Eating and Drinking the 2023 Minnesota State Fair
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH MCGEE / BECCA DILLEY / EMMET KOWLER / HEAVY TABLE
State Fair food reviews are the closest we come to combat conditions in our cozy world of Upper Midwestern food journalism. We juggle a double digit crew through crowds of thousands, passing dozens of items back and forth and trying to keep track of names, prices, ingredients, and tasting notes while contextualizing everything we taste. We’re on our feet for 4-6 hours, and trying to thoughtfully ingest massive piles of food and drink without overdoing it, capturing notes and photos as we go.
Meanwhile, State Fair food vendors are running often untested teams in some of the most challenging conditions around: huge rowdy lines of patrons waiting day in and day out in humid summer weather, crushing supply chains and customer service norms in the process.
It’s this collision – harried, overheated, overfed writers, and harried, overworked, frantic purveyors of food and drinks – that produces the collection of essays and photos you’re about to enjoy. It’s messy. It’s stressful. It’s crazy. It’s fun. We don’t do State Fair previews and sneak peeks because this – this nutty mess – is the way it should be.
We’ve shared six of our twelve Minnesota State Fair essays below; you can get the rest by backing the Heavy Table on Patreon and/or checking out our public Patreon post about the Fair and downloading the full newsletter PDF.
Flight #1: Get Pickled | Jeanne Lakso
Flight #2: Sights, Sounds, and Smells | Piercarlo Valdesolo
Flight #3 The Breakfast Beat | Eli Radtke (Patreon only)
Flight #4: Follow the Cheesy Brick Road | Stacy Brooks (Patreon only)
Flight #5: The Caffeine Scene | Amy Rea (Patreon only)
Flight #6: The Cal-Zone | Eli Radtke
Flight #7 The Heat is On | Cecilia Johnson (Patreon only)
Flight #8: Blue Ribbon Brew | Louis Livingston-Garcia (Patreon only)
Flight #9: Just Desserts | Stacy Brooks
Flight #10: N/A Thirst Quenchers | Cecilia Johnson
Flight #11: Updated Minnesota | Amy Rea
Flight #12: ‘Bad on Paper’ | James Norton (Patreon only)
FLIGHT #1: GET PICKLED
BY JEANNE LAKSO
It’s apparently “The Year of the Pickle” with a new Fair foods list boasting between ten and thirteen pickle items. I could say it’s really Kind of a Big Dill, but the Strib has already used up Minnesota writers’ allocation of pickle puns for the year, so…I threw myself into the briny deep and tasted nine different pickle foods and beverages in a search for the very best ones. What makes a good pickle nosh or drink? Most importantly, it should be a pleasure to consume. It should taste like someone cared about what they’re making, with well-chosen ingredients used to achieve a good balance and a compelling blend of flavors.
Also it should taste like pickles. That seems too obvious, but what we found was a phenomenon that echoed the way Minnesota food purveyors sometimes shy away from spice and heat. A number of things we tried just didn’t have a lot of pickle. And with the exception of one dish using sweet pickle relish, there was nothing that wasn’t a standard cucumber dill. Not a single pickled jalapeño or a dilly bean or a watermelon pickle. That seems like a miss at an event that originated as a celebration of Minnesota agriculture.
Starting with the standout hit of the day, here’s the list of pickle foods and beverages we sampled. The next category I’m calling “legit,” and it includes the ones that really hit the sweet spot in terms of mouth-puckering but not off-putting pickle-ness. The next category shows an unfortunate failure to commit to the all-important pickle. We did have one item that divided our tasters with its extreme commitment to pickle flavor, labeled as “might wanna quit.”
The Standout Hit
Dill Pickle Cheese Curd Tacos | Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos | $14 for 2
Richie’s knows how to make a fried cheese curd taco and serve it up fresh, hot, and with a beautiful cheese pull. The sandwich stacker-sliced dill pickle is a superb tangy complement to the still-squeaking melty curds. There’s a generous smear of cream cheese in the bottom of the fried flour tortilla that provides a bit of extra glue to keep the whole crispy construction from shattering. A choice of two sauces, raspberry chipotle or classic ranch, just seals the deal. “A perfect 1 AM after drinking food,” “I don’t care if I feel slutty, I love this,” and the speedy disappearance of both tacos: testimony to fair food, done exceptionally well.
Pickle Fries | Mike’s Hamburgers | $8
These are simply thinly-sliced dill pickles, breaded in mustard-flavored cornmeal, so big ups on the use of pickles as the star of the show. The chipotle dipping sauce was just spicy enough. Our group made quick work of the too-small paper boat of crunchy, salty pickle fries. I think my blood pressure went up a fair bit. Not sad about it.
Bacon-Wrapped Waffle Dog | Nordic Waffles | $12
It’s a snappy Kramarczuk’s hot dog wrapped in a crispy waffle with a slice of cheddar, some crispy fried onions, and a good amount of pickles. What’s not to like? One taster was sad the cheddar wasn’t melty, and I didn’t really get the promised “burger sauce” – which is exactly what, anyway? – but it was as likable as a Lutheran pastor’s wife’s signature bars.
Miami Mango Pickles | Soul Bowl | $5
If you’re a southerner, you might like Soul Bowl’s take on Kool-Aid pickles, made with cucumber spears and mango fruit punch. If you’re looking for South Indian mango pickle made with mango, garlic, and spices, this is not them. The HT team’s reaction ranged from “too sour” to “not crunchy” to “kind of interesting.”
Failure to Commit
Blacklist Dill Pickle Kolsch | Giggles Campfire Grill | $10
It’s been a very long time since I’ve had beer for breakfast, and I was quite pleased with this refreshing but not insubstantial Kolsch that was one of the first things we consumed. Some thought there was little-to-no pickle flavor here, but the garnish of a baby dill and a cube of decent dill havarti on a wooden pick balanced on the cup’s rim gave a nice pickly scent to the beer, which I found quite enjoyable. Would be a great chaser for a spicy Bloody Mary.
Walleye Fritter Pops | Giggles Campfire Grill | $9.50
Here’s another example of Minnesota nice, but not much spice. Allegations of pickle relish incorporated in the panko-colated walleye fritters on a stick were very difficult to prove.
Dill Pickle Paletas | Hamline Dining Hall | $6
This is a lemonade dill pickle blend, frozen, on a stick. It raised the question: how much would three or four more hamburger dill slices have cost? The paleta has two. TWO. SLICES. It’s cold and refreshing, but needed more pickles.
Kind of a Big Dill Pickle Lemonade | Nordic Waffles | $6
This is a decent lemonade with a single hamburger dill slice floating in it and a minimal amount of pickle flavor or brininess. I’d skip this one; there are a lot of superior flavored and plain lemonades at the fair.
Might Wanna Quit
St. Paul Pickle Fudge | Wow Fudge | $7 for ¼ pound
There were three varieties of pickle fudge on offer: the regular St. Paul Pickle, St. Paul Peanut Butter Pickle, and the St. Paul Hot Pickle. The peanut butter pickle fudge tasted mainly of vanilla and mild peanut butter, sweet but forgettable. The St. Paul Hot was very divisive with the HT crew. Some thought it was fun (if garishly chartreuse) and liked the legitimately spicy hot component and very pronounced dill flavor. One taster, however, described it as “a punch in the mouth.” I regret not trying the straight-up pickle fudge to see whether it was the one that was “just right.” They offer samples of their god-knows-how-many fudge varieties and seem like super-sweet people.
BY PIERCARLO VALDESOLO
The State Fair is persistent and penetrating sensory overload. This summer, at least for the first day of the fair, I opted for some sensory deprivation: I fasted until 2:00pm. I tied myself to the mast of the Heavy Table ship as it giddily scurried from vendor to vendor over the course of five hours. I watched, I listened, I smelled, I waited. I felt the strength and weakness of my will. I lamented my choices, I rationalized them. I finally broke my celibacy with two perfect cheese curd dill pickle tacos, pickle fudge and half a pint of apple crisp ice cream. It was the best State Fair taste of my life. Here now I chronicle my odyssey of discovery, so that I never feel the need to do this again.
“Looks like a tik-tok about white people food”
The Peanut Butter Cream Amish Doughnut at Peachey’s Baking Co. I’m imagining an Amish teen working in a bakery during Rumspringa, discovering a passion for doughnuts and never looking back. A weakness for peanut butter and the mostly positive vibes from the group about the peanut butter foam has me wanting this, but it’s early yet and my resolve is still strong.
“It’s church coffee”
No egg is discerned in the egg coffee. The smell of burnt oil wafts by.
Green Mill’s Cheese-curd stuffed Pizza Pretzel has emotions running hot. There seems to be some history between the group and Green Mill to which I’m not privy that is making people very mad.
“My arteries didn’t twinge”
Porkette breakfast sandwich. How does adding bacon eggs and syrup to a hot dog somehow make it seem lighter? Bacon falls to the ground and is immediately eaten.
“Here comes the humidity. Or maybe it’s the porkette breakfast sandwich.”
T minus 120 minutes until Shanghai Henri’s.
Jam’nade at Jammy Sammies. If you use the boba straw you’ll get clumps of jam. This is agreed by all to be a bug not a feature.
“I respect it and its journey”
Spicy Pickle Fudge at Wow Fudge. Controversy erupts over the first real pickle forward item and choice regret begins to set in. Desperate to have an opinion on the divisive taste, I stick a chewing gum sized piece on my notebook for later.
“I would pay my own money to eat this again”
The smell of butter from the sweet corn danish at Farmers Union buckles my knees. Picklegate continues at Hamline. Pickle balance is on everyone’s mind. Paleta needs more.
“This is absolute BS”
Sara’s Tipsy Pies Italian duo dunkers are bringing back those Green Mill feelings with their no less offensive meat-lovers pie. I watch the A to Z Creamery apple crisp ice cream at Granny’s Lemonade get inhaled and take note.
“Fried butternut squash ravioli….I’m going to lose the ravioli unless someone makes a case”. Nobody made a case.
“Ooooo look at that tiny little baby burger!”
The sad Wild Rice burger from Wild Rice Specialties was swallowed by its own bun. The Food Building walls envelop me and I begin to see myself in this burger. Breath is getting shallow.
“If anyone wants to hear the the only polka version of Sweet Caroline, it is happening right now”
T minus 15 until Shanghai Henri’s.
“I felt that in my tailbone it was so bad”
Fasting has brought clarity now. Shanghai Henri’s is the worst food vendor at the state fair. The lutefisk steam bun attempts to mask the grotesquery of lutefisk by surrounding it with equally if not more grotesque accoutrement. But bringing its ugly friends to the dance can’t save this fish from flopping. Evoking memories of 2022’s preposterous Carolina Pit-Smoked Brisket Taco, and instilling fear at what will have to be tasted in 2024, this taco touches the abyss. Hate has reinvigorated my soul, and the energy to complete this fast pulses through me.
“It’s a goat!!!!”
It was a sheep.
The Dill Pickle Cheese Curd Taco at Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos is a stunner. The only food of the fair that masters the pickle, in concept and balance. I nearly break. I know this is the one I’ll be back for once my journey has ended.
Things are getting blurry and the pace of eating slows. Conversation turns back to the pickle. Vendors haven’t yet sufficiently explored their versatility. Some are too aggressive, some too meek. I think back to the fudge stuck on my notebook and am grateful to my past self for caring.
The day is done. A fellow Heavy Tabler gives me the rest of the spicy pickle fudge she had saved from the earlier taste, in recognition of my efforts. I ceremoniously accept the gift with humility and pride and book it back over to Richie’s to order two of the cheese curd tacos with Ranch. They are perfect. The fudge, which I found totally pleasant, lasts me most of the walk to Granny’s Lemonade, and the always delicious A to Z ice cream gets me back out of the gates.
On the car ride home, I recognize that I have effectively constructed a vivid food memory. The narrative structure of the ascetic journey has amplified meaning and sensation in a way that indulgence would not have. I flip to the bulging page on my notebook, scrape off the pickle fudge, and pop it in my mouth.
FLIGHT #6 WELCOME TO THE CAL-ZONE
By Eli Radtke
Come with me and enter the Minnesota State Fair CAL-ZONE: Delightful flavor favors wrapped, welded, folded, or otherwise encased in our favorite calorically dense dough.
FIRST TO ENTER THE RING: The Cheese Curd Stuffed Pizza Pretzel ($9) from Green Mill. With a name like that, you almost want to just seal up your arteries and run for the hills, but I put my body on the line and the carbs in my mouth for science. I’ll say it loud and clear: If you are going to just make a calzone, make a calzone. This pretzel was underwhelming, with a seasoned break completely devoid of curd, pepperoni, or sauce in some places. The marinara dip was too sweet, and the outer seasoning was too salty. When a bite did come together, I begrudgingly enjoyed the novelty, but this is not something I would come back to. It does clock in at a little larger than a Labrador retriever, though, so the portion size covers where other bits are lacking.
If I thought that was going to be the worst calzone impersonator, I was incorrect. The Italian Duo Dunkers ($12) from Sara’s Tipsy Pies wanted in on that action. When I first heard “Italian Duo Dunkers” it reminded me of those giant half-loaves of greasy, cheese-soaked wonder bread that have made so many cardiologists their millions, but it was more of an empanada-style offering. Each one (two total) had a different flavor. The first, pizza-based one was just bad. Dry dough, bland filling, and not a lot to speak for. This was miles away from the second one, which had a creamy garlic alfredo sauce, spinach, mushrooms, and chicken, that was delightful. What the first lacked in flavor, the second made up for with a well-rounded offering, great crisp-to-chewy ratio, and overall a great dunker. I would love to eat the second dumpling twice, but they do come in pairs.
Next, Sambusas ($6 each). It is unfair to put these in a calzone category because they are just incredible, but they fit the bit. Afro Deli served chicken, veggie, and beef varieties with a killer Basbaas, a spicy Somali dipping sauce. I had the veggie and chicken Sambusas, and they were sensational. The range of flavor from spicy to savory to tart and back again is incredible, accented even more with the herb-forward heat of the Basbaas, Sambusas are incredibly rich, flavorful, and filling. An incredible bang for the buck.
I was most excited about the Galabao ($12) from Union Hmong Kitchen when I was looking over the new food list that came out for 2023. I am happy to say my excitement was not misplaced. I think of all the foods that I ate at the fair, this is the one I would most recommend. I love a good steamed bun, but good isn’t the right word here. The bun was huge, to start, and freshly warm. It was substantial enough to pick up and manipulate in the lemongrass scallion dressing, but light enough that it didn’t dominate the dish with just heavy carbs. The pork had a great smoky and spicy kick which paired perfectly with the sweetness of the bun. The lemongrass dressing was to die for, bringing an acidic and spicy kick with a bright, tart finish to an already fantastic steamed bun.
The final contender, flying in from the top rope on my already bulging belly was the Chicken Momo with Tomato Chutney ($13) from MomoDosa. I am a sucker for steamed dumplings, and these delivered. The chicken filling had a mild but pleasant ginger kick with the sweet and tangy partner of the onion. The tomato chutney brought the distinct tomato acidity and flavor to the dumplings with a creamy and spicy back end that really made the entire experience refreshing without being overwhelming. Plus who doesn’t love a dumpling that is soaked in sauce, with the perfect chewiness, not too firm but not too flimsy.
FLIGHT #9: JUST DESSERTS
BY STACY BROOKS
The Minnesota State Fair’s 2023 new foods lineup is heavy on desserts, exactly as it should be. Unfortunately, although the joy of sugar is unlimited, stomach space is finite. This list will help you hone in on which dessert (or two, or three—the State Fair only happens once a year) is perfect for you, so that you can make the most of your dessert consumption.
Irish Butter Ice Cream Over Brown Sugar Cinnamon Toast
Blue Moon Dine-In-Theater ($9)
Perfect For: People who want to eat ice cream for breakfast (whatever the time of day)
The name is unwieldy, but this is one of the most thoughtful, well-composed dishes I sampled this year. The brown butter ice cream, made by small batch producer Minnesota Dairy Lab, has a luxuriously creamy texture and a pronounced browned butter flavor that’s accentuated by a drizzle of butter syrup and a dash of sea salt. The cinnamon toast is crisp, with a caramelized quality. When paired together, the toast and ice are reminiscent of a sort of deluxe French toast—and really, the State Fair is the perfect excuse to eat ice cream for breakfast.
Minneapple Pie ($10)
Perfect For: Dessert fanatics for whom no dessert is too rich
This deep-fried hand pie is filled with chocolate chip cookie dough and served with your choice of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. Portion-wise, this is a decent value, especially when considering the generous scoop of ice cream. The filling is a glorious glob of warm, gooey dough that tastes exactly like a barely-baked chocolate chip cookie. The crust is mass produced but decently flaky and doesn’t detract from the overall experience. This is a prima donna of a dessert twirling around in sequins and a feather boa, and I’m here for it.
Churros & Aguas Fresca ($6)
Perfect For: The risk-averse
New fair foods are a toss up: for every hit (the brown butter ice cream concoction and cookie dough pie above), there’s a miss or two (lutefisk steam buns, I’m looking at you). Sometimes you want to try something new while also feeling reasonably sure that you haven’t just wasted your hard-earned cash. This Nutella-filled churro fits that niche nicely. Is it the most imaginative, delicious thing I sampled? Not by a long shot. But the churro is crisp and tastes freshly made, and the thick cinnamon sugar coating pairs well with the warm Nutella filling. There’s something to be said for a reliable, reasonably priced (for a State Fair food) offering.
Dole Float with Pineapple Soft Serve
Tasti Whip ($10)
Perfect For: Fruit lovers
If you’ve had a Dole Whip in Hawaii, Disney World, or DisneyLand, or at the Dole Whip stand that was located on Carnes Avenue, you know the drill: light, fruit-forward soft serve that hits the spot during the heat of the day. New vendor Tasti Whip’s Dole Float adds some fun extras—you get to choose your soft serve flavor (strawberry, lemon, pineapple, or mango) and it’s served in a glass of pineapple juice with a paper umbrella. It’s a refreshing dessert that’s great for fruit aficionados who prefer more understated desserts, and it’s also an appealing palate cleanser between deep-fried delicacies.
Bee Sting Sundae
Bridgeman’s Ice Cream ($9.50)
Perfect For: People who have a nostalgic fondness for Bridgeman’s
As a native Duluthian, I have a soft spot for my hometown ice cream brand (the company was founded in Duluth in 1936), even though I’m the first to admit Bridgeman’s is not particularly noteworthy ice cream. But it gets the job done, and the Bee Sting Sundae is a pleasant combination of vanilla ice cream, a hesitant drizzle of hot honey, some spicy peanuts (“spicy” is a generous term for the sedate heat level of these nuts), whipped cream, and a cherry. The price seems a little steep considering the quality of the ice cream and the portion size, but for me the nostalgia factor adds a bit of value.
Salted Hot Honey Sundae
Minnesota Honey Producers Association ($10)
Perfect For: People who really want to support local beekeepers
I have nothing but respect for our local food producers, but this needed something more to justify the $10 price tag. The honey ice cream, made by Pumphouse Creamery, has a delicate honey flavor and interesting whipped texture. Unfortunately the toppings are applied with a stingy hand—there was only enough hot honey and sunflower seeds for the first bite or two of ice cream.
Apple Crisp Ice Cream by A to Z Creamery
Granny’s Apples ($8)
Perfect For: People who wish it was fall already
It’s notoriously difficult to get your hands on a pint of A to Z Creamery ice cream—weekly flavor drops often sell out in minutes. This apple crisp ice cream demonstrates why: it tastes like a blue ribbon-worthy homemade dessert. The ice cream is heavily spiced, with cinnamon as a predominant note, but the apples don’t get lost in the shuffle. The crispness of the oat topping adds some nice texture, and there’s a delightful swirl of salted caramel. Sure, $8 for a 5-ounce carton is eye-popping even by State Fair standards, but it’s a product that actually lives up to the hype.
FLIGHT #10 N/A THIRST-QUENCHERS
BY CECILIA JOHNSON
Anyone who has experienced the past week of Minnesota weather knows that the keys to bearing intense heat are (1) staying in air conditioning and (2) replenishing liquids. If you’re at the fair, the first one is kaput. So let’s turn our attention to hydration. Beer and seltzers may taste good on a hot day, but alcohol is a diuretic, and many of us abstain from it for one reason or another. Happily, there are many refreshing non-alcoholic drinks available at the fair.
Spinning Wylde: Violet Days Cloud Cooler ($12)
I’m not sure of this beverage’s name—while the fair’s website calls it a “Flower Power” Cloud Cooler, the people working the stand called it a “Violet Days”—but I am sure of its deliciousness. It’s a violet lemonade topped with lavender cotton candy, and while I was originally skeptical about the value prospect of a $12 lemonade with spun sugar on top, I’m happy to report the violet flavor comes through nice and strong, perfectly balanced by lemon and sugar. (Fans of the Aviation cocktail will love it.) Oh, and the cotton candy! If it’s a gimmick, it’s a well-considered one with a precise lavender flavor—a distant cousin of the straight-sugar bright pink and blue stuff. Spinning Wylde used to be in Keg & Case and now sells cotton candy in Union Depot on the weekends. Hats off to the businesspeople who figured out how to package cotton candy into one of the most delicious thirst-quenchers of the fair.
Afro Deli: Somali Spiced Tea ($6)
It’s Afro Deli’s first year at the fair, but fans of this local chain and its four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul will recognize its Somali tea, a black tea with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, other spices, and lots of sugar. Somali tea, or shaah in Somali, is closely related to Indian chai. The state fair spin is that this version of Afro Deli shaah is iced and available either with or without milk. I went for the milky version, and it’s exactly what I wanted and expected from Afro Deli, with a bit of black pepper burn hitting my throat after each sip of cold, sweet tea.
St. Martin’s: Virgin Bloody Mary ($6)
I rarely expect much from non-alcoholic bloody marys (or bloody marys, for that matter). But this one was delicious, thanks to its deep tomato flavor and the tabasco-and-salt fixings St. Martin’s offers to customers in the International Bazaar. St. Martin’s also had an olive bar, which must explain why the N/A bloody garnishes (an olive, a cornichon, and a pepperoncini) were so fresh and vibrant.
Holy Land: Mediterranean Lemonade Slushie ($6)
There are dozens of lemonades available throughout the fair, but this is the only one that packs mint and ice crystals into an herby lemonade slushie. Mint lemonade slushies are better known as limonanas in the Levantine/Middle Eastern region, and Holy Land represents its namesake well with this refreshing treat. (Holy Land also offers pink guava and mango slushies for the less citrus-inclined among us.)
Honey Ice Cream Stand: Honey Cream Soda ($6)
New fave of the fair! You’d think a beverage with such a full honey flavor would be viscous or cloying, but no, this is just luscious local honey in the most refreshing form possible: a cream soda with big carbonation and a mellow, rich finish. It’s the miracle of the bees, I guess! Fly to the Agriculture Horticulture Building for this one.
Jammy Sammies by Brim: Blueberry Mint Jam’nade ($7)
Hmmmm. It’s a perfectly nice lemonade, beautifully garnished with fresh mint. But the blueberry jam clotted at the bottom is an issue for me. Even as a big fan of bubble tea, I never need to slurp cooked fruit through a straw again—boba has a certain chew and starchiness that clumps of jam simply can’t offer.
Union Hmong Kitchen: 5-Spice Thai Tea ($8)
If you live in the Twin Cities, you likely have abundant access to Thai iced tea. Most Thai restaurants worth their salt will serve this sweet, creamy, and light orange-brown dessert/beverage, which combines half-and-half or sweetened condensed milk with black tea, sugar, spices, and ice. But if you live outside the Twin Cities or simply haven’t tasted it before, then you may find great joy in trying Union Hmong Kitchen’s Thai tea. It’s a solid representation of its genre. But it’s a bit of a bummer of a replacement for the dej qab zib UHK served last year: a “coconut lychee colada” that Heavy Table’s Stacy Brooks called “complex, herbal, and profoundly refreshing—a craft mocktail in a plastic State Fair cup.”
Churros and Aguas Frescas: Strawberry Lime Agua Fresca, Mango Agua Fresca ($6 each)
While the Nutella-filled churros may be the buzziest offering at this stand on Lee and Underwood, the aguas frescas are worth checking out—particularly the strawberry lime flavor, which tastes like it has fresh lime juice in addition to its pureed strawberry, water, and sugar. That invaluable tartness is nowhere to be found in the mango flavor, which hews closely to agua fresca tradition by being tooth-rottingly sweet. That sugar level can really work alongside a spicy torta, but if you’re just walking around the fair, I’d recommend favoring strawberry limeade.
Sweet Martha’s: Ice Cold Milk ($3)
Dairy has fallen out of fashion in recent years, but as a sicko Midwesterner who loves lactose, I must champion the cold, slightly sweet milk on offer at Sweet Martha’s. Now, you can get all-you-can-drink milk for $2 on Judson near the sheep and poultry barn, and that also sounds delightful. But you know what you cannot get at the all-you-can-drink milk stand? Chocolate chip cookies, one of milk’s greatest companions. Pop a Lactaid if you must, sip your milk, and chomp an imperfect but iconic cookie.
FLIGHT #11: UPDATED MINNESOTA
BY AMY REA
With Minnesota’s wealth of ingredients (wild rice, walleye, etc.), it’s somewhat surprising that there aren’t more dishes celebrating these ingredients at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. And the ones that do–well, read for yourself.
Walleye Fritter Pops | Giggles | $9.50
We were glad to see Giggles taking on the iconic Minnesota fish. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t stellar. Supposedly it had pickles in it–we could see them, but not taste them. Unfortunately, in the process of frittering the walleye, the fish dried out and lost flavor. We’d love to see Giggles try a more conventional rendition that doesn’t bury the walleye under so much coating and dry it out.
Minnesota Sweet Corn Danish | Farmers Union | $7
It was a bit of a shock to bite into this pastry after having done the recent croissant taste test and find it full of noticeable amounts of butter, something that was all too lacking in many of the croissants. Even better was the generous amount of herbed sweet corn that filled it. This was a lovely tribute to summer and would be a great way to start a morning at the fair.
Holey Hamloaf Breakfast Sandwich | Hamline Church Dining Hall | $11
This one took some thought. The immediate response was how buttery it was, how wonderful the grilling was (having had one too many grilled sandwiches lately that spent far too little time on the griddle), how the size justified the price (it could easily be shared by a couple of people). Someone else noted that it tasted “real,” as in it tasted like all fresh foods cooked rather than anything thawed or nuked. It wasn’t necessarily the most exciting thing we ate, and oddly, many of us wished it had pickles in it, but we could see this being an early morning staple for fair days.
Butter and White Sugar Lefse, Swedish Meatballs | Lynn’s Lefse | $5 lefse, $6 for 5 meatballs
There’s no reinvention of the wheel here, and we don’t mean that as criticism. While the lefse doesn’t have the full charm of lefse hot off the griddle with butter melting out of each end, as fair renditions go, this was OK. Same with the meatballs–nothing new, and nothing wrong with that.
Wild Rice Burger | Wild Rice Specialties | $10
Our first question was: Is there something besides the bun? When we saw the little patty inside the bun, we wondered, is that beef, or wild rice mixed into something else? Unfortunately, we couldn’t tell. There was no noticeable flavor of either beef or wild rice. You can add cheese for no extra cost and put some ketchup and mustard on it, but wouldn’t it be better if the wild rice were allowed to shine instead?
Lutefisk Steamed Bun |Shanghai Henri’s | $14
Here’s the thing. I’ve had lutefisk, know what it tastes like. I couldn’t taste the lutefisk in this. That should be an asset, right? Not when the lutefisk is buried under some kind of gloppy, sweet, faux-Asian sauce and served in what was supposed to be a steamed bun, but leaned more in the direction of Styrofoam without the squeakiness. If you’re going to serve lutefisk, go all out. Don’t bury it under something just as bad, if not worse. Or at least pay us $14 to try it rather than asking us to pay.
Bacon-Wrapped Waffle Dog | Nordic Waffles | $12
This got mixed reactions. Some of our team were more positive about it than others who felt like it was thrown together and wondered why the slices of cheese didn’t melt into the waffle and hot dog. The Kramarczuk hot dog was a good touch and the best part.
Tater Tot Hotdish on a Stick | Ole & Lena’s | $7
This has been around the fair for several years now, back from the “let’s put everything on a stick!” days. It’s a good example of why not everything should be on a stick. I’m an ardent fan of tater tot hotdish, but this deconstructed version doesn’t work as well as the real thing. The stick has alternating pieces of tater tots and what seemed to be Swedish meatballs, battered (heavily) in corn dog batter, and served with a lackluster side of cream of mushroom soup. Maybe it’s time for the stick trend to largely die, and time for someone to think about hotdish for the fair.PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH MCGEE / BECCA DILLEY / EMMET KOWLER / HEAVY TABLEFlight #1: Get Pickled | Jeanne LaksoFlight #2: Sights, Sounds, and Smells | Piercarlo ValdesoloFlight #6: The Cal-Zone | Eli RadtkeFlight #9: Just Desserts | Stacy BrooksFlight #10: N/A Thirst Quenchers | Cecilia JohnsonFlight #11: Updated Minnesota | Amy ReaFLIGHT #1: GET PICKLEDBY JEANNE LAKSO The Standout HitDill Pickle Cheese Curd Tacos | Richie’s Cheese Curd Tacos | $14 for 2LegitPickle Fries | Mike’s Hamburgers | $8Bacon-Wrapped Waffle Dog | Nordic Waffles | $12Miami Mango Pickles | Soul Bowl | $5Failure to CommitBlacklist Dill Pickle Kolsch | Giggles Campfire Grill | $10Walleye Fritter Pops | Giggles Campfire Grill | $9.50Dill Pickle Paletas | Hamline Dining Hall | $6Kind of a Big Dill Pickle Lemonade | Nordic Waffles | $6Might Wanna QuitSt. Paul Pickle Fudge | Wow Fudge | $7 for ¼ poundFLIGHT #2: BY PIERCARLO VALDESOLOFLIGHT #6 WELCOME TO THE CAL-ZONEBy Eli Radtke The Cheese Curd Stuffed Pizza Pretzel ($9)Green MillItalian Duo Dunkers ($12)Sara’s Tipsy Pies Sambusas ($6 each)Afro DeliGalabao ($12)Union Hmong KitchenChicken Momo with Tomato Chutney ($13)MomoDosaFLIGHT #9: JUST DESSERTSBY STACY BROOKSIrish Butter Ice Cream Over Brown Sugar Cinnamon ToastBlue Moon Dine-In-Theater ($9)MinneCookieDough PieMinneapple Pie ($10)Nutella-filled ChurroChurros & Aguas Fresca ($6)Dole Float with Pineapple Soft ServeTasti Whip ($10)Bee Sting SundaeBridgeman’s Ice Cream ($9.50)Salted Hot Honey SundaeMinnesota Honey Producers Association ($10)Apple Crisp Ice Cream by A to Z CreameryGranny’s Apples ($8)FLIGHT #10 N/A THIRST-QUENCHERSBY CECILIA JOHNSONSpinning Wylde: Violet Days Cloud Cooler ($12)Afro Deli: Somali Spiced Tea ($6)St. Martin’s: Virgin Bloody Mary ($6)Holy Land: Mediterranean Lemonade Slushie ($6)Honey Ice Cream Stand: Honey Cream Soda ($6)Jammy Sammies by Brim: Blueberry Mint Jam’nade ($7)Union Hmong Kitchen: 5-Spice Thai Tea ($8)Churros and Aguas Frescas: Strawberry Lime Agua Fresca, Mango Agua Fresca ($6 each)Sweet Martha’s: Ice Cold Milk ($3)FLIGHT #11: UPDATED MINNESOTA BY AMY REAWalleye Fritter Pops | Giggles | $9.50Minnesota Sweet Corn Danish | Farmers Union | $7Holey Hamloaf Breakfast Sandwich | Hamline Church Dining Hall | $11Butter and White Sugar Lefse, Swedish Meatballs | Lynn’s Lefse | $5 lefse, $6 for 5 meatballsWild Rice Burger | Wild Rice Specialties | $10Lutefisk Steamed Bun |Shanghai Henri’s | $14Bacon-Wrapped Waffle Dog | Nordic Waffles | $12Tater Tot Hotdish on a Stick | Ole & Lena’s | $7