The Great Minnesota Get Together is a tradition on a stick — not to be missed! It does frankly herald the end of summer, so I hesitate to chat about it already. However.
This week they announced the New State Fair Foods. And for me and my group, like many others, the fair and the food are synonymous.
And this year’s list of new foods? Some excite me, some revolt me, and some I don’t care one way or the other about. Full disclosure: I love spicy. I hate seafood. I like chocolate. I hate super sweet. So what sounds great to me may not turn on your tastes buds. But every year I plot out a gluttonous course, and our group endeavors to tackle as much food as possible, both the new and the old faves (with a few choice adult beverages thrown in). Here’s my take:
Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites (Funnel Cakes): Bite-sized funnel cake pieces infused with a blend of Parmesan, Romano and mozzarella cheeses, deep-fried and finished with a sprinkle of sharp cheddar and chives, and served with homemade Sriracha aioli dipping sauce. Ranch or garlic butter dipping sauce is also available. I love this one because it is so unique (why didn’t anyone think of this before?). I usually don’t sickly-sweet funnel cakes after a bite or two — but give me crunchy, cheesy, spicy goodness and I am yours forever.
The Top 10 I am most excited to try:
Blueberry Key Lime Pie (Farmers Union Coffee Shop): Yes, a dessert is topping my list. But it’s a dessert focussing on tart, not sweet! Blueberry Key lime filling in a graham cracker crust, topped with whipped cream and fresh blueberries. This sounds divine!
Carolina Pit-Smoked Brisket Taco (Shaghai’d Henri’s): Beef brisket pit-smoked over hickory charcoal, shredded and topped with smoked Gouda cheese, a pickled kale crunch made with kale, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radicchio, napa, and red cabbage, with a drizzle of BBQ sauce; served in a flour tortilla with tortilla chips. So many veggies, you might consider it healthy (is that allowed at the Fair?)
The Hot Hen (R’C’s BBQ): BBQ chips topped with smoked pulled buffalo chicken, blue cheese fondue, pickled jalapeños, tomatoes, green onions and blue cheese crumbles. Girl, you had me at blue cheese fondue.
Fried Tacos On-A-Stick (Taco Cat): Two stuffed tacos – one filled with green chorizo and potatoes and one filled with a vegetarian black bean and corn mix – deep-fried, topped with crumbled cheese and a drizzle of guacamole salsa and served on-a-stick. I love tacos, especially with chorizo. This one sounds awesome but has the ability to be a letdown (why do midwesterner put potatoes in tacos?). Only available Aug. 28 – Sept. 2, so get there early!
Wingwalker Donut Flight (The Hangar): An assortment of hot, deep-fried cake donut holes and three syringes with DIY fillings – Bavarian cream, chocolate custard, and Minnesota lingonberry jam. Probably sweeter than I like, but the novelty makes me want to try it!
Jamm’in Brisket Grilled Cheese (RC’s BBQ): Slow-smoked brisket, red onion jam, cheddar, and pepper jack cheeses and RC’s hot BBQ sauce. This sounds delish! From the folks bringing us the Hot Hen (remember the blue cheese?). I anticipate long lines at this stand!
Deep-Fried Dilly Dog (Swine & Spuds): Pickle stuffed with bratwurst, dipped in batter and deep-fried. Makings of a classic. Not too wild, but I bet it’s good!
Lavender Lemonade (Farmers Union): Pink lemonade made with fresh lavender leaves. Bet a shot of vodka would be delish in this! I just hope it doesn’t taste like soap
Carnitas Taco Cone (San Felipe Tacos): Carnitas with a sesame-garlic ginger sauce, cabbage, lime and queso fresco, topped with green onion and sour cream and served in a deep-fried cone-shaped tortilla. Is it Mexican? Or is it Asian? My taste buds will be the judge of that.
Feta Bites (Dino’s Gyros): Deep-fried Greek pasta dough stuffed with feta cheese, cream cheese and Dino’s Greek seasoning. Served with a creamy olive tapenade. The more I think about it, the more I think I will like this.
If I have room still:
Turkish Pizza (Blue Moon Dine-In Theater): A cracker-thin flatbread, with spicy minced beef, onion, tomato, lettuce, cucumber salad, parsley, fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon and garlic sauce, then rolled or folded. I’m intrigued.
Nordic Waffles Al Pastor variety (Nordic Waffles): Mexican-style marinated pork, pineapple, onions, cilantro and salsa verde. Sounds better than their other offering, which I mention later. I’m not usually a fan of fruit in my meat dishes, but I’d try this.
Deep Fried Cookie Dough (Kora’s Cookie Dough): deep-fried chocolate chip cookie dough topped with powdered sugar and chocolate drizzle; also serving cookie dough on-a-stick in five flavors: classic chocolate chip, Grandma’s sugar cookie, monster cookie, Reese’s peanut butter, and Oreo fudge. Highly likely we will try — one bite.
Bada Bing Sandwich (The Sandwich Shop): Italian-inspired warm flatbread sandwich with ham, salami, melted mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil and creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Again: on an ordinary day I would be all over this. But the Fair is not an ordinary day.
Duck Drummies (Giggles Campfire Grill): Duck wings coated in a batter and seasoning blend, deep-fried and served with Giggles’ own tequila lime dipping sauce. Hmmm. I like duck if it’s done well. But this might be heavy-handed. I will try it though!
Tipsy Pecan Tart (Sara’s Tipsy Pies): Pecan pie infused with Dubliner Irish Whiskey and baked in a buttery shortbread shell. Gluten-free. I don’t like whiskey or pecan pie. So there ya go.
Peaches n’ Cream Nachos (Bridgeman’s Ice Cream): A bed of cinnamon sugar pita chips with Bridgeman’s Peaches n’ Cream ice cream, peach topping, a drizzle of honey and crushed pecans, finished with whipped cream, a cherry and a dusting of cinnamon sugar. I like peaches, and I love nachos, but I just know this will hurt my teeth.
Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings (O’Gara’s): white chicken chunks, breaded, deep-fried, tossed in Irish whiskey BBQ sauce and garnished with chopped scallions. I prefer my wings with bones. Also: if this was from a different vendor I’d be more excited (although I don’t think it’s particularly creative). I haven’t loved O’Gara’s offerings in the past few years.
Snow Cap Mini Waffle Sundae (Hamline Church Dining Hall): Mini waffle topped with a scoop of Izzy’s cream cheese ice cream, warm real maple syrup and a maraschino cherry. I don’t need a dessert for breakfast — or vice versa.
Stuffed Cabbage Roll (iPierogi): Cabbage leaves wrapped around seasoned ground pork and rice, prepared with tomato sauce and served with a dinner roll. Eh.
4 Grilled Sota Sandwich (Brim): Cinnamon nut butter and Minnesota blueberry marmalade served warm on Irish soda bread. I’ve never been a PBJ girl.
Six foods made my “nope. Not having it” list:
Nordic Waffles Pebbles & Bam Bam waffle wrap (Nordic Waffles): warm Reese’s chocolate peanut butter cups and fruity cereal by Nordic Waffles. Looks like the floor after a slumber party. No thanks. Way too sweet.
Breakfast Potato Skin (The Blue Barn): Deep-fried potato skin stuffed with scrambled eggs and peppers, topped with blackened beef chislic – a South Dakota bar food staple – and drizzled with bearnaise sauce.The Blue Barn is one of my favorite places — and the first place we hit when we arrive. If this didn’t have scrambled eggs I’d be all in. I’ll probably just get a beer and their chicken and waffle cone (soooo good).
Joey Mary(Brim): An iced coffee slushie topped with a skewer of gluten-free baked goods, including a chocolate bite, honey toffee crunch and almond cookie.When I saw the name, I assumed it would be a bloody mary with an Australian twist — like kangaroo bacon. THAT I would’ve tried. But I hate iced coffee, and I hate overly sweet stuff.
Lamb T-Bone Chops (Holy Land): All-natural, 100% grass-fed grilled lamb loins seasoned with Mama Fatima’s Holy Land Marinade. I’m sure it’s yummy if you like lamb. But I don’t.
Mini Donut Latte (Anchor Coffee House): A traditional latte with house-made mini donut flavoring, whole milk and espresso topped with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar. Too sweet!
Shrimp & Grits Fritters (Funky Grits): Aged cheddar grits, gulf shrimp, onions and Creole seasoning, deep-fried and served with aioli dipping sauce. I don’t do shrimp.
We will also most certainly be making stops for something at Sausage Sisters, a piece or three of Big Fat Bacon, an order of deep fried pickles, and one (or two) servings of french fries. YUM!
We came, we saw, we ate.
I gained 3 pounds.
It was totally worth it.
Every year we look forward to the Minnesota State Fair. The Great Minnesota Get Together, as it is affectionately known, ranks consistently in the top state fairs of the country. Attendance is second only to the Texas State Fair — which runs twice as long in a state with almost five times as many people. The rides, the music, the animals, the exhibits: they all rock. Where else can you see piglets born, see no fewer than five Donald Trump versions in the scarecrow competition, haggle with smiling toothless carnies, listen to the Beach Boys and En Vogue on the same afternoon, watch dogs being spayed, or buy a hot tub?
And did I mention the food?
We kind of go there to eat.
It has become big business for the fair, and every year, months in advance, the fair starts touting the new food options. This year there were no less than 44 new foods. We did NOT try them all. But we would’ve if we could’ve!
I did my research, consulting various different news sources for their recommendations (big thank you’s to Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune and Stephanie March of MSPMag for always being the first reviews I read!) . Quite honestly, I weigh all the recommendations against one another, take in my personal preferences, and then compile my top 10 must try options (full disclosure: I won’t eat seafood of any kind, and I hate sweet beers and any kind of ciders, so those things will ever be on my list).
Then I get my handy dandy Minnesota State Fair app (if you do not have this, you need it. You can place stars on the interactive map of food/entertainment/merchandise you want to see. As you wander the fair, you see what is close to you. Game changer. Also: buy your tickets in advance at Cub — and pick up the Blue Ribbon coupon book and any ride ticket sheets. The fair can be pricey. These things help!)
So after my research, my list looked like this:
We go every year with another family, the Meldahls. Their kids are besties with ours, and their dog Monte was married to our late great Penny. They like the food as much as we do. Mike shares my love of all things spicy, Erika is a scoville scale wimp like HWSNBN (but both are up for almost anything). This year only two of their kids, Joey and Lucy, were able to come. We had no kids for the first time since we moved to Minnesota 21 years ago, It was tough. We missed tem — and having a few extra mouths with which to share the grub!
That’s how we do this: we buy one of something, and everyone gets a bite, It helps lessen the caloric load — somewhat. By the edn of the night all restraints is thrwn t othe wind, and we all start furtively darting glances around, as our personal cravings start whispering to our inner food addicts. We may end the night going rogue, but we always start off united, with a plan.
I start the day on the bus (we don’t drive. Take a shuttle. You’ll thank me), discussing my plan. Then I ask what they really want to eat, and add it to the app map. Since they revamped the west end, we always start at the Blue Barn — geographically it is the first place you reach getting off the bus. It also never disappoints.
First up: bacon and Cheese Stuffed Tots, and the Swedish Meatball Smorgas (with beers). Both were amazing, for different reasons. I have never met a potato I didn’t like. I still remember discovering the glory of potato skins at my friend’s dorm back at UC Davis in 1986. Sometimes I think she feared I hung out with her just to be close to their starchy goodness. These are like that, but fried. And the tangy smoky goodness of the bacon fat infused sour cream? Gurrl. The Smorgas were also great. Think Swedish meatballs with white gravy, sweet lingonberry sauce and tart pickle bits. I chose not to eat the bread, quite honestly. I was told it was like a Hawaiian bread. We were split on which we liked better. I went the more pedestrian route, but others moaned over the Smorgas. I recommend both!
Also eaten in the West End:
On the left you have the All-Day Breakfast Waffle from Nordic Waffles. On the right are the always good chicken tenders from Lulu’s Public House (not new, but a must have for some in the party). I only tasted the corner of the waffle, as I don’t do eggs. But it was sweet and savory at the same time, with the perfect soft and crunchy ratio. Those who ate the whole thing said it was exactly right. This is one of those things I can totally see someone trying at home. Great on-the-go meal with eggs, bacon and cheddar in a waffle sandwich! By the way: look for the goat on the roof. No idea its significance, but any goat wearing headphones is ok in my book!
The path then takes us by two oldies but goodies, on opposite sides of the spectrum: Preferred Pickle and Cream Puffs.
Hard to mess with a big ass dill pickle on a stick. I mean, it can be done, but this is a family show. And the cream puffs? Well, not my thing, but they are a fave of my better half.
We also picked up deep fried cajun pickle slices. They were amazing, but don’t go because you like spice. We had to add hot sauce to the mix to get the kick we needed.
None of these items are new, but you don’t have to be new to be a favorite. We hit up Preferred Pickle again late at night for another round of fried pickles. But since it was during the time of night when we devolved and scattered according to our own base needs, I have no photo.
We headed towards the area of the fair where there are no new foods usually on my list: the animal barns. But along the way we couldn’t resist a stop at our favorite fry place: Fresh French Fries. We shared a small cup, with sides of both ketchup and malt vinegar (my favorite). This place is the bomb dot com. There are lots of places to get french c=fries (in fact 46 fair vendors sell them), but this place will always have a warm spot in my tummy. In fact, we ate there twice. Later in the night we got the giant bucket with a handle, and we ate them down like Charles Dickens street urchins. Mind you, this was after about 6 hours of conspicuous consumption. I think we ate so furtively fast in half-assed-shame (who am I kidding? At this point we were all full moons. Nothing half about it). Or maybe we thought that if we scarfed fast enough it would count as an aerobic activity?
(this pic is from our baby helping)
A couple more side steps along the way to the next new foods: A corn dog (NEVER a Pronto pup). an ooey gooey caramel roll with a side of frosting madness, and poutine.
We split up at this point, some heading to the Miracle of Birth Center, others heading to get some Ghost Pepper concoction. I am a sucker for the animal babies, so I was torn. But my heat- loving cohorts saved me a bite.
We did not allow our spouses to try. They would have suffered. These were awesome. I only had one — and it was enough. Not for the weak of palate. One slightly injured party requested a trip to the all you can drink milk booth — a place we stop every year. This time we had three glasses before moving on, both chocolate and regular.
We made it up to the next new food on my list.
These are the General’s Tso’s Chicken Tacos at Midtown Global Market’s Taco Cat. I’ll be honest: this one wasn’t rated unanimously by all the critics, and I get it. It was yummy Chinese food in a flour tortilla. I could’ve done without the tortilla. Put it in a crisp lettuce wrap and it would’ve been better!
This. This apple. Oh my.
Go to Minnesota Apples in the Ag building. Buy this. Eat it. Swoon over the combo of sweet and tart. Start stalking your local produce aisle. This one will be BIG.
Ok: back to the unhealthy.
Sausage Sister and Me in the Food Building never disappoints. I mean NEVER. If they have a new food, we are there. We will also pick up an old favorite. The new? The Up North Puff Pastry, seen here on the left. It is a flaky concoction of pastry dough (which I would eat solo — the stretch factor is to die for) stuffed with porketta, cheese curds, dill pickle pieces and just the right amount of coarse mustard. This would be an AWESOME cold weather thing. On the right is the classic fave: the Twisted Sister on a Stick. Every year baby!
This was the only beverage on my list to try: a strawberry-basil lemonade. Granted, I wanted to add vodka, but it was a good mix of flavors. Too tart for some in the group, but I thought it was as good palate cleanser!
Onward to Thanksgiving:
This is a terrible picture of the Turducken Sausage at Giggles Campfire Grill. It tastes like a turkey had carnal relations with a bratwurst. That is a good thing, by the way. Impressive pop on the skin! Leaner than you expect from a sausage, but that’s ok. I was still glowing with greasy goodness from Sausage Sister and Me!
Detour for some old faves:
Mini Donuts. Big Fat Bacon. Foot Long Hotdog. All traditional. All must be consumed at some point.
One old, one new, from a perennial new food place: Tejas Grill. On the left you have the Beergarita, which I love. On the right, the elote, which I now covet. And which I vowed to try to replicate this weekend on the Island (blog to come). The elote is grilled corn on the cob slathered in a mixture of chile powder-spiced mayo, lime juice, cotija cheese and cilantro. Your brain tells your stomach it’s a vegetable. Your heart tells you it’s actually crack. And you will eat it until it is gone, then look like an addict, gnawing the ends of the cob and sucking on your fingers. Danger, Will Robinson.
Lots of “healthy” items on the list this year. Sort of. This one was consistently at the top of every foodies list this year. It’s the grilled peaches from the produce exchange (even if you don’t buy this, just buy one of their baby-head sized peaches. Glorious). Drizzled with honey and topped with goat cheese and mint, I turned into Gollum and called it my precious. But not everyone shared my enthusiasm, especially those who don’t like got cheese. That’s ok. HWSNBN and I decided we can totally try this at home. And we will.
We next had a very sad moment. On the top of the I wanna try it list for Mike was the Bananas Foster French Toast at the Hamline Church Dining Hall. Alas, it was only served at breakfast, and we are not morning people. I am sure it was delicious…
Mike helped me search for the next food item, which was a wild card. In the meantime, others hit Juanita’s Fajitas:
So. The one item on the list that I was most uncertain about was the Rainbow Cloud Roll from Rainbow Ice Cream, located upstairs in the Grand Stand. I’d never even been up there before, which added to the dubiousness of this dish. First they take cotton candy, and roll it out. Then you add three scoops of Superman Ice cream, and a sprinkling of Fruity Pebbles, then roll it up like a unicorn’s burrito. Then it’s rolled in more Fruity Pebbles. I was sure I would hate it I was sure it would be a sugar bomb. It was THE BOMB.
They gave me a spork, at which I scoffed. I picked that bad boy up in my hands and bit down. Holy mother of Tooth Decay. I am not sure how, but I managed to polish that sucker off with really only the help of one other person (thanks Lucy!). The others tried it, warily, and liked it, but not enough to go all in like we did. Seriously worth the weirdness.
It was now the time of night to hit the midway for rides and games of chance (I came home with an aqua dinosaur, thank you very much. We all wanted a llama though. I was gonna name mine Dolly. Think about it).
We soon hit that time I told you about: we were at capacity, but we were feral now, and baser instincts took over. There were more fries and pickles. More beer (I really didn’t count that stuff, btw. We did try the watermelon frose — frozen rose– at one point which was ok — if you liked watermelon and rose. Which I do not). A few bottles of water.
Erika craved chocolate. I wanted savory. We also needed cheese curds (no picture — but we got the jalapeno ones. It has taken me 20 years but I can finally enjoy one) to go for one who could not make the fair (hi Paige!). Erika and I found what we needed at French Meadow Bakery:
She had the chocolate mini sconuts (scones and donut holes married together) and I had the gluten-free risotto poppers with cheese and black beans. They were out of sauces for both, but we didn’t care. They were the perfect end of the fair bites.
We staggered to the buses, checking our fitbits and praying that all the steps mitigated the calories a tad. We were done, and frankly (I know, hard to believe) just feeling full. As we neared the gate, a gentleman was walking by with a bucket of the world-famous Sweet Martha’s Cookies. I don’t crave them — they are way too sweet for me. We had chatted about them on the bus ride in, and mentioned that all we needed was one bit of them to satisfy the need.
The food Gods were listening.
As we walked by the cookie man, Mike jokingly offered to take the bucket from him. We all chuckled, and we walked past him. The man called out: “Hey, want one?”
So Mike and I stepped out of the fair with one shared cookie. One last melty chocolate bite. We agreed: too sweet. But we all agreed we’d do it again — next year!