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Aug 18, 2011 11:15 AM

Our State Fair 2011: it's the Best State Fair in our State!

I can't decide whether I want my Blue Moon sweet corn ice cream with caramel bacon or wild blueberry sauce. Bacon, I think, because it IS the fair afterall...

Harry Singh's Caribbean Jamaican Jerk Frieds are calling my name, too.

As usual, I gotta have a pronto pup, a shake from the Gopher Dairy Bar, cheese curds (Mouth Trap, please), fresh french fries, cream puffs, honey sesame seed ice cream. I guess I'm feeling indulgent this year.

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  1. Is the Gopher Dairy Bar the one that's by the cow barn? What and where is the other shake option? I go to the one by the cow barn.

    1 Reply
    1. re: foreverhungry

      Yes, the Gopher Dairy Bar is the one by the cow barn--same one as you. The other option is in the "Empire Commons"/Dairy Building. EDIT: and the Kiwanis Malts by the 4-H building.


    2. There are only two food items left these days that are must-get for me:

      Garlic Fries at The Ball Park Cafe
      Gyros at Demetri's Greek Foods

      31 Replies
      1. re: Db Cooper

        Those aren't even on my list! Nothing new tempts you this year?


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          No, not really.

          I feel like the Fair puts more emphasis on a vendor's ability to cobble a bunch of junk together on a stick and give it a whacky name over actual quality food. As an example, why isn't there:

          -Smack Shack's Lobster Rolls
          -Porky's Onion Rings
          -Jucy Lucy's from The Nook, Matts, 5-8, or Blue Door
          -Pho from Ngon's new food truck
          -128's Ribs from their food truck

          I'm just saying there are a lot of great things going on food-wise that aren't showing up at the Fair because they don't come on a stick. I think it's the Fairs loss and their dedication to the on-a-stick meme is becoming, well, boring. If it doesn't taste good, what's the point?

          1. re: Db Cooper

            You lost me immediately with Porky's onion rings. But the point is the fair is a once a year event, a tradition, and food on a stick is, well, a just plain fun schtick.

            1. re: Db Cooper

              Well, the Nook can't even duplicate their JL at Shamrock's let alone at the fair. I think it's too difficult to do in a fair setting. And aren't ribs on their own stick?

              But, I get your point. Not everything's on a stick, though, for instance the sweet corn ice cream.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen


                I may have lost you with Porky's Onion Rings, but Chow isn't exactly the Fair's target market. You give me a booth selling them at the Fair and I would be willing to bet that I wouldn't have to work a whole heck of a lot the rest of the year. If Martha's cookies (which barely deserve the title, ever seen and eaten them the next day after they get cold?????) can bring in a six-figure haul, I'm pretty sure those rings could too.

                The simple fact is that if your item come on a stick, your odds of being selected by the Fair goes up significantly. Check out what's approved over the last few years. The majority of items come "on-a-stick." Well, that and having the necessary money to bribe the fair board, but that's another discussion. My point was that there is a lot of street food/quick turnaround items that Twin Cities residents have access to everyday now thanks to the food trucks. And not just quick, but high quality too. The Fair would be wise to figure out how to incorporate this or get left behind in a blaze of greasy soggy cheese curds.

                1. re: Db Cooper

                  Some of the worst onion rings I ever had came from Porky's on University. There was a reason it closed other than anticipated light rail construction. That was a convenient excuse, IMO They had been living on the fumes of their past reputation for way too many years. The food had gone way down hill. I could show you a photo of the godawful stuff.

              2. re: Db Cooper


                You need to keep in mind how easy it is to scale a certain food item up. If you are willing to sell at the fair, and be advertised in the 'New Fair Food' hype, you had better be prepared to dish out a few thousand plus servings a day. Not an easy feat for all foods, whether prep time, overhead cost, sourcing or even space come in to play.

                And I agree that new food shouldn't be judged on the presence or abcense of a stick, however I do appreciate not having to always worry about how clean my hand are before eating at the fair ;).

                1. re: daniellempls

                  My list wasn't meant to be definitive these HAVE to be at the Fair items, more to open eyes as to the possibilities that are out there. And yes, I realize that there are some items that can't be mass-produced on the scale the Fair requires. But there are a lot of them out there that can be and have a lot more appeal than a pizza kebob or breakfast lollipop on a stick.

                  1. re: Db Cooper

                    My husband is all over the breakfast lollipop on a stick. There used to be a pancake breakfast on a stick (from Epiphany Diner?) . It wasn't bad, actually.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Got to admit. That one caught my eye.

                      This is my daughter's first year at the Fair. Can't wait to see what draws her eye. I showed her the Fair's "Food Love" ad last night and her eyes were a big as saucers.

                      1. re: Uisge

                        That's a big responsibility, introducing someone to the fair for the first time. I know you will do it justice!


                    2. re: Db Cooper

                      I guess i agree with you. I read the article in the strib earlier this week about the Epiphany Diner closing and the reason given was that they don't offier the gimmicky on a stick options of the stands. Also that families don't want to sit for a meal anymore. I disagree. I think it's because the quality of the food isn't there. I stopped in last year to sit and relax and get a good home cooked meal and I couldn't believe the really bad food they were serving. It reminded me of what you'd find in a school lunch or perhaps a nursing home. Why can't they serve the same "comfort food" types of dishes that are quality made? Homemade desserts, real potatoes, etc. I understand that it would cost a little more but most people will pay for a quality product.

                      1. re: Bobannon

                        I think part of the problem is the massive number of fair goers vs. the relatively small number of volunteers available to serve them. These aren't culinary professionals running these church dining halls: they are just ordinary people. And, yeah, Epiphany Diner recently stopped serving their one novelty item (pancake and sausage on a stick) so they probably did lose the "on a stick" crowd.

                        But you do remind me of one essential annual stop, and that's breakfast at Salem Lutheran Church. I can't say that it's the best breakfast I've ever had, but it's pretty solid (and a decent attempt at scratch cooking) considering the setting.

                        If you're going to compare the downtown food trucks to the state fair vendors, I think you'll be disappointed. Some of the food trucks are being run by some of the top chefs in the area, and they are serving a much, much smaller throng of people. I think it's hard to expect the same quality, though I can see why you might desire it (I do, too, of course.



                        1. re: Bobannon

                          dammit. sure, the food sucked, but they sold swedish egg coffee, and i'd always buy a small cup and blunder about in the heat and humidity spilling blazing hot coffee on myself like an idiot. now what am i supposed to do? :(

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            I think it's Salem Lutheran Church that serves the egg coffee. Does Epiphany Diner also serve egg coffee?




                              1. re: soupkitten

                                Actually, I like having breakfast at SLC as my first stop at the fair every year. I loving chatting with everyone, finding out where they're from and what their plans for the day are. I love the nervous kids that wait the tables. The food isn't amazing, but it's all to order and eggs, coffee, and toast is a decent way to start the day, especially if you think you might be eating a steady stream of junk after that.

                                I'm kind of sad people have gotten so cynical about the fair. If you look hard, there are still those kinds of places that are staffed by hopeful entrepreneurs or earnest volunteers. SLC is one. Another one we like is the booth staffed by the Midway Men's Association, not for the food really, but it's a place to stop for a beer or a pop in the shade where you can nearly always find a seat. You can even (kind of) watch the parade from there. I know it's not Alex Roberts preparing the food back there, but I still enjoy it as its own experience. Do I wish it were all sustainably sourced meat and dairy? Of course. But we're not quite there yet.

                                Actually, my least favorite food stands at the fair are the larger commercial enterprises that are just capitalizing on what they already do year-round. French Meadow, O'Garas, Famous Dave's, etc. I give Giggles a pass because I think they innovate very thoughtfully every year and aren't trying to leverage the "Gabe's" experience at all as far as I can tell.

                                I'm sort of sorry I even brought the fair up, but chowhounding at the fair is really no different than chowhounding anywhere else. It's about finding what's best amid the mediocre. I don't think I'd go to the fair just for the food, but I do like to find something to eat while I'm there.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  I cannot understand the enthusiasm for the chains either (I'll include the place that sells Deli Express sandwiches, too). Even if you're from outstate visiting the Fair, it isn't hard to find a Famous Dave's (walk down Snelling a bit). O'Gara's is a short drive away.

                                  It's kind of like the "chain-ization" of Grand Ave. After a while, there's nothing special about it. Food definitely is not THE highlight of the Fair, but IMHO it does not need to be homogenized by chains when indies could do the job just fine.

                                  1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                    For what what it's worth, I don't think the distinction should be about "chain" vs. "indie", especially at the fair. There are tons of "indies" at the fair, and many whose food is not good. If at the end of the day, it's the "chains" (though I'd hardly call French Meadow or O'Gara's "chain"), they're the ones that have the best food, then they're the ones getting my money. The word "chain" seems to have the knee-jerk assumption that it will be bad, and "indie" has the knee-jerk reaction that it will be good. In my experience, there are plenty of chains that serve good food, and plenty of indie's that serve bad food.

                                    1. re: foreverhungry

                                      I think I was the one who brought up O'Garas, Famous Daves, French Meadow, but I didn't call them "chains"--I called them "larger commercial enterprises" and said they were my personal least favorite at the fair. But, it's true that some of the smaller, indie places do struggle to meet the demand of the giant crowds, which I think is the source of some disappointment about the quality of the food at the fair.

                                      soupkitten has a good point about French Meadow offering gluten-free options, which is actually really nice.

                                      O'Gara's, well, it just seems like they recreated their bar in the middle of the state fair. It doesn't really seem to add anything unique and fairish, to me. I think they have a fair menu that's different than their Snelling Ave menu, but I don't remember thinking any of their fair offerings were that good last year.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        TDQ - yes, you did not call them chains, I was responding more to steve_in_stpaul specifically, but also in general to the chain-bashing that seems to go on (both in Chowhound specifically, and also more broadly). Most places that are now chains started out as an indie. So is the theory that once there are more than x# of outposts, it doesn't deserve any more respect? Personally, if at the fair (for some reason) my options were a Dave's pulled pork sandwich or the scotched egg on a stick, I'm going with Dave's. I'd take Dave's over lots of indie's at the fair. That said, I haven't eaten at Dave's at the fair yet, because there are some good indie foods out there. But it's not the "indie" label that makes them good, it's just the food. Saying that some indie's "struggle to meet the demand of the giant crowds" is, in some cases, putting it kindly. And some meet the crowd demand perfectly well, but still have an awful product (heresy perhaps, but I think Sweet Martha's cookies are among the worst cookies I've ever eaten).

                                        I agree about O'Gara's. I don't like their food when it's on Snelling, and don't like it at the fair. But I'm not going to rip on O'Gara's just because they opened an outpost at the Fair. I'll rip on them because their food is mediocre (at best).

                                        But different strokes. Personally, at the end of the day, I just want food that tastes good. Sure, I like the indie's, I like sustainable, I like local. But if the food isn't good, then none of that matters (well, to me anyway).

                                        1. re: foreverhungry

                                          I understand your point that good food, or bad food, can be found at either chains or indies and that you're primarily interested in good food whether you're at the fair or elsewhere.

                                          My objection regarding the fair goes a little beyond that. To me the fair is a unique experience that lasts only two weeks a year. It's hot, it's crowded, it's a pain to get to. But, I endure all of that because it's the only time and place I can get "the fair experience." But if it's just going to be the same big-time corporate vendors offering all of the same things they do the other 50 weeks a year, with a few things on a stick thrown onto the menu, then it's diluting my fair experience and I am not in favor. I don't want to endure the crowds for that. I can drive to Famous Dave's or O'Garas right now this very moment if I want that, and I won't have to fight 200,000 people to do so.

                                          I'd rather have a mediocre spam burger from an indie guy at the fair than a mediocre Famous Dave's pulled pork sandwich because I can have Famous Dave's any day. I'd rather have the mediocre scotch egg, too. I'd rather go sit at the Midway Men's Association counter, because I can only do that at the fair, than at the O'Gara's booth.

                                          Of course, I'd really rather have outstanding food, offered by whomever that can offer it. Always point me in that direction, please!

                                          I'm not necessarily against the big commercial enterprises as long as they are doing something truly fair worthy, and not just doing what they always do with a weak attempt to put it on a stick. Or, Giggles (operated by the same guy who does Gabe's in St. Paul), who works really hard every year to come up with creative and interesting Minnesota-themed food that's actually of pretty decent quality.

                                          P.S. I don't do Sweet Martha's anymore either. I did my first couple of years and then realized I didn't love it that much. Sure, hot cookies are fantastic, but once the cookies cool off, you realize they aren't that good.


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            Yeah, Sweet Martha's aren't very good. Tried them once and was seriously underwhelmed.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              But the IDEA of hot chocolate chip cookies is a fantastic one, especially if you chase it up with milk from the milk booth, another great IDEA that I have never actually executed.


                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                I completely agree with your point of view that the Fair is a unique event, and that as such, it should have unique foods to represent it - foods that aren't necessarily available, or at least easily available, the rest of the year. As I said above, I'd go to Dave's over lots of other options, but haven't once gone there - or any other joint that operates regularly around the Twin Cities (at least not that I can think of). I do think it's ashamed that the State Fair folks let Dave's and O'Gara's in, because they really aren't offering anything that can't otherwise be had there. Is there really not an indie that can do a couple varieties of BBQ? And O'Gara's, they offer nothing different. At least French Meadow fills the gluten-free void. But I can't blame Dave's et al. for wanting to get into the fair - it's a cash cow. I blame the State Fair officials for letting them in. Yes, given two foods that are on the same mediocrity level, I'll tend to go for the indie one (I'm not a big scotched egg fan, which is why I went with that example).

                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  Boy I want those spam burgers to be good....but they just aren't. I can make a better spam burger at home.

                                                2. re: foreverhungry

                                                  I'll cop to a little laziness in calling O'Gara's & such "chains". It was sloppy of me, though not completely incorrect (Famous Dave's is, in my experience, mediocre barbeque easily bettered by a bunch of places I can think of).

                                                  As for the rest, TDQ has quite eloquently covered what I would have said. *bows in the Queen's direction*

                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            perhaps i came off in a way i didn't really mean. whichever religious establishment it is, i do love the service each year when i get the egg coffee-- it's always a young teenager awkwardly handling money and menu items and cheerfully doing their best. there is no polish or pretension or "flair," and i like that. but i've never felt the need to order a sit-down breakfast (or other meal) at the fair, i can get that any time, and for the record i feel the same way about corn on the cob etc-- when i'm at the fair i need to save room for at least six deep fried delicacies, and lingonberry floats and ridiculous bacon thingies i decide i have to try. but that doesn't mean that the breakfast is "crappy," you're right about that-- it's just that for me, it's extraneous to the fair experience, but i shouldn't call it "crappy" when i've never even tried it and what i mean is that it's not my own personal choice of meals/menus at the fair. i had always understood the old-school diner booths to be more for the other vendors at the fair, and for the farmers/exhibitors who arrive at butt-crack of dawn-- in other words, for the serious fair people, not the day-tripping tourist a-holes like myself :)

                                            i for one am still excited for "fair food," sure the food trucks are bringin' it and are a nice showcase for local chef talent, but the fair lets us eat things we normally wouldn't just because it's only once a year. i agree w the chain-hate-- all this could be had any time outside the fair, in bigger portions, for less money-- i'm very inclined to patronize an indie booth or one that is a good fundraiser rather than get anything from famous daves et al. for me, these options are also "crappy" choices based on ubiquity, regardless of how the food is executed.

                                            whenever i see a booth i don't personally "get" down at the fair i try to remind myself that there are hordes and hordes of people running through there every day, and even aiming their product at a small subset of folks can give a little booth all the business they can handle. then i feel happy that french meadow is there to be an option for the gluten-free folks, or the deli express booth for the people who have never, ever considered eating any food purchased outside of a gas station in their whole lives, or whatever. the fair is what it is. . . on a stick.

                          2. re: Db Cooper

                            I had a gyro from Demetri's last year, upon recommendation from a 'hounder (perhaps you Db!) and enjoyed it quite a bit. It's off my beaten path when it comes to the fair - we tend to hang out farther north by the kidway and well, the John Deere place (my daughter would be quite happy to go no where else, frankly) and the eco-experience or whatever it's called or over by horticulture. But I made everyone trek over to Demetri's last year. And I was happy.

                            1. re: turtlebella


                              I'm glad you enjoyed it. I don't know why I enjoy their gyro sandwiches more than other places, but I really do. I think it may be that they don't go quite so heavy on the spices and let the lamb flavor speak for itself. In any event, I'm glad the recommendation was worth the extra walk.

                          3. I think I've been spoiled by all the great food trucks this summer. I'm afraid the state fair food is going to be a disappointment in comparison.

                            1. The sweet corn ice cream is probably my only must have among the new items. Caramel bacon sauce all the way.

                              I'll be hitting up Giggles. Whether I go with chicken fried bacon, porcupine meatballs or something different (sunnies?) will be a game time decision.

                              I think I'm going to give the pig lickers a shot this year.

                              Cheese curds and gator always happen.

                              If we find a big enough group to split with, Australian potatoes.

                              Halumi cheese kabobs at Holy Land sound like they're worth a shot

                              No Salty Tart this year?

                              Salty Tart
                              920 E Lake St Ste 158, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: kevin47

                                Sorry. This sentence "I think I'm going to give the pig lickers a shot this year. " just made me giggle like a 12-year-old boy. That is all.

                                1. re: kevin47

                                  Salty Tart macaroons are available at the Midtown Global Market fruit stand. And they're as good as ever.

                                  Midtown Global Market
                                  920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                  Salty Tart
                                  920 E Lake St Ste 158, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                  Midtown Global Market
                                  2929 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407

                                  1. re: jaycooke

                                    Do they have the peach parfaits with the macaroons on top this year? I didn't see a sign for them.

                                2. Apparently, there's only one supplier of cheese curds (Ellsworth Creamery) to the MN State Fair. Regardless of the vendor, it's all from the Ellsworth Creamery. Now, preparation is another matter.

                                  The Mouth Trap is staffed by kids from Sibley High School in West St. Paul and North High in North St. Paul and the vats of the frying (vegetable) oil get drained and cleaned each night.