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2014 State Fair Food -- report the hits and misses!

I can't believe it's day two already, and no thread! My family isn't going until next week, so I'll let the CH community wean out the good from the bad for me.

(Don't make me rely on Rick Nelson, whose descriptive scale runs from "Fab!" to "Skip" with nothing in between.)

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  1. Sorry I haven t been to the State Fair for,about 10 years so I am as curious as you are!

    1. My quess (have not been there yet this year) would be either the Caribbean Lobster Roll at Cafe Caribe - or - The Chilaquiles at El Sol Mexican.

      1. The caribe lobster roll was great
        Famous daves has a new roasted pork with kim chee pickles that i really liked and the blue barn chicken and gravy in a waffle cone was delicious

        1. Sorry, I missed your post and posted above about our first visit.

          1. What I tried:

            Famous Dave's Korean BBQ Pork Collar: Very tender, nice texture and flavor. But the pickles with it are not "kimchi" as advertised; they're spicy bread-and-butter pickles, which is not bad -- but definitely not kimchi. One of the few Fair foods I've ever tasted, though, which I would go for on a second visit and one that seemed reasonably priced (by State Fair standards) at $7.

            O'Gara's Pretzel Curds: cheese curds with ground-up pretzels in the batter, a little pretzel salt on the outside, and a chipotle dipping sauce. The first 2-3 were tasty. But there isn't s smaller size than "$6.75". Much better Fair food to share with a few people.

            Mancini's Beer Gelato: Nelson liked this a lot; to me it just tasted sweet. Not cloying, but nothing I would identify as beer.

            Green Mill's Pizza Tots: I'd rate these a "miss". There's not enough of any one ingredient to stand out -- more a fault of the format (tater "tot") than the recipe, I think. Nothing I'd waste calories or stomach space on again. I don't remember the price.

            JonnyPops: cream and fruit blended into a bar that managed to be sweet but not cloying. $4. Probably worth it if you can eat the whole thing or share.

            I am seeing a trend to notably higher prices at the Fair -- many items were $7-9. However, most of those items offered either more involved prep or better ingredients, softening some of the blow. Still a better deal (from the foodie perspective) to go with a bunch of people so you can try more for your dollars.

            1. I'm going to stick with the new stuff we had for the most part...

              French Medow:
              Ham and cheese scone. A little short on cheese, so a little dry for me, but a good savory start to the morning.

              Blue Barn:
              Farm Handwich - Good bun that did not fall apart, tender tasty beef, yummy pimento cheese sauce with a little kick. I would get it again.
              Blue cheese corn fritters - No noticable blue cheese or blue cheese flavor IMO. Still good, especially the chimchurri, which elevates the whole shebang. Get an extra container of it.
              -People next to us said the chicken and waffle was very good and it did indeed look good - next year.
              -Wanted to try the maple bacon brownie, but didn't want to spend my food quota all at one place - again, next year.

              Walleye mac and cheese. Mac and cheese good and creamy, but where was the walleye on top. Got one tiny little nugget that was over fried to the point it was hard.
              Walleye cakes good as usual.

              O Gara's:
              Pretzel cheese curds - Meh - stick with the tried and true.

              Not new:

              Cubano - still very good.

              +1 on the wild rice burger from the food building. Like Haricotsv2 said probably one of the best things at the fair. Tender, not overcooked, cheese, and grilled onions. Yes please.

              Going again later today for the concert tonight. Hoping to try the lobster roll at Caribe and get my mini donut fix that I didn't get yesterday due to time and a lack of stomach room.

              9 Replies
              1. re: ssioff

                I must 3rd the wild rice burger. It is really good. I can recommend the wild rice corn dog as well.

                1. re: Pwmfan

                  For those of you interested in the Wild Rice burger, there is a $2 off coupon in the blue ribbon book. The burger is normally $6.

                  Also, there's a coupon in the book for the splendid walleye cakes at Giggles. Ooh! And for Fresh French Fries.

                  I might start a new thread for this.

                  ETA: and here it is! http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/986993 Tell us about your hidden gems!


                  1. re: Pwmfan

                    They used to do a wild rice brat that I adored but they haven't had it in a few years, so I've been relegated to the corn dog, which isn't bad, but I think the brat was better.

                    Haven't made it to the Fair yet this year, but hoping tomorrow night will be the first trip!

                    1. re: Seige

                      I love that wild rice corn dog! I've never tried the burger or brat because the corn dog is so great. I think they use a better quality hot dog than most other places at the fair.

                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                        I agree. It's seasoned like an old fashioned hot dog. My state fair breakfast of choice!

                    2. re: Pwmfan

                      Thanks for this, I finally tried the wild rice burger last night. I'm not a fan of wild rice, but I didn't taste that at all, and it was a great, juicy burger. Probably too much just before a bike ride home, but I'll keep it on my must-buy list in the future. Also at $6, it's a pretty good bargain compared to the rest of the protein-heavy items.

                      Also tried the Salted Nut Roll gelato, and it was quite salty, but I ate the whole thing. I preferred the mini donut gelato that I had on the first day - very cinnamon forward and a bit sweeter than the salted nut roll or summit oatmeal stout flavors.

                    3. re: ssioff

                      Is the wild rice burger a mix of rice and beef or is it just rice (and binder)?

                      Here's a link to Haricotsv2 excellent State Fair report, just to keep it with the bunch. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/986785


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        It's a beef burger, with a minimal amount of wild rice mixed in.

                        1. re: Pwmfan

                          Bummer. I was hoping for something that might rival Fitgers. :)


                    4. I went yesterday and did gluten free options. For anyone who doesn't already know, the State Fair publishes a list of gluten free options (as submitted by vendors). I don't think it is comprehensive, but a good place to start: http://www.mnstatefair.org/pdf/14_Glu...

                      I started at Chicago Dogs with a bison dog on a Udi's gluten free bun. The dog was good, but Udi's products are always too dry for me. Not a special highlight.

                      The Big Bacon is old news now, but it was my first time having it. It was well prepared, right in the middle of the crispy to chewy spectrum. Maybe not worth $4, but fun.

                      I had a gf chocolate chip cookie from French Meadow, which I think is one of their normal options. It was good, but not all that special as state fair food goes. A truly stupendous state fair treat would be to make an ice cream sandwich out of it.

                      I had one of the gf beer-battered brats from Sonny's, and I think it scratched the fair-food itch best of everything I sampled. Mine was hot from fryer, a delicious juicy brat with a fairly light coating. A+, would eat again.

                      My wife and I shared an order of the lamb chops from the Lamb Shoppe booth in the food building. These were quite tasty, tender and flavorful. The portion is small, but I know how much lamb costs, so I think the price was fine.

                      I finished up with some frozen custard from Sadie's Frozen Custard. As a native SE Wisconsin-ite, I can tell you this is the real deal- the texture is just like you would find in a Milwaukee-area custard stand. They offer vanilla and chocolate.

                      I accompanied my savory snacks with a few Burning Bros Pyro APAs from the Ballpark Cafe. I understand the same beer is available at O'Gara's. Other stands had additional gf beer options, but Pyro is my favorite.

                      1. So, we tried the chicken (little deep fried, spicy, nuggety bits--good crisp, exterior texture) in a slightly sweet waffle cone at Blue Barn. Pretty good, but spicy AND greasy (due to the sausage gravy) is just not a way I can start out at the Fair. I need a sane start to my insane day of eating. Too spicy for the kiddo, too, so my husband had it pretty much all to himself and he thought it was awesome.

                        Tried both the prime rib taco and breakfast taco at LuLu because Rick Nelson liked them. Both a gloppy mess. The prime rib taco would have been terrific --nicely seasoned, super tender meat with a nice bite-- if weren't so sloppy and gloppy. The breakfast taco, meh. This is one of those, sometimes simpler is better moments the folks at Lulu should heed in my opinion.

                        The folks at Blue Moon Diner did a special breakfast order for our kiddo (long story)--not anything I can report on in a Chow'ish way since it was a one of a kind thing they did for us when the place was empty, but I can rave about how attentive and kind they were.

                        Also in the category of attentive and kind is Mancini's Al Fresco. We got a giant order of the toast (almost as good as the toast at the restaurant, but in a kid-friendly setting!) and the porketta pig wings, which are among my favs a second year in a row and quickly rising to possibly "must do" status.

                        Walleye cakes at Giggles. Perennial favorites of ours. :)

                        An apple from the ag-hort building (this was for the kiddo--I didn't try it, but they looked beautiful) and peaches and apriplum from the Produce Exchange Stand (the one near International Bazaar) --fragrant, juicy, sweet, perfectly ripe. Eat fresh fruit at the Fair: be stared at like aliens.

                        Honey sunflower seed ice cream! Finally, they now offer it in a small cup! Two scoops for $4.50. As good as I remembered.

                        We'll have to go back for a round II. Must have cheese curds, milk shake. Husband will need a pronto pup (which I can take or leave...) I really want to try the chocolate sausage from the sausage sisters and Mancini's gelato (and maybe their sausage or the meatballs in a cone, both of which we enjoyed last year). Need to get some wings from West Indies Soul. Corn roast.

                        ETA: Though I'm enjoying some of the new vendors at the fair, I am growing weary of $9 price points. Anyone else feel that way?


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          TDQ, I don't remember that many $8-9 items last year. I don't know as I can say I'm "weary" of it yet; for most of the items at that price I can point to an expensive ingredient or a lot of labor that justifies the price ("justify" in State Fair terms, anyway).

                          Though you didn't ask, I think it will take a while until items reach $10. I think portion sizes will shrink before that; handing over a tenner and getting NO change back will be a psychological frontier for many people.

                          Or maybe this is the impetus to start serving in multiple sizes: the $10 portion for sharers or the hungry and a $3-4 portion for those who want "just a bite" We can always hope.

                          1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                            I don't know, maybe I'm just overblowing the price thing in my mind, but at the Blue Barn for instance there were several things in that price range and as far as I can tell, there were no premium ingredients used in, say, the chicken and waffle cone. On the other hand, you make a good point--it was probably pretty labor intensive: fry the chicken nuggets, make the waffle cones, make the sausage gravy, assemble. That's a lot more steps than dip X batter and deep fry.

                            I do wish for smaller portions so we could try more stuff, but then I suppose people might complain about the value. My husband and I were trying to figure out if there was a way Blue Barn chicken in a waffle smaller (and cheaper) and decided they probably couldn't without throwing off the balance of the dish or rendering the waffle unusable as a vessel.

                            There's a malt ball at the bottom of that waffle, by the way. It comes with a built-in dessert!


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              There *are* a couple of issues with smaller sizes. As you noted, TDQ, smaller sizes may not result in a junior version of the same item. I don't think it would be easy to do a "few bites"version of a "bloomin' onion" without altering its appearance significantly; just using a smaller onion spares only a few cents in onion and batter costs and really doesn't change any other component of its creation.

                              OTOH I would have parted fairly happily with $4 for a smaller set of pretzel curds (regular size $6.75) rather than (errr) fork over almost $7 and toss half of them. That problem might solve itself.

                        2. Is there a possibility of tasting pies at the fair? Aren't there competitions for best homemade pie or something? We have friends coming from out of town and they asked about this. I have no clue!

                          2 Replies
                          1. I've been out to the fair a few times so far this year.

                            Here's my hits and misses of the new stuff I've had:

                            Chicken in a waffle: Best new food there is, although on a hot, humid day the waffle cone became rather chewy. Save it for a less humid day, if you can. But still REALLY good.

                            Blue Moon shaved ice cream thingy. I had the blueberry pancake variety. The blue color was insanely artificial, but the product itself was surprisingly good. Like most good fair foods, share this one with a group. There's too much for one person, and it isn't SO GOOD that you don't want to share.

                            Dave's Korean Pork thingy: Tasted good. But 7 bucks for 3 little pieces of pork and some pickles? Skip it.

                            Blue cheese corn fritters: The best part is the sauce. In one of the blue plate restaurants this would be worth getting. At the fair? Not worth the stomach space.

                            Meatloaf on a stick: Waaay too much sauce. Like the fritters, order meatloaf at your favorite Blue Plate restaurant. This one isn't destination food.

                            Hot Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich: Worth a try. It's two warm waffles with a slab of ice cream between them. How can that be bad? Answer: It can't be.

                            Pretzel Curds: The crunchy coating was good, but they ended up tasting a lot more like small mozzarella sticks than fried cheese curds. I'd stick with the originals for my state fair curd fix.

                            I didn't try the lobster on a stick, but my eyes and the people I was with confirmed that word was that there was too much batter for the amount of lobster.

                            Back at the fair tomorrow for the Llama costume competition! And probably stuffing my face some more. I still haven't had a milkshake at this year's fair. THE HORROR.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Danny

                              I was very disappointed with my wild rice corn dog this year. In the past it was a spicier wiener fried to a dark brown crispness. This year's version was larger, more batter, fried just past doughy, no perceptible wild rice. Oh we'll, taking it off my favorites list will make room for something else. Glad to hear, down thread, that the burger is still tasty.

                            2. Here are some samples...

                              Craft beer flights at the Horticulture Building.

                              Giggles' Campfire Grill Footlong Walleye, Walleye Mac and Cheese and S'mores Beer.

                              Jurassic Stand pork Schnitzel Strips. They basically take their breaded pork tenderloin and cut it in strips.

                              Mancini's Beer Gelato.

                              The fair doesn't seem complete without the Mouth Trap Cheese Curds.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Davydd

                                Well done!

                                What did you think of the Smores Beer?


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  The S'mores (AKA: Grand Design) is one of the rotating infusions that Flat Earth does with their Cygnus X-1 Porter. I thought it to be a little sweet, but not cloyingly so. It is S'mores in a glass, and like the real thing, 1 is usually enough.

                              2. We had our first State Fair outing of the year last night and will return once more at some point this weekend, but here’s last night’s consumption and thoughts –

                                Chicken in a Waffle at the Blue Barn – I think you can safely trust the reports on this one. It’s pretty darn good. Is it almost $10 good? Probably not. I do think the price is a bit steep, but all things considered (it is the Fair after all), this is pretty decent chow. I read some reviews that said the chicken is very spicy. I have a pretty low spice tolerance and while it has a bit of a kick – the spice didn’t bother me at all. The chicken was incredibly tender, the waffle crisp with a little sweetness and the gravy added a nice creaminess. Overall, I’d say winner, winner chicken dinner for chicken in a waffle. - A

                                Blue Cheese and Sweet Corn Fritters at the Blue Barn – This was hubster’s choice as I am typically not a fan of blue cheese. That said, these were pretty good. Nice and crispy on the outside, and loved the cornbreadish fritter part on the inside. While undeniably fried, they weren’t overly greasy which I really appreciated. I hate biting into something just to have grease ooze down your mouth. Ick. They were inconsistent with cheese distribution though. I got one that had a ton of cheese (almost too much) and another that had hardly any cheese at all. The chimichurri sauce was nice, but it wasn’t a make it or break it part of the equation for me like others have mentioned. – B+

                                Wild Rice Corn Dog in the Food Building – I was really craving one of these. I am sad to say, I think my love affair here is over. While the corn dog is fine, I still just really pine for the wild rice brat of yore. The wild rice in the corn dog was completely imperceptible. The dog is good and the batter is ok, but when you get an item from a wild rice booth, you expect to consume some wild rice. – C

                                Chicken Roti at Harry Singh’s in the Food Building – This is hubster’s favorite food at the Fair. I never eat it because hubster likes it hot – like eye-sweat-inducing, Harry Singh-asking “are you sure you want it that hot?” hot – but I will tell you that hubster love, love, loves the roti! And we just love Harry. He’s so sweet and humble and I just want to hug him whenever I see him. And I’m not a hugger, people! He was at the booth last night and hubster complemented him on a job well done again. He just gave a sweet smile, nodded politely and said thank you. While standing there, there were many others that did the same. One guy even introduced his mom to Harry. It’s like everyone is family to him. I just love him to pieces! - A

                                Fudge Puppy at Grandma’s Kitchen outside the Food Building – I’ve said it before and will say it again, if I could only eat one food at the Fair, it would be the Fudge Puppy. It’s like a little pillow of Belgian waffle heaven enrobed in delicious chocolate and topped in whipped cream and sprinkles. This year, however, brought about a new discovery – eating them at night! We usually always go to the Fair in the morning, so the Fudge Puppy is usually breakfast (it’s a waffle – don’t judge me). The problem with the morning Fudge Puppy is that they’re just beginning to make them and to keep up with demand, they don’t get enough time to cool before putting on the whipped cream which means the whipped cream melts and it’s kind of a mess. A yummy mess, but a mess still the same. Last night I had Fudge Puppy bliss! The waffle part was still warm on the inside, but the outside chocolate had cooled enough so that the whipped cream didn’t melt. Epic! - A+

                                Salted Carmel Nut Roll and Carmel Apple Gelato at Mancini’s – Dara went on and on about the gelato at Mancini’s. A co-worker raved. Even Heavy Table gave a thumbs up about the Summit Oatmeal Stout one, but for me this was the biggest dud of the night. I got the Salted Carmel Nut Roll. Hubster got the Carmel Apple. The Salted Carmel Nut Roll was WAY too salty. And I don’t mind salt. Salted Carmel is one of my favorite Izzy’s flavors, but this was just too much. Did they think we were deer being lured in by a salt lick? The carmel tasted – I don’t know – burnt, and there were hardly any nuts. Just no bueno, at all. The Carmel Apple was a bit better. The apple was nice and tangy, but again the carmel was odd. It just tasted artificial; I don’t know how else to describe it. We eventually discovered that if you combined the two flavors, it was much better. The tang from the apple cut all the salt from the salted carmel nut roll. I guess my other issue is that I’m just a bit of a gelato snob. I’ve never found gelato in the US that compares to what I’ve had in Italy and this gelato is a REALLY far cry from truly Italian gelato. I definitely wouldn’t spend precious Fair $$ or stomach real estate on this again. - D

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Seige

                                  Oh no! Terrible news about the gelato!

                                  I was one of the people who said the chicken in waffle was too spicy for my tastes. It's not spicy by ordinary standards, but for me, it's too spicy to be my breakfast considering for how my day at the Fair typically plays out eating-wise. Normally I like spicy (Little Szechuan pre-hot pot days, On's, etc.), but the combination of spicy (even a little) plus greasy sausage gravy of the chicken and waffle just didn't appeal to me. I might try it later in the day, perhaps...

                                  On the other hand, my husband who has a stronger constitution had no problem with it, even as a breakfast item.


                                2. I've been a couple times so far this year. The new things I tried were:
                                  -the Blue Barn's chicken-and-sausage-gravy-in-a-cone. I was pleased; the chicken pieces were moist inside and perfectly crispy. I found the sausage gravy to be mildly spicy in a slow burn kind of way. I was alarmed by the malted milk ball at the bottom; it just seemed at odds with the overall savory flavors. I'd get this again if I were with a big group- it's so rich/salty that I only want a couple bites.

                                  -the Blue Barn's basil blueberry lemonade: Very tasty and refreshing. Maybe a little expensive at $4.5 when some of the beers were close to that price, but def worth it if you're looking for an interesting cold beverage at the fair other than soda or regular lemonade.

                                  -Blue Moon Diner's snoribbon frozen dessert: I admit I was really excited about this, because the flavors sounded interesting, and also because I'm a fan of frozen Asian desserts (bingsu, ais kacang, etc), and I think the Snoribbons are a version of Taiwanese snow ice. I had the "grasshopper pie" flavor which was mint ice with Andes mints, marshmallows, chocolate sauce and mini marshmallows. I'll limit my comments to this flavor but I have to say it was bad. Really bad. My dining companions and I were trying to figure out what was wrong with it- we decided it was the wan flavor of the ice product base; it was a weird mint, like eating toothpaste, and a really flat flavor. None of us ate it, the kids just picked out the toppings. They also handed us what looked like an order which had been sitting out- rather than well defined fluffy ribbons it was already getting mushy. :(

                                  -fried smelt from the Food Building (sorry, I can't remember the vendor!) I think of these as classics bc I've been getting them for many years but I realized maybe they aren't that well known. They're yummy, perfectly sized finger food.

                                  The other classics on my list fortunately didn't disappoint- cheese curds, funnel cake and corn dogs!

                                  1. Can someone PLEASE stop at Danielson's Onion Rings (outside the food building) and ask if they have a booth at any other area fair? I can't go to the State Fair (by the time I pay to get in, most of my budget is blown) but I miss the onion rings. I used to get a lemonade, then 2 orders of onion rings and I was done with the food. I even ate them without ketchup. I have always thought onion rings were just a vehicle for more ketchup, but not the Danielson's.

                                    4 Replies
                                      1. re: sheepy

                                        If you're on Facebook, maybe you can ask them yourself? https://www.facebook.com/pages/Daniel...

                                        It looks like that, at least, they do back to the 50's car show.


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          Thanks so much! Now I know how to contact them!

                                        2. re: sheepy

                                          Their reply on Facebook
                                          Danielson & Daughter's Onion Rings We do not. You can only get our onion rings at the MSF.
                                          8 hrs · Like

                                        3. I just went yesterday.

                                          Blue Barn's corn fritters w/blue cheese and chimichurri were my favorites. I didn't like their Farm Handwich.

                                          Didn't try much else. A corn dog, some cheese curds, and I was full.

                                          1. My report, finally…

                                            Three items at the Blue Barn. The Chicken-in-a-Waffle is buffalo chicken nuggets with sausage cream gravy in a waffle cone. The chicken is tender, as others have said. The chicken and gravy are both spicy, and the cone, while clever, is pretty much a nonentity in the dish. If you want buffalo chicken with gravy, go for it - otherwise, I'd say skip. Wife loved the Meatloaf-on-a-Stick, especially the sauce. The blue cheese-corn fritters didn't have much blue cheese flavor. The chimichurri sauce was nice (and added some heat). However, despite not delivering much blue cheese, they were really excellent corn fritters. Big, moist, not too greasy.

                                            Daughter enjoyed a 1919 Root Beer float. Wife and I hit the Hamline Dining Hall to try Izzy's State Fair flavors -- jello salad and mini-donut crunch. The jello salad was fun to taste -- marshmallow ice cream, bits of jello flavor, chewy bits of maraschino cherry. Overall, they nailed the concept. Mini-donut crunch had a more complex flavor, with nutmeg and cinnamon dominant. I would actually order that one outside of the fair, if it was offered.

                                            We had some warm kettle corn from the booth just south of Giggles. I have to say, this was remarkably good, with both the salt and sweet being subtle flavors instead of overwhelming. A small bag is enough to feed a family for days.

                                            Had to get a pronto pup, of course.

                                            Had a fresh, tart apple at the Horticulture Building, along with an apple cider freeze (still the best and most refreshing deal at the fair) and their new apple rollover. Thumbs up for all three. The rollover wasn't a hot pastry (like a turnover), but had an apple filling in a flaky crust. Really good.

                                            We also did some honey tasting on the other side of the building and ordered the mini-sizes of the two honey ice creams. I greatly appreciate them cutting down portion sizes, finally.

                                            Dinner was a steak sandwich, antipasto salad, and pork wings at Mancini's. All three were satisfying. The antipasto is heavy on pepperoncini, as well as cheese, meat, etc., so it might be spicier than some are expecting for a salad.

                                            I'm sure I'm forgetting something, naturally.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Jordan

                                              Izzy's has the mini donut ice cream flavor on offer in the St. Paul store right now, according to the their website. Could be they're just using up fair leftovers, but it looks like it's possible it'll become a shop flavor.

                                            2. Didn't have time last Friday to post the food finds for that visit:

                                              - deep-fried lobster on a stick. Recognizable chunks of lobster covered with a bit too much batter and served with a killer dipping sauce (killer as in overwhelming, not in the good comedic sense). After one dip, the sauce went unused
                                              - Sausage Sisters Chocolate Salami. My new favorite thing. I can see this becoming an annual must-have. The crackers on which the "salsmi" is served are pretty much superfluous; maybe a Nilla wafer or such would be a better choice. But very tasty.
                                              - peach at the Produce Exchange at the West End Market. Ripe, juicy, delicious. Considering a peach that size probably would cost well upward of a dollar from a discount grocery store with no guarantee of goodness, it's a -- er -- fair deal at $3.

                                              Missed the blueberry beer and SnoRibbons. Maybe next year....