The Minnesota State Fair is serving up 31 new foods in 2017*. Keep checking back to get my thoughts on what’s worth trying…and what isn’t deserving of your cash.
* = so the Fair says there are 31 new foods, but it won’t take much walking around to see there are plenty more. State Fair officials have a committee of people who ‘vote in’ featured Fair foods. Typically, variations and new flavors of an existing food don’t make the new foods list (for instance, a polish sausage corn dog isn’t included). Another reason — the Fair announces the new list in June, and some vendors aren’t quite ready to debut their item at that time. And according to a State Fair official I chatted with, some vendors don’t want the added attention, afraid they may run out of ingredients. What you need to know: look around and don’t just follow the new foods brochure. Vendors are very forthcoming about what is new on their menu.
Note: I have tried all of the foods on this page!
👍 The Gopher Dairy Bar, attached to the Moo Booth (Cattle Barn) is my favorite spot for a malt or milkshake due to a lower price point and the lack of waiting in a line. Here’s an insider tip: they have a flavor of the day that goes beyond vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. I stopped by on Orange Dreamsicle day, which was tasty. My favorite is still their mint milkshake (it’s on my top 12 State Fair foods list).
👍 I’m angry I haven’t visited Que Viet Village House in Minneapolis. It’s less than 3 miles from my house. It will be the first post-State Fair restaurant I will visit. Their State Fair menu has four items, and I have consumed three. I wouldn’t go to the Great Minnesota Get Together to get an egg roll, but I’m begging you to try it. It’s not too greasy and is packed full of pork. And it was surprisingly easy to eat — mine didn’t fall apart at all. Their garlic cream cheese wontons are well done, too — not overly crispy and the garlic gives them a dose of flavor. I also was a fan of their Vietnamese iced coffee. It’s already sweetened and packs more octane than the brewed coffee from the church dining halls.
👍 A new item you won’t find on the State Fair’s list of 31 new foods: a Polish sausage corn dog. And boy, it’s filling. Think pronto pup on steroids. Well worth your cash. It’s available at Hand-dipped Corn Dogs across the street from the Education Building.
👍To be honest, there hasn’t been a Fair food that made me feel like my waist literally expanded right after eating it. That ends in 2017. The Bacon Fluffernutter is a grilled cinnamon roll stuffed with crunchy peanut butter, bacon, and a marshmallow cream filling. Oh, and it comes with maple syrup as a dipping sauce. At $9, it’s a tad overpriced. You won’t want to eat more than a quarter of this one. You’ll find it at the Sandwich Stop across the street from Turkey to Go.
👍 Dan O’Gara, owner of O’Gara’s, is one of the nicest vendors on the Fairgrounds. His family’s restaurant and bar on Snelling Avenue is an institution, and repeatedly, you’ll see them create smash hits that land them on the State Fair’s new foods list. The deep-fried avocado was the first new food I tried during the 12 day run of the Fair (I had tried several prior to August 24), and they were amazing. I should mention I’m pro-avocado. They’re lightly breaded and served with a chipotle ranch dipping sauce. So worth it. My only suggestion: they need a touch of salt. O’Gara’s on the Fairgrounds is on Dan Patch Avenue just inside from the main entrance, Gate 5.
👍 Mancini’s al Fresco, located on Carnes Avenue, is serving up a flavorful Italian Bomba sandwich. It’s not a “typical” State Fair food — and is something you could order at a good deli sandwich shop — so it isn’t going in my top foods list, but it’s a good alternative to deep-fried gut rot.
👍 Charlie Torgerson has done something special with what formerly was the Famous Dave’s venue on the Fairgrounds. And he has another hit in 2017. The Double Dose of Pork Belly features a pork belly burger with smoked pork belly and a slaw on top. And It’s not hard to make at home. Charlie was on KSTP’s Twin Cities Live to share the ingredient list.
👍 The Blue Barn (not to be confused with the Blue Moon) in West End Market is rolling out multiple new foods in 2017. My first stab at their list were the Triple Truffle Trotters — waffle fries covered with “hot” peppers (it wasn’t spicy) and something referred as a ‘diamond truffle mayo.’ They were good, but for the nearly $8 price tag, you might be better off sticking with your go-to Fair food staples.
👍 By day 2, I had multiple people rave over the cranberry wild rice meatballs served inside the Hamline Church Dining Hall off of Dan Patch. So I had to check them out. I walked inside the Dining Hall (honestly, it was my first time visiting), and a rush of calm swept through me. Skinny folding tables with chairs make the place look like you’re at a church potluck, and it reminded of my childhood spent in church. The line was long (and moved really slowly), so it gave me time to unwind. There’s no music blasting and those trouble-causing fairgoers stay out. Their new food, cranberry wild rice meatballs, are awesome. Until 7:00 p.m., you can get them on their dinner combo menu, and I highly recommend you get that (for $12, you get the entree and a side). I wanted to save room in my stomach, so I only got the meatballs, but I had to pay $10.50 for four meatballs. Way overpriced. But they are good. The meatballs are served with a lingonberry sauce, but I was just fine without it.
👍 It’s a food in the most bizarre spot of Fairgrounds: inside the lower level of the Grandstand. But Thai Rolled Ice cream is worth battling through crowds to find. Even the process it takes to make it is a sight to behold. The ice cream goes from liquid to solid in a couple minutes, then is crafted into rolls. They’re available in five flavors, including mango (pictured above) and their most-popular, cookies and cream. It’s cool to watch and delicious to eat. Order one bowl for two or three people to share.
👍 Lemon curd, pie crust and dark chocolate meet ice cream for the Midwest Dairy Association’s new flavor for 2017: Pie’n the Sky. I didn’t try it until day 9 but needed to with all the buzz. The first bites were awesome. The
pie crust crumbles (correction: those amazing cookies you get on the airplane) gave it some substance. Mine was not mixed at all, meaning I was stuck eating vanilla ice cream with about a third of the cup to go. I also could have used a touch more lemon curd. However, it’s worth it if the lines aren’t super long (they do move fast and can look deceiving).
Well…meh (shrugs shoulders)
Green Mill restaurants are a dime a dozen in the suburbs, making it worthless to spend $14 on admission just to spend more money on their food. However, at the State Fair, their booth guarantees that even your tiniest picky eaters will be able to fill the bellies. Their Pizzarito is a pizza in a burrito form and fried. It’s fine…not revolutionary. I wouldn’t spend my money on it. But if you have little kids and they’re crabby, I won’t judge you from standing in Green Mill’s line.
A big renovation for the State Fair is the Verdana, the area formerly known as the second level of the Grandstand. The concept is cool — you’ll be able to browse through goods from Minnesota-based businesses while sipping on a glass of wine. Read more about it here.
The Verdana is home to a new vendor, The Hideaway Speakeasy. Their food: Mobster’s Caviar. It’s a cream cheese dip with crab meat, green onion, red pepper and water chestnuts. At a preview event I attended, it was served with slices of baguette. The State Fair says it’ll be served on crackers. Either way, it was okay. It felt like something you would see at a church potluck. Somewhat simple to make at home and somewhat simple in taste. After the preview, I received an email from the new vendor with an unsolicited apology, saying it wasn’t what they wanted to serve. I’m not shooing this off yet, but I’m not waiting in line to try it.
After hitching an Uber to the North Woods part of the Fairgrounds (it’s SO far away!), I found myself at Giggles Campfire Grill to try their duck bacon wontons. The price point is high: $8.75. That’s like two pronto pups or like three ears of corn. They had good flavor and they were warm, but not burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot. I was hoping for just a little more cream cheese.
The Farmers Union has a new beverage at their booth on Dan Patch — a Maple Cream Nitro Cold Press coffee. The heavy cream and maple syrup are locally sourced and the coffee is infused with nitrogen. I’m not 100% sure what nitrogen actually does to the drink, but I do know that it was a little too sweet and a little too thick for me.
By day 6, I heard from many folks that the Spicy Thai Noodles at Oodles of Noodles was worth my cash. I gave it a go. It’s $10 if you toss in chicken ($9 without meat), so it’s an investment. And when it comes to foods you can walk and eat, this isn’t one of them. Nor is it the most photogenic. I liked it, but I wasn’t in love. But boy, does it have some kick. My neck was sweating. It’s much spicier than ketchup, so Minnesotans beware.
French Meadow Bakery on Carnes got rid of their Doughsant (a donut/croissant hybrid) for Mini Sconuts, buttermilk scones filled with marshmallow, chocolate and Nutella, and then deep-fried. They’re good. You get three balls for $6. They’re gluten-free, too, so if you know someone who is celiac or has a gluten intolerance, it’s a great stop. Deep-fried candy bars are better.
Last year, the Rabbit Hole, a restaurant inside Midtown Global Market, hit a home run with The Carpe Diem, an fish-shaped waffle cone filled with ice cream and strawberry delicious. City Pages even named it the best food of the Fair. The Carpe Diem is gone, and in its place, they brought in lots and lots of lefse. The Ole Juan a Rolle is essentially a quesadilla wrapped in lefse instead of a traditional tortilla. The lefse I had was overcooked, making the novelty a bit disappointing. Their other addition: Lefse Good Times Roll, combining ice cream, cream cheese, green mango powder and mint leaves inside lefse. Overall, there’s too much going on in both of these to make them worth bringing back next year. Stick to what works well. You’ll find the Rabbit Hole at the Midtown Global Market booth in the International Bazaar.
Not worth the cash
👎 The honey puffs from Dino’s Gyros were overly sweet and too simple to waste precious State Fair allocated calories on. And they’re way too sticky. However, for those who find themselves at the State Fair daily like myself, their gyros filled with vegetables become a godsend by day 10.
👎 The chocolate popover from Lulu’s Public House is served with a thick peanut butter spread. Popovers are difficult to make perfectly. These just don’t have the magic Minnesotans come to expect (RIP Dayton’s).
However, Lulu’s rooftop is a great spot for a pint of beer — I would say it’s the best beer garden on the Fairgrounds.
👎 The Birchwood Cafe (an amazing restaurant in Minneapolis) teams up with the Farmers Union to serve up goodies. Their new creation, a sweet corn blueberry eclair, did absolutely nothing for me. I put it back down after one bit. Maybe it wasn’t sweet enough. And I don’t go to the State Fair for edible flowers…unless you deep-fry them.
👎 If you take something sweet and mix with something else that’s sweet, what happens? You get Cotton Candy Sparkling Wine. And it was way too sweet for me. From The Hideaway in the State Fair’s new Verdana on the upper level of the Grandstand, you get a flute filled with cotton candy. An attendant pours a carafe of Minnesota-grown bubbly into the flute, making the cotton candy melt into the toxic mixture. We were slightly confused watching our cashier/bartender — she used one of those pop spigots you would see at a VFW to put “sparkling wine” in the carafe. Peculiar. At $9, I’m giving it a thumbs down. Oh, and don’t bother calling it Champagne — a bottle of Champagne has to come from the Champagne region in France.