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Getting psyched for the Fair (MSP)

Is it too soon to talk about the Minnesota State Fair? I can hardly wait! Going to the fair is the high point of my year. (That's how you tell a REAL Minnesotan from all those fakers.)

I've started updating my obsessive list of All Foods At The Fair (link soon). As of 17 days before the fair, the Food Finder isn't working yet, but I found a list of new foods in the press kit - click on the Press Room link at the bottom of the page at http://www.mnstatefair.org . (The New Foods list is on p.85; the foods-on-a-stick list is on p.39.)

This year's theme seems to be Potatoes and Pig Cheeks, as summarized at WCCO:

Some of these new foods sound kinda good - especially the sunnies!

So, what fair treats are you looking forward to this year?


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  1. Actually, I'm contemplating what to eat for breakfast for the first time. I usually don't get there right away at the morning, but I'm staffing a booth for the group I volunteer with from 9 - 1.

    I'm interested in ideas if you've got 'em. (And I don't want to do the sit down pancake breakfasts...yawn).

    After the volunteering, I'll be doing my usual pork chop on a stick, corn and milk shake. Plus some of my wife's fries and cone of Sweet Martha's cookies.

    This will be my 20th straight year!

    11 Replies
    1. re: MSPD

      Check out the crepe stand, when I convinced my girlfriend to go early one year, we ate there and now we can't miss it. The food building has b-fast pizza and the French Meadow has warm scones with fresh fruit and whipped cream. I think everyone should give the fair an early start at least once, you get b-fast, snack, lunch, snack and something to bring home and your home buy 3pm, without having to deal with long lines and the heat. Don't get me wrong I also go a 2nd time and get there later because the later you go the better the people watching.

      1. re: robertsscotty

        Oh wow it seems every year they put out something new that just beckons me to return. Pig Cheeks now that's something I wanna die with a mouthful of. Hopefully the pork doesn't lose all moisture when impaled.

      2. re: MSPD

        If you are a coffee drinker, I highly recommend the coffee shop inside the Farmer's Union building. It's run by J&S, a St. Paul coffee shop, and it's got the best coffee in town. There is a tiny patio in the back of the building where you can almost always get a seat for some peace and quiet.

        1. re: alexstpaul

          2nd this. they had really good live modern (& uber-traditional, too) folk music last year, as well. the back patio is our default meeting place when waiting for reinforcements-- there is also the "secret bathroom" back there that tends to be less gross than the rest of the fair ;-P

          i liked the frozen coffee last year. i'm also pretty ready for my honey ice cream and fried green tomatoes!

          1. re: soupkitten

            i like the way you think sk.

            tomatoes and corn fritters, honey sunflower ice cream, the strangely compelling turkey sandwiches, alligator sausage on a stick are only some of the things im looking for. frozen apple juice pops also.

          2. re: alexstpaul

            Excellent. I'm very familiar with J&S Bean Factory but have never paid attention to coffee at the Fair.

            Strange, but honey sunflower ice cream sounds like it has some serious breakfast potential as well.

            Frankly, as the years go by, I'm less and less intrigued by Fair foods. The breakfast angle and being on the other side of a booth has returned some of the interest. Thanks for the suggestions.

          3. re: MSPD

            We always start our Fair day with a breakfast burrito from Tejas. In our case we wash it down with the first cold beer of the day, but perhaps that would be ill advised before staffing a booth.


            1. re: MSPD

              You have to get a Scotch Egg for breakfast. Yum. I can't wait either.

              1. re: MSPD

                Well, I worked every day of the fair in '06, and we got coupons for free breakfast burritos from Tejas. And I think I had one every day. They are great comfort food with eggs and cheese, potatoes, sausage and salsa. mmmm Think about sharing, though, since it is filling.
                Otherwise, I second waiting for the footlong hot dog place to open. A foot long with onions, ketchup and mustard is my mom's and now my stand by 'first thing to eat.'
                I type this as I am eating my sandwich for lunch and suddenly it just doesn't taste as good.

                Beyond all the 'new' foods, I love there is stuff that is still 'new to me.' Like last year was the first year I actually tried a Fudge Puppy. Not amazing, but pretty gooey and tasty.This year I must try the crepes. Something from the International Bazaar, too. Anybody have any good 'oldies but goodies' that are not considered stand-bys?

                1. re: daniellempls

                  Two hidden treasures I rarely see mentioned are the Gizmo sandwiches (cheesy, Italian goodness) and the Cini-minnies (miniature cinnamon rolls with your choice of icing or custard). They're fairly close to the Purina pet center.

                  This isn't super interesting, but I always have to get the Cajun fried pickles. So addicitive.

                  1. re: debbie421

                    I agree about the Gizmo sandwich. Here is a photo of one.

              2. The food is secondary. My dad took us to the fair when we were young and when we were tired we would sit on a bench and watch the different types of fair goers. My dad had a great sense of humor. He would tell us what and where each individual had come from whether it was from under a rock or from outer space. I kept the trait and handed it onto my kids. My wife hates it and thing it's totally wrong. So every year I take my kids, without my wife to enjoy the rides, animals, and the people. The kids love it and can't wait till next year to see what kinds of twisted, strange people have decided to venture out into the public eye for all of us to enjoy. As for the food Danielson's onion rings are the beat.

                1. I'm pumped, as I always am.

                  Growing up, my parents always took us to fair in the morning. I'm talking, walking through the gates before 7am, when nothing was open. We'd hit the pancake houses and I've never been particularly impressed with them. I'd wait until the first footlong hot dog stand was open, and I'd go from there.

                  My new favorite from last year was the elk burger, although I can't remember what the name of the stand was...it's right by the lumberjack activities.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: BigE

                    same place with the walleye cakes (!) and the salmon on the stick (just ok). what is the name of that booth - its the one that looks like a log cabin, right?

                    1. re: tex.s.toast

                      I was so delighted to read your praise of alligator sausage, and now you have to go throw the salmon on a stick under the bus? For me, that is a tier-one state fair dish. Innovative and generous plating, great flavor, and a perfect location to enjoy it (sitting down).

                      1. re: kevin47

                        between the salmon and walleye cakes there is not choice, and while i get the scandanavian heritage thing with the salmon, and know that the walleye is almost definitely canadian, ill pick the cakes over the salmon, its not bad, just not my preference (im only going to get to the fair once this year, sadly)

                        1. re: tex.s.toast

                          I think it's Giggle's. And don't forget creampuff's!

                        2. re: BigE

                          The elk burgers were at Giggle's Campfire Grill. That's one of my favorite food stops.

                          I will sadly miss the fair this year as I will be on the road traveling throughout the West the whole time of the fair. I will have other interesting food pursuits. :)

                          1. re: Davydd

                            Giggles...that was it. I'll definitely be back there.

                        3. Here is the Minnesota State Fair Food Finder website.


                          You can do a search and find whatever you may want on a stick. :)

                          1. Does anyone have a suggestion for a stand with a great bratwurst at the fair? My dad is coming to town during the fair (obviously not from the Midwest) and this is the one thing he really wants to try.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Quince

                              Check out the Ballpark Cafe and get one plus they have great garlic fries, they are not homemade fries but they toss them in garlic and parsley, they are awsome.

                              1. re: Quince

                                The Sausage Sisters stand in the food building has the normal brat, plus a range of fancy ones. They make their own sausages I believe.

                              2. I will be back for Sausages by Cynthia (I've seen them for years but never tried one until last year...fantastic! They were across from the Dairy Bldg.) Also will be back for these tamales that I got from a vendor that was in the southeast corner of the International Bazaar. They were handing out samples, which I gratefully accepted and walked away with, until I took my first bite and stopped dead in my tracks. I HAD to turn around and buy some. TDF!!

                                1. I am looking forward to:

                                  Bacon on a stick: Perfect state fair food. The orange sauce is icing on the, um, bacon.

                                  Ole & Lena's Cheese Curds: Not overbearingly salty, but the differentiator is the lingonberry cream sauce.

                                  Gizmo: The quintessential second-visit food. Great dinner before a bandstand show.

                                  Salmon on a stick: To this day, I make turkey sandwiches with cream cheese, onion and jam, all thanks to the good people at Giggle's Campfire Grill.

                                  Alligator: I pivot between the bites and the sausage. Apparently, though, they have added legs and ribs?

                                  Deep Fried Candy Bar: When in Rome.

                                  Deep Fried Pepporoncinis: About the only spicy thing you can find at the fair.

                                  Australian Potatoes: The guiltiest of guilty pleasures.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: kevin47

                                    Oh, the Australian potatoes...what a delicious, grease filled heart attack of a treat.

                                  2. Like some others, I'm contemplating Fair breakfast options. The crepes sound like a great idea, as does the breakfast burrito, but I remember last year hearing about some breakfast-styled corn dog options involving a breakfast sausage and pancake batter. This year I find myself thinking I could really go for something like that.

                                    Any insight on where to find and whether it's worth it? I searched the "on-a-stick" options on the fair food finder and didn't have any luck...


                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: gromit

                                      That's at the Epiphany Cafe, gromit, pancake on a stick.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Hey there, I just wanted to report that pancake on a stick has been removed from the menu at Epiphany Diner. Sorry if I sent anyone on a wild goose chase. They told me that they took it off their menu recently.


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          Someone else has it, though. There's a coupon in the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book (but I can't remember where I left it).

                                          1. re: Uisge

                                            In different thread, gromit says it's at Williamette (the one by the eco building, near Salem Lutheran Church dining hall).


                                    2. Stopping by to say that I've already tried one of the new foods for this year!

                                      The wine tasting booth apparently will have Ruby Raspberry Wine ice cream this year. Like last year, Izzy's is making the ice cream for them. When we stopped in tonight after dinner at Trotter's (buffalo cheeseburger - yum!), I noticed a hand-written sign on one of the ice-cream tubs. I've learned that these signs indicate very interesting contents, so I asked about it. The scoopers advised me to get it now or never, as it's a one-time thing for the fair.

                                      It was delicious - very creamy, with a punch of raspberry and a tart, tangy flavor from the raspberry wine. I asked if they were making a second flavor for the fair (there were two last year), but the scoopers didn't know.

                                      If y'all hurry down tomorrow afternoon, there might still be some Ruby Raspberry ice cream left. And if there isn't, be sure to try the lemon-lingonberry sorbet. It's in my top-five list of Izzy's ice cream - I love it because it's super tart and lemony, yet still very sweet.


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                                        Anne -There is a wine tasting booth? I must've missed that one last year (too full from $8.00 fat tire beers and pronto pups)...Can you tell me where it is?

                                        I always look forward to Sausage by Cynthia. I'm not a huge meat eater-but once a year, the sausage choices and a pronto pup.

                                        For those who always talk about Sweet Marthas cookies-just an FYI( & I know you won't get the cool bucket either) but for less than $5.00, you can purchase pre-made cookies that you put straight to the baking sheet at Kowalskis. They're just as good and you can take out as many or as little as you'd like.

                                        1. re: snoboardbabe77

                                          This is kind of like the Philly cheesesteak, the egg cream, a lobster boil, or the Chicago dog for me....most of what's unique about a Sweet Martha's cookie is what's going on around me when I'm eating them.

                                          (but, yeah, I've had them at home too)

                                          1. re: MSPD

                                            Which, on that note, wine at the fair? I've tried it, but the wines aren't right, the atmosphere isn't right. It just doesn't work.

                                            Wine ice cream is definitely closer to the wheelhouse.

                                          2. re: snoboardbabe77

                                            Snoboardbabe, the wine booth is called "MN Wine Country", and it's in the Ag/Hort building (the octagonal structure with the crop art and honey and apples and Christmas trees). Type "wine" into the food finder to see the vendor description.

                                            They sell glasses of Minnesota wine - but no free tastes, unfortunately. And as of last year (or two years ago?) they started offering some food, including wine ice cream made by Izzy's. Last year's flavors were excellent (see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5397... ). I think they do different flavors every year.


                                        2. Ah, life has gotten crazy, so I haven't updated my "All Foods at the Fair" list for this year. And the fair's almost half over already!

                                          But my first trip to the fair is this afternoon (gonna be in the parade!), so I did do a list of all the new foods. It's not exactly the same as the one via the fair's Food Finder - I didn't include the samples of water & stuff, and I *did* include unpublicized things like Izzy's wine ice cream.

                                          Here's a link to the 2009 New Foods list, for what it's worth. It's a one-page PDF file. (Errors are all mine, and I apologize. I'll be updating the list tonight, after some one-the-ground research.)

                                          And for reports on the new food, be sure to see this year's other fair thread:


                                          1. 2 Fair visits done..... brief wrap up ....

                                            Best - Cream Puffs - excellent & as stated previously well priced.
                                            close second - macaroons from salty tart.

                                            Pretty Good -
                                            chicken/pita at holy land - nice break from stick based fair foods. Very fresh
                                            Fresh French Fries - the big booth across from the midway. - bottom of the cup was soggy as noted by a prior poster.

                                            Never again....
                                            mini donuts (absolutely drenched in sugar)
                                            corn dogs (2 different booths, 2 different days, both horrible)
                                            CinnBuns near the cow barn - like a rock.
                                            Taffy - ditto - rock like - leftover from 2008?

                                            The same every year - sweet martha's cookies

                                            I missed the honey ice cream this year - wasn't hungry for it when I was near it. Oh well. I've had a lot of Izzy's recently so don't shed a tear.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: St Paul Susie

                                              We are going to the fair tomorrow night to hear some (free!) New Orleans music. We haven't been in many years and I'm really looking forward to it. Have been hankering for a corn dog. But it sounds like St. Paul Susie has run into some bad ones. Any spots that have particularly good ones? Or are they all about the same? We will be going to a stage that is near the food building.

                                              And, by the way, are pronto pups and corn dogs the same thing? Are PP just a brand name?

                                              1. re: karykat

                                                I'm pretty sure that Pronto Pups have different batter. They are my favorite personally.

                                                1. re: karykat

                                                  According to my research (haphazardly conducted on the fair's food finder), a Pronto Pup has a (white) flour-batter coating, and a Poncho Dog has a corn-batter coating.

                                                  So if you need a CORN dog, head for a Poncho Dog stand (they're few and far between) or look for a tell-tale "corn dog" sign.


                                                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                                                    I had heard the same thing (about the Pronto Pup batter being flour based), probably here on Chowhound, but I read an interview (not that I can remember where, mind you) with the creators of the Pronto Pup that their batter does have some corn meal in it, but, apparently not as much as your average corn dog.


                                                    1. re: AnneInMpls

                                                      Thanks for this pronto dog/pronto pup guidance. I would not have suspected.

                                                      Will be looking for the corn dog signs.

                                                2. So after reading the raves on here for a couple years, and never getting the chance, I tried the honey sunflower ice cream, and.....YAWN. Sunflower seeds make a good addition to ice cream but all in all, there are probably 100 flavors in the case at Cub that would get me more excited. Disappointing.

                                                  12 Replies
                                                  1. re: MSPD

                                                    MSPD, I agree about the sunflower ice cream. Crepe place's strawberry whipped cream crepe is much more worth it imo. They told me they hand sliced the strawberries and they make the whipped cream, plus the crepes are made from scratch...a labor of love including one boy who looked around 7 who seemed to be running things, very on top of it. Crepes are kind of similar to blintzes, at least the batter, made me think someone should have a blintz stand at the Fair....about the only thing that isn't there yet!

                                                    1. re: faith

                                                      i continue to love the honey sunflower ice cream sundae with honey. i especially enjoyed it this year as it seemed that the sunflower seeds were a tad crispier and saltier as a perfect counter to the sweet creamy ice cream. love how the honey gets nice and hard on the ice cream. we sit outside on a bench near the christmas trees and across from the sunflowers to eat our sundae then mosey thru the christmas tree exhibit and drink in the smells and feel like "ah, this is the state fair we know and love" - tradition!

                                                      we didn't eat as much as usual, but really enjoyed what we had:

                                                      coconut macaroons from the little salty tart stand outside the agriculture building. at first i thought "what, 3 of those little things for $5??!!" but then i remember, no bargains on food at the fair, but where else do you get the memories and atmosphere that come with being at the fair? so i bit and so glad i did. they are scrumptious - hard and crispy on the outside, soft and coconutty on the inside and with a little salt tang. best macaroons i've ever had.

                                                      a big cup of summit october or octoberfest beer at the bonnie raitt grandstand show was just the ticket to enhance the night air, music, crowd, experience of watching the evening sky, feeling of community and all that an outdoor concert can bring.

                                                      had a dish of fried green tomatoes. i liked the coating, but thought the tomato was tasteless and the ranch dressing did not enhance it. wanted to like it, but thought it was a waste of money and fat cells.

                                                      after two days at the fair this year, i'm probably done, but can't wait to experience it again in 2010.

                                                      1. re: carolita

                                                        oh,one more delicious item: the white (or is it yellow?) cupcake with loads of buttercream frosting (just the way i like it) with a few sprinkles of dried lavendar on top. purchased at the french meadow bakery building. i took it home to share - put it in the refrig first - and oh so good!

                                                        1. re: carolita

                                                          Oh, I'm very pleased to learn about the vanilla-lavendar cupcake. I think I need one tomorrow.

                                                          I'm so lucky to be able to go to the fair 4 days in a row - it's amazing how much food I can sample in this short amount of time. Thanks for all the reports!


                                                        2. re: carolita

                                                          Glad you liked it. I guess the secret is to pay the extra $1 or whatever to put actual honey on it. Otherwise it's just yellowish ordinary vanilla ice cream with sunflower seeds in it (my seeds had no salt flavor unfortunately).

                                                          1. re: MSPD

                                                            Such a bummer to have high expectations and be disappointed.

                                                            Yep, the honey-topping is key, though I wish there were a way to get a smaller honey-covered serving than the sundae. It's just too much, even for two people (assuming you plan to eat other things at the fair...) and ice cream is one of those things that's hard to share with more than one other person. I do like the honey ice cream on its own, without the honey topping, but the distinct taste of the honey is pretty subtle. I suppose they could be varying the kind of honey they're using from batch to batch and year to year, and you got a particularly uninteresting taste, but probably not as presumably they have standards for this sort of thing and you wouldn't expect much variation in commercial production. I can't say I've noticed much change year-to-year, though I can't say my taste-memory year over year is that accurate.

                                                            To me, the sunflowers add mostly texture.

                                                            I've always wondered if the yellow color is more than just the color of the honey (though, suppose it depends on what kind of honey they're using) and gets a boost from a little food dye. Hard to say, though, since you can't find this exact ice cream anywhere else and there's no opportunity to examine the label. I've had the honey sunflower seed ice cream from the U of M Dairy Lab thanks to a fellow hound who brought some to a chowdown for me and it, too, had a definite yellow hue. I don't remember seeing food dye among the ingredients, but that was awhile ago. Here's some photos of someone making honey ice cream at home and it's definitely yellow though who knows what kind of honey s/he's using. http://besottedgourmet.com/2009/05/27...


                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                              I'm pretty certain that I asked if there was yellow coloring in the honey sunflower ice cream and was told yes.

                                                              1. re: faith

                                                                I wish there were a way to know for sure, as a yellow color is entirely achievable without dye. I guess fair vendors don't have to post their ingredients the way fast food joints do. That would be a crazy amount of red tape just for 12 days a year. Heck, I wish they'd just make that ice cream available year-round (and then we'd know the ingredients!) but I suppose that would just ruin the special-ness of getting it at the Fair only one a year.


                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                  Re: the yellow color, it looked exactly like that cheap vanilla-type store bought ice cream. Maybe "French Vanilla" or whatever....it's some variation of vanilla. This had the same color, texture and flavor.

                                                                  Obviously, always wanting to reaffirm my chowhoundishness credentials, I was trying so hard to detect the "subtle" flavors of honey and just couldn't find them.

                                                                  Oh well...the cheese curds were good (although we split the order between the five of us in the family and I only got maybe 4 blobs).

                                                                  1. re: MSPD

                                                                    Maybe you would have liked it before it went downhill, when it was apparently yellower and more honey'ish? http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4340...

                                                                    Ah, well, to each his own. We use honey as sweetener at home almost exclusively and I do think I can tell the difference, though I don't think it's a wallop. I certainly don't taste vanilla as a prominent flavor in it. (Although, I haven't yet had the h.s.i.c. this year. I hope it hasn't changed from last year!).

                                                                    I suppose one woman's honey-sweet fair favorite is another man's cheap French vanilla. (I agree with you on texture by the way--unless something has changed, Kemp's produces the h.s.i.c. for the fair, so it's unsurprising that it has that typical Kemp's texture. )

                                                                    Not everything is for everyone of course, except for cheese curds. Too bad you only got four. You might have to squeeze in another trip to the fair, yet. It's a long wait until next August.


                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                      Ha! It's probably a GOOD thing I only got four. I spent the first few hours there volunteering in the Health Fair 11 building which included me being the early morning guinea pig on the blood pressure, cholesterol and weight devices. Talk about scare tactics. Thankfully all numbers are trending in the right direction!!

                                                        3. re: faith

                                                          I love the crepes at the Fair too. They sell savory versions besides the sweet; I usually get the guyere and ham, or lemon and confect sugar, or chocolate and strawberry. This year was the first in ten or more that I didn't make it to the crepes.

                                                          But this year I too tried the honey sunflower ice cream and wasn't the least bit disappointed. I thought it was fabulous, with just the right amount of honey flavor and toasted salty snap of sunflower seeds, a type of seed I usually don't like at all, and probably the reason it took me so long to try it.