nicely, not to mention the spice) and dip into that White BBQ Sauce, and damn these are good. I think they actually do fry the skins themselves, at one point, but even if it is just mass-produced bought and flavored I don’t mind, it was a very tasty and happy experience. Though I had to take half of it home to finish… Sadly, I don’t think they’ll have them next year, but it’ll be interesting to see what new seasonal item they have in their place.
Well, that was my 2013 year at the Fair. My list of staples has expanded, though many new items have been cut, but either way I can’t wait to see what comes up in 2014! What’s your favorite foods, new and old?