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Minnesota State fair - any coan't misses?

I'm making my first trip to the Minnesota State Fair this year - the number of foods is a bit overwhelming. I''m hoping the Chowhound comunity can help me come up with a short list. Any things I just shouldn't miss?

Minnesota State Fair
1265 Snelling Ave N, Falcon Heights, MN 55108

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    1. If you asked all of us individually, your 'short list' would end up being about 100 items long.

      My general routine is as follows (in no particular order):

      1) Foot long hot dog (from the 'About a foot long' stand)
      2) Cheese curds (from the booth right on Dan Patch)
      3) Milk stand (cookies, if someone else is buying).
      4) Elk burger from Giggles
      5) Vanilla shake from the U of M milk booth
      6) Something from the Bazaar - Holy Land and a few other locals are here now. Manny's Tortas got a booth too, although I'm not sure where he will be.

      If I'm in a particularly heart stopping mood, I'll stop at either the French Fry booth or the Australian potato booth.

      That's the way I do things every year and I don't see things changing any time soon.

      Manny's Tortas
      920 E Lake St Ste 125, Minneapolis, MN 55407

      1. There are two "can't miss" foods in my opinion:
        Start your day at Cinnie Smith's cinnamon rolls. Hands down, the best caramel / cinnamon rolls EVER.
        Then later on have a pickle dog. You won't be disappointed.
        Sure, the foot longs and cheese curds are great, but you can get them anywhere. These two things are things you go to the fair to eat because you can't find them anywhere else!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Marnatee

          What is a pickle dog, and where can you find them?

          1. re: docfood

            A pickle dog is a pickle spear wrapped in pastrami with a seasoned cream cheese - I had one again today at the fair. TO DIE FOR. They're right in front of Andy's Grill by the entrance to the Midway.
            I also tried a fudge puppy for the first time today. Yow! I'll be having one of them again next year! Now I have three "can't miss" things at the fair along with Cinnie Smith's.

            1. re: Marnatee

              I second Pickle Dogs are to die for. They're the big brother, on a stick, of ham slathered with cream cheese rolled around a dill pickle and cut into bite-sized pieces. But better. Nummy!

          2. re: Marnatee

            Thanks for the tip on Pickle Dogs! I had my first (in almost three decades at the Fair) and I loved it. In fact, I think they have pushed corn dogs off my list for good.

          3. You can get cheese curds, french fries, onion rings, hotdogs, mini doughnuts, etc. anywhere. Go to www.startribune.com or www.twincities.com (Pioneer Press) and check for stories about fair food. They'll tell you what the new and different stuff is. After that, I think it's mostly about personal preference. Myself, I always get a corn dog, and the milkshake from the cattle barn. At some point we do the all-you-can-drink milk booth too.

            4 Replies
            1. re: John E.

              LOL...they don't sell milkshakes in the cattle barn. That's in the dairy building. They don't sell food where they keep livestock.

              1. re: rainbowsherbet

                Hmmm...isn't the Gopher Dairy Bar right outside the cattle building?


                1. re: rainbowsherbet

                  If there is one CH who knows all that there is to know about food at the Minnesota State Fair, it's TDQ.

                  By the way, aren't both dairy cattle and beef cattle in the cattle building?

                  The milkshake stand is on the north side of the building.

                  (Correct me if I'm wrong TDQ.)

                  1. re: John E.

                    That's where I remember it too! Unless it moved in the past few days. :)


              2. I spend several days there every year volunteering at a booth. My favorites:
                - Fish tacos in the food building. I try fish tacos everywhere I go, and I LOVE these. I don't remember the booth name (but they are the only fish taco in the building)
                - Smelt (same place as the fish tacos)
                - Outside the agriculture building is an ice cream stand with honey ice cream. There some chocolate flavor (maybe chocolate honey nut?) that I really like.
                - Best snow cones: outside the coliseum on the end that is nearest the animal barns --across the way from the big pig :) We always get one, then go in and watch whatever is going on in the coliseum (sometimes judging, sometimes 4H riding, etc.). Gotta pay at a few times for a show, so not then, but a lot of what goes on in there is free. It is a cooling off experience on a hot day.

                1. If you like honey, don't miss the honey lemonade from the ag building. The honey ice cream is also good but the serving is huge....I also think the following are worth considering: lingonberry float, maple or chokecherry soda, uff-da treat (krumkake, whipped cream and fruit), wine ice cream (also in the ag building), fresh french fries (the place with the striped cups), walleye cakes or sandwich from Giggles. I am also fond of the scotch egg on a stick and the fried turkey sandwich.

                  1. What I find interesting (and totally agree with) is that it is not just the food item but the strong preferences for specific stands. For example, the mini donut in our family must come from the old Tom Thumb stand near the Ye Old Mill. You should find a donut maker with a small line, so you are assured of fully fresh donuts. Other stands or techniques and you are not getting the can't miss donut (well, in our opinion)!

                    Others for us --

                    1. Big E mentioned the cheese curds from the Dan Patch stand (as opposed to the food building), and I fully agree.
                    2. The About-a-Foot-Long stand near the haunted house, with mustard and grilled onions, is the breakfast of champions.
                    3. Sausage by Cynthia stand. Many good options
                    4. I have always been a pronto pup guy, since it is a banquet on a stick! However, I've been less and less enthused over the past few years, and may go to the dark side and try my first Pancho Dog this year.
                    5. Fresh fries from the stand near the midway (the big red and yellow buckets), and carrying them over to the western themed beer bar to pair with cold (and now strong) beer....same orange chairs my folks sat in when we went as kids.
                    6. Corn fritters from the fried green tomatoes stand, between the food building and the skyride.
                    7. Fried pickles from the food building. Pickle dog from the stand outside previously mentioned old western themed beer bar.

                    Now -- my question. Has anyone ever tried the fried oysters from the seafood stand, either in the food building or the one right by the midway? I love oysters, but it just seems so wrong to eat oysters on a hot fair day. Someone tell me it they tried it and didn't die!

                    Second -- the scotch egg stand. How do those compare to what I get at Brits? I love the Brits version.

                    Only about 6 weeks to go!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Lincster

                      Although silly, I love the corn fritters!

                      1. re: chadradchad

                        that's totally not silly. They are delicious and I certainly take fritters very seriously. Everyone should. Serious like a heart attack!

                      2. re: Lincster

                        The About-aFoot-Long IS the breakfast of Champions!!! I think they know it, too, as they are hep with being open first thing in the morning :) Yearly State Fair photo of me, chowing my loaded footlong first thing in the gates.

                      3. This thread will soon include every available food item. I'll offer some observations...

                        Giggles is the French Laundry of the State Fair. I like the porcupine meatballs and the smoked salmon myself, but they have a great roster of stuff, so you just about can't go wrong. I hear they are doing chicken fried bacon this year. That's on the top of my to-try list.

                        Here are a few items to avoid:

                        The big fat bacon slice: This was a wonder in it's first year, but due to sourcing issues, they are using lower quality bacon.

                        Mini-donuts: There is something special about state fair cheese curds or pronto pups, but the mini-donuts are boilerplate. Go to Chef Shack at Mill City FM and you will never go back.

                        Risotto balls: Not that you were planning on it, but, yuck...

                        Jerky from anywhere other than Sausage by Cynthia. Even then, I think Cynthia has better offerings.

                        Cinnamon Almonds/Cashews: You will be tempted, as they smell amazing. But, like mini-donuts, you can get them anywhere, and they don't taste as good as they smell.

                        Tornado Potato: An awfully stingy portion of an unspectacular food.

                        SPAM curds: Even if you like (or tolerate) SPAM, it does not lend itself to state fair style wares.

                        Mac & Cheese on a stick: Nothing wrong with it, per se, but it just tastes like Mac & Cheese and batter. The whole is equal to its uninspired parts.

                        Scotch eggs: Talk about wasted potential. What sinks it, I think, is the sausage, which is watery and bland. If you've had it at V-44, or even Brits, you know what it's supposed to taste like.

                        French fries: Why would you waste your appetite on a bucket of hum-drum french fries?

                        Mill City Cafe
                        2205 California St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418

                        Chef Shack
                        No formal address, Minneapolis, MN

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: kevin47

                          So why would you waste your appetite on a bucket of hum-drum french fries? I thought the exact same thing for the first few years I attended the fair. Then I tried them from the Fresh French Fries booth and I thought they were really amazingly good, fresh cut and delicious.

                          One year I tried World's Best French Fries to compare, and they were pretty mediocre.

                          I tried the sausage sampler at Sausage by Cynthia for the first time last year. Very tasty.

                          1. re: kevin47

                            To correct you. Big Fat Bacon has always used the same Gusto bacon. In its first year, Fischer Farms was unable to keep up with sales for even the first third of the fair. It is unfortunate, but when you try to feed such a sheer quantity of people, you have to use what's available. For the bacon purest, its still the best bacon at the fair.

                            1. re: Matrim

                              Big Fat Bacon actually used Neuske's their first year, the used something else last year. (And had a significant drop in quality.)

                              FWIW, this year, the size has been reduced from 1/3lb to 1/4lb.

                          2. I fully understand that each person who comes to the MN as an adult lacks that childlike wonder that follows many of those people who grow up in MN, into adulthood. Nonetheless, I love the state fair more than christmas, new years, valentine's day, the fourth of july, halloween, and my birthday all put together. I understand that most people won't go to the fair every day of it's run, but I fully advocate atleast going twice. That way if you miss anything you can really take care of it the second time. Or if you were too full the first day, you can take care of it on your second run. Remember, the midway mens club also has the cheapest beer at the whole fair. It's also run by a bunch of retired cops who can't stop cracking jokes and mocking people..

                            So, as for the can't miss items
                            1) roasted corn, so simple with some butter and some salt. There's nothing like state fair corn.
                            2) a milkshake from the dairy building. I recommend strawberry, it's awesome and creamy.
                            3) cheese curds. This is a cannot miss. I really recommend the mouth trap. They're so crispy and delicious.
                            4) Garlic fries from the ballpark cafe. I really love garlic, like REALLY love it. They aren't hum drum and they're perfectly seasoned and perfectly crispy.
                            4) Fresh lemonade outside the food buiilding.
                            5) corn fritters and fried green tomatos. I know they were mentioned but they are solid. So solid and they serve it with honey butter.
                            6) deep fried pickles in the food building. It's a recent thing, but they're breaded and come in different flavors. Be bold and try a mixed basket.
                            7) bull bites from axels. They're blackend, they're good and it beats any other steak at the fair.
                            8) if you havent tried it, sweet martha's cookies and a bottomless glass of milk. They're warm and gooey.
                            9) Peach Glazed Pig Cheeks from famous dave's. I hope they have these this year because they really are the best pork product at the fair.

                            Here are things to avoid:

                            1) cheese on a stick. It's velveeta on a stick with cornmeal batter. Unless you like that avoid at all costs.
                            2) the gyro's. They're salty and it seems like any other pedestrian gyro you'd find.
                            3) I know this was mentioned, but scotch eggs. They're just a disappointment.
                            4) australian potatos. they're heavy and they seem like too much covered with more stuff.
                            5) frozen grapes. they're frozen grapes, that's about it.
                            6) any chinese food at the fair. I don't even think this needs an explanation.
                            7) deep fried candy bars. They aren't much more than what they sound like.

                            things I am strongly recommended by family and friends:
                            german roasted nuts
                            tom thumb donuts ( not from anywhere else)
                            chokecherry sode
                            and strangely enough, a meatball sundae from the Salem Lutheran Church
                            salt water taffy

                            1. Two words - Fudge Puppies. There are a lot of things I like at the fair - cheese curds, wild rice brats, 1919 Root Beer, Sweet Martha's cookies - but if someone said you could go to the fair and only eat ONE thing, for me, it'd be Fudge Puppies.

                              1. Not a can't miss, but a qualifier - Pronto Pups are made with flour, & Corn Dogs with corn flour. (If they're using the same recipe this year, the Poncho's are corn, too) Have one of each, & pick your fave!

                                1. Cream Puffs!!! All flavors! Also, there is a sandwich with tomato sauce and cheese and meat on a good french roll not too far from Giggles--I'm blanking on the name--someone help? (It's really good, although filling.)

                                  4 Replies
                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Good stuff, but have someone to split it with.

                                        1. re: kevin47

                                          I don't find them that amazing, to be honest. I'd rather just go to Giggles.


                                      1. re: debbie421

                                        I have been anticipating the chicken-fried bacon from Giggles for quite some time. It was inevitable that these would land there at some point, and I'm glad they're the ones to do it. I'm half-considering a separate visit, whereby I construct a tasting menu out of Giggle's offerings.

                                        1. re: kevin47

                                          Have to try the Korean BBQ Tacos, Ghost Wings and Crispy Pig's Ears. I have actually had real Cincinnati Chili many times in Cincinnati and Cleveland. It is an acquired taste but IMO delicious so I may try it just to see how it fares....no pun intended.

                                          1. re: Fudist

                                            I hear the ghost wings don't have ghost peppers. If that's the case, I can't eat them on principle.

                                            1. re: kevin47

                                              I just read the article thanks for the heads up. I am a spicy food junkie but can't imagine those "Ghost Wings" being any hotter than BW3's Blazin which I find to be rather pedestrian in terms of sheer heat.

                                              1. re: Fudist

                                                Has anyone ever tried a Zeppole at the Fair before? If so is it any good and what is in it?

                                                1. re: movie157

                                                  Yeah, I tried the zeppole last year. Sorry to say I don't remember exactly what was inside, I think just sweetened ricotta. I do remember they were pretty nummy though.

                                      2. All of these answers were really helpful to me... this will be my first time at the fair in about 10 years as a non-vegetarian. I WILL get the roasted corn, because for me that's just a "can't miss"... but seeing some good meat options helps me out a ton!

                                        Not to hijack the thread... but what would you guys say about: the giant turkey leg, and the gator or ostrich?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Dr.TriRunner

                                          The giant turkey leg is good, but you almost need a shower after eating it, super messy. The gator (sorry) tastes like salty chicken. Nothing impressive, don't waste your money. I've never had the ostrich. My biggest fair suggestion, go with at least three other people and split everything. If you try to eat it all yourself you'll be done way sooner than you want to be. Have fun!

                                          1. re: Stillwater Girl

                                            I love the fact that the short list has encompassed almost everything. LOL.

                                            I always go with my hubby or friends-that way, everyone's "favs" can be sampled by everyone else, without overeating (the excessive salt and fat content is already there) and cut down somewhat on cost.

                                            Agreed about the sampler by Sausage by Cynthia. Really good stuff. Also agree, avoid the jerky. I prefer the jerky in one of the buildings - though I can't remember which one?? All different kinds. Good stuff.

                                            I have to get a pronto pup. I just do. However, last year, hubby got a granddaddy pup - don't do this. Something about the foot long size - the batter doesn't get fully cooked, ew. Stick to a regular either pronto, corn or pancho dog.

                                            A cone from the Dairy Building. I prefer cone over shake-so that I can save room for more goodies. Shakes fill me up too much!

                                            Roasted corn and mini-donuts also from Tom Thumb.

                                          2. re: Dr.TriRunner

                                            The alligator sausage is an every year food for me. The turkey leg is very greasy, and will consume a lot of your appetite. I'd pass on ground ostrich, as I find it dry and flavorless.

                                          3. Watching The #9, this first day of The Great MN Get-Together. I saw here where folks like the turkey legs, but has anyone had the turkey fillet sammies from the turkey place by the DNR/>ilk booth? It looked to die for and Keith Marler loves them. Looked moist and juicy.

                                            Giggle's deep fried bacon got rave reviews and am looking forward to trying it. Only thing is the dipping sauce is like an apple/maple (or like that) and I would prefere a spicey sweet/sour mustaed sauce.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: green56

                                              Haven't had the turkey sandwich at that booth in many years, but I remember, as I ate it, thinking, "Why did I wait so long to try this?" Juicy turkey, fresh lettuce and tomato.

                                              But that was 10+ years ago....

                                              1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                                Thanks, steve. I have been of the frame of mind of, "I don't want no stinkin' turkey!" since I can get non-Fair side the rest of the year, but that sammy looked sssssooooo good. Think I must try it.

                                            2. Heavytable is tweeting fair food today- they've already tried a ton of stuff.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: meljohns

                                                Oh, I <3 heavytable.com! SO MUCH! How else would I have known that there are supply delays for the camel-on-a-stick? Seriously, though, there's some great Fair Food information in their tweets.

                                                1. re: AnneInMpls

                                                  Yeah, that would have saved me some time looking for the stuff. My reviews of what I was able to locate are here...


                                              2. What I don't get is why people rave about the corn on the cob. By the time the fair rolls around we've had corn on the cob at least 5 or 6 times. We grill it in the husk and slather melted butter on it at home, just like the corn at the fair. What does it cost these days, $3.75 for a single ear of corn? That has to be the highest profit single food item at the fair.

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: John E.

                                                  Heh John, I think the exact same way. We have roasted corn at least once a week during the peak season. It is so easy to grill in the husks and comes out perfect. I'm sort of the same way about the pork chop on a stick. I can grill great pork chops and eat them in my preferred method of knife and fork.

                                                  I would never trample on someone elses state fair food love, and I guess I could just as easily find really long hot dogs and grill up some onions, and do the foot long thing that I do indeed love at the fair. Maybe its stuff we have during the year, vs. stuff we have only at the fair.....

                                                  1. re: Lincster

                                                    Yeah, I guess you're right. We can get milkshakes anywhere, and yet I still get one at the fair but it has to be from the milkshake booth by the cattle building. The most ironic food/beverage booth at the fair has to the the "German Root Beer" stand. They don't have root beer in Germany. (I suppose it's because it's made by Schell's in New Ulm that makes it German).

                                                  2. re: John E.

                                                    My "I don't get it" item is the Sweet Martha's cookies. Why do people rave about mediocre cookies just because they're served in a bucket?

                                                    1. re: BellaMN

                                                      I think it's because they are hot out of the oven. We haven't done it for a while, but when the kids were younger, our first food stop at the fair would be a bucket of warm cookies and then we went to the 'all you can drink milk booth' to fill them up on cookies and milk. It took them a couple of years to figure out what we were up to.

                                                    2. re: John E.

                                                      Yeah. But I don't buy corn until well into the season. And the best time is Fair time. Ittiz kinda like buying the hydroponic 'maters at the STP Farmers' Market in June. Yeah, I can get it, but ittiz not peak season and usually a tasteless hybrid. Granted, the corn now is a hybrid, but ittiz one that is coming to peak at the height of the growing season. Color me one of those tthat love the corn at The Fair.

                                                      1. re: green56

                                                        I was not referring to corn grown out of Minnesota. I was referring to local sweet corn. (Believe it or not). I have family memeber that wish to purchase corn in June, but I refuse. How much is an ear of corn at the fair these days?

                                                        1. re: John E.

                                                          Corn roast corn, near the giant slide, is $3 this year.

                                                    3. I went Tuesday and tried a few items I'd never had before. One was the camel-on-a-stick. It was ... not bad. Dense and quite rich. Imagine beef hamburger cooked as much as it could be and still holding together. The camel came atop a spicy dip sauce, which was good, but I passed on it because it distracted from the camel.

                                                      I thought it was worth a try and worth the price ($5, IIRC; hardly anything is cheap at the Fair). I don't know as I would need to make it an annual thing. A good dish to share.