An ongoing review of new Minnesota State Fair foods for 2018

Get ready for deep-fried cauliflower and deep-fried pepperoni chips.

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The Minnesota State Fair announced June 19th that 27 new foods will make an appearance at the Great Minnesota Get Together in 2018.

Now, an expert Fairgoer will know that more than 27 new foods will be available. Typically, variations of existing foods and foods deemed “less buzzworthy” don’t make this list.

So, as a public service, keep checking back here for ALL the new foods you’ll be able to enjoy during the 2018 Minnesota State Fair, along with my takes. I’m trying foods as I get my paws on them. If there’s a photo, that means I have tasted it!

What I’m most excited about: GOOD COFFEE!

For years, the State Fair has played a mediocre coffee game. For someone who is out there for 10+ days every year, I rely on good coffee to keep me going. I’ve searched the fair high and low to find a good cup. French Meadow’s coffee is okay. Salem Lutheran Church has the egg coffee, and that’s fine, but it feels like I’m walking to Shoreview to get it. Whatever the Farmers Union served last year wasn’t good. I liked the Vietnamese iced coffee 2017 new vendor Que Viet had, but they had long lines. With places like Spyhouse, Dunn Brothers and others around town, you would think one would have made their way in.

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The State Fair’s coffee game is about to get a lot better. Enter The Anchor Coffee House.

Enter The Anchor Coffee House. Located directly in front of the Ramberg Music Cafe, the portable booth will have a 16-foot bar added to the front before the Fair starts. A cup of cold press will set you back $6 ($7 if you want it flavored). They’ll serve cold press and other caffeine fixes on Underwood between Carnes and Judson.

Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl

  • From Cafe Caribe, near Adventure Park.
  • Ahi tuna, avocado, mango and pico de gallo tossed in a Hawaiian ginger-soy sauce and served over cold rice and with a fried wonton.
  • My take: Sounds like an appetizer you would order at Applebee’s. Pass.

Bananas Foster French Toast

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If you want Bananas Foster French Toast, you’ll need to be at the Fairgrounds early.
  • From Hamline Church Dining Hall, just east of the Grandstand.
  • Cinnamon-swirl French toast is topped with slices of banana in an orange-rum-flavored caramel sauce. Whipped cream on top.
  • My take: Hamline Church had a hit with their cranberry wild rice meatballs. They were extremely expensive, though. The orange flavor in this French toast really came out for me, and I liked it. The Dining Hall staff reached out to me and said that a serving will look like my photo, which was taken at a preview event. Promising. It comes in under $10, so it’s worth it. Note that the Dining Hall will only serve this from 7:00 – 10:30 a.m.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: Bacon Stuffed Tots

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Bacon and cheese stuffed tater tots.
  • From The Blue Barn in the West End Market.
  • Tater tots are stuffed with bacon and cheddar cheese. They’re served with bacon-infused sour cream.
  • My take: They’re delicious. The Blue Barn has another hit.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly

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I didn’t want to wait 15 MINUTES for a bacon wrapped pork belly, so I didn’t get one.
  • Available at The Hangar, the beer hall that replaced the Pet Center.
  • I walked all the way up to the north end of the Fairgrounds to try this. It’s quite the hike, folks. Pay the $4.50 and take the SkyGlider. Anyway, I get up to the counter and notice they have approximately 450 employees. It looked promising. I place my order for this meat wrapped in meat, pay the cashier my $12, and patiently wait my turn. The runner comes up to me and says it will be 15 minutes before it’s done. Excuse me? Yep, 15 minutes. That’s unacceptable at the Fair. It’s unacceptable at Applebee’s, a sit-down restaurant. So I got my money back. I’m probably not going back which is too bad because I heard this pork belly is good.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: Bierfest Tipsy Pie

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The Bierfest Tipsy Pie is like eating a bratwurst without the mess.
  • From Sara’s Tipsy Pies in the Food Building. She moved a couple booths down to a larger spot and has a shiny new oven.
  • Sauerkraut and mustard are baked with cheddarwurst infused with Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine IPA inside a hand pie.
  • My take: I liked it. I didn’t love it. If you ever had a pasty, this is extremely similar. It was hearty.

BBQ Split

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The surprise in this banana split inspired dish: the coleslaw.
  • From Mama D’s, part of the Midtown Global Market booth inside the International Bazaar.
  • It’s scoops of barbecue pulled pork, mac & cheese and coleslaw to make it look like a banana split. But instead of a banana, they add a pickle.
  • My take: I liked it! I didn’t love it. The mac and cheese was really good. The pulled pork was actually my least favorite. At the State Fair preview event I attended, everyone LOVED the coleslaw. It’s made with golden raisins and doesn’t have a vinegar-y taste. The cabbage is cut bigger too, so you’re not getting it stuck between your teeth. At the same time, these are foods you would find on the menu at Famous Dave’s. Also, the weight of the entire split is REALLY HEAVY. If it’s served during the Fair in the container I tried it out of, you will need to eat it sitting down. Otherwise, the risk of having it flop out of that plastic boat is extremely high. Note that Mama D’s is only present during the second half of the State Fair (August 29 – September 3).

Blueberry Rhubarb Cobbler

  • From Farmer Union Coffee Shop near the main entrance.
  • Organic blueberries and rhubarb are topped with a cornmeal biscuit and whipped cream.
  • My take: Last year, they teamed up with Birchwood Cafe to come up with an eclair that was a disappointment. I do like cobbler, so you may see me in line. Say hello if you do.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: CranOrange5 Tipsy Pie

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The CranOrange5 Tipsy Pie is cute, but not really what the old-school State Fair is all about.
  • From Sara’s Tipsy Pies in the Food Building.
  • Vodka-infused cranberries are mixed with green apples and stuffed inside a pie.
  • My take: Tasty, but this isn’t what the State Fair is all about. I want deep-fried pie or something beyond crazy. Call me a State Fair traditionalist, I guess. Sara Hayden, the woman behind this booth, is awesome and the story of her business is inspiring. She sells year-round, and I highly encourage you to buy her pies over the holidays. They would be perfect at your Thanksgiving table.

Earth Wings

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The gluten-free authority French Meadow Bakery has another recipe for success with their Earth Wings.
  • From French Meadow Bakery & Cafe near Ye Old Mill.
  • Cauliflower pieces are battered, deep-fried and come with an organic sesame barbecue sauce. They’re vegan and gluten-free.
  • My take: Delightful, and I don’t live a gluten-free lifestyle. The sesame barbecue sauce gave them an Asian flavor profile, so they were like eating Orange Chicken. No complaints there. I will be honest, you don’t get a huge order that comes with the $7 price tag, but I shared one with two others and felt satisfied. I will go out to say French Meadow is the authority for delightful gluten-free options at the Fair.
  • PRO TIP: Go in the building and order at the register versus standing outside and ordering at the walk up counter. The lines inside are always shorter.

Firecracker Shrimp Stuffed Avocado

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$7 seems to be the new normal for a State Fair food. If I’m paying more than $7, it better be really good. So $14 for an avocado was a hard pass.
  • From The Hideaway Speakeasy on the second level of the Grandstand.
  • It’s shrimp tossed with lime, onion, black beans, tomato and corn which is then stuffed in an avocado.
  • My take: It’s $14. I didn’t buy one, but I heard from someone who tried it. They said it was disappointing. $14 is REALLY steep for one Fair food. Last year, their mobster’s caviar was a bust, too. Skip it.

General Tso Chicken Taco

  • From Taco Cat, which is part of Midtown Global Market’s booth inside the International Bazaar.
  • Deep-fried chicken is tossed with a bunch of ingredients — including seasoned cream cheese — and is put in a flour tortilla which is topped with wonton crisps.
  • My take: It’s only available the first six days of the Fair this year because Midtown Global Market vendors switch out. I haven’t tried this one yet, and I’ve heard mediocre reviews.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: Grilled Peaches

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Good. Too expensive.
  • From Produce Exchange, at the corner where Ye Old Mill and the Food Building meet.
  • A big peach is charred and drizzled with honey and served with a scoop of goat cheese.
  • So the regular peaches at the Produce Exchange are a delight. They’re $3 and are a healthy fix in a land of deep-fried grease. However, charging $9 for this is a shame. You MAYBE get one whole peach. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but not amazing. I think it got a bit overhyped by the media.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: Heirloom Tomato and Sweet Corn BLT

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If this BLT was $2 cheaper, it would be my favorite food from the class of 2018.
  • From the Farmers Union booth, which collaborates with Minneapolis restaurant Birchwood Cafe. It’s near the main entrance to the Fairgrounds.
  • The usual suspects in a BLT join a sweet corn chipotle coulis and pesto mayo. It’s all stuffed between pieces of focaccia.
  • My take: It was really good. The heirloom tomatoes were perfect, and I was really digging the mayo. The bacon was lovely. The whole thing filled me up, but didn’t make me feel gross afterward. At $12, it’s $2 too expensive, but if you need a break from deep-fried food on-a-stick, this would be a great choice.

Honey Cream Soda Float

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One of the best new foods I’ve tried so far. Frothy and not-too-sweet or sticky.
  • From Minnesota Honey Producers Association in the Ag-Hort building.
  • Honey cream soda (made without sugar) is poured over honey ice cream.
  • My take: Yes please. I tried a sample at the State Fair Foundation’s Taste of the Fair event, and it was delightful. Frothy and not-too-sweet. A must-get to keep you cool.

Irish Tater Kegs

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These kegs had too much ‘ham.’ Get O’Gara’s Rueben instead.
  • From O’Gara’s at the Fair, near the main entrance.
  • Deep-fried jumbo tater tots made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and sour cream. Served with Thousand Island dressing and served on a bed of sauerkraut.
  • My take: It was fine. I brought them back to coworkers. A couple folks said they had too much “ham.” No ham is in it. I would pass on these and just get the Rueben from O’Gara’s. It is a true delight.

UNOFFICIAL NEW FOOD: Nacho Fries

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One of the best deals on this list of new foods.
  • From Taco Cat, serving food August 23 – 28 at the Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar.
  • Breaded French fries meet cheese, black beans and jalapeños.
  • My take: delightful. For $12, it’s probably the best value on this list. I was with 4 other people and we all had our fair share of the order. The State Fair’s website says that you can add chorizo to it — that option wasn’t offered to me when I ordered. My group also felt like the jalapeños were a bit boring. It felt like they came mass produced and most likely from a can with a long shelf life. I’m just glad they didn’t overpower the overall flavor.

Mangonada Shave Ice

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Mango flavored boba pearls make their long-awaited debut on the Fairgrounds.
  • From Minnesowii Shave Ice in the West End Market.
  • Mango-flavored shave ice is drizzled with a Mexican chamoy sauce and topped with chili powder and mango boba pearls.
  • My take: I wasn’t sure about this one before the fair started, but it’s a sleeper hit. It’s got really good flavor, and it’s not really spicy. The boba pearls are delightful, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t big on bubble tea. Plus, shave ice is far superior to the sno-cone. It’s $6, which is a good deal. It comes with an unnecessary taramind candy straw which for me, didn’t even work as a straw as it was plugged at one end.

Messy Giuseppe

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Regular Italian bread gets meat and marinara sauce on top. It’s fine, it’s just not original.
  • From Mancini’s al Fresco, near the Giant Slide.
  • Ground beef and Italian pork sausage are smothered in marinara, topped with parmesan cheese and served on Italian bread.
  • My take: I tried a sample at Taste of the Fair. It wasn’t pretty, so I didn’t even take a picture of it. It was spicy, but in a good way. The beef was seasoned well. The bread wasn’t special. I’m just not sure if this is special enough to be at the Minnesota State Fair. I want foods that I can’t get anywhere else, and it feels like the Fair’s food selection committee had other motives.

Moroccan Sausage Bowl

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I tried only a sample of the sausage bowl. Just like the Messy Giuseppe, it wasn’t pretty.
  • From Sausage by Cynthia, near that Water Ride thing.
  • Ground beef and lamb sausage are seasoned and cooked with VEGETABLES. It’s not deep-fried.
  • My take: It was fine. If I were to compare this to another new (and similar) food, the Messy Giuseppe from Mancini’s, I would have to go with Mancini’s. The sausage bowl had veggies, but it got boring after a couple bites.

Nordic Waffles

  • From Nordic Waffles in the West End Market.
  • Basically, they’re making waffle sandwiches. One has egg, bacon and cheese. Another has salmon and cream cheese. There’s one with a black bean veggie burger, too.
  • My take: This is a new vendor for 2018. There was another waffle ice cream sandwich place in the West End Market last year. We went and were super disappointed because they were just using jumbo Eggo waffles from Target’s freezer section. They’re gone and the lines for these new waffles are always long.

Pepperoni Chips with Roasted Red Pepper Queso

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It’s the perfect snack if you’re on the keto diet plan, but otherwise, these chips aren’t special.
  • From LuLu’s Public House in the West End Market.
  • Fried pepperoni chips served with a red pepper cheese sauce.
  • My take: It’s a hit for anyone on the ketogenic diet. It’s meat and cheese. However, it wasn’t good. Pepperoni is sliced up and fried. That’s it. The cheese sauce wasn’t special. They were greasy, which isn’t an issue, but when they weren’t hot anymore, the grease made the chips stale. I couldn’t eat more than a couple. And it’s $7, the limit I’ll pay for something unless I know it’s really good. Pass.

Rainbow Cloud Roll

  • From Rainbow Ice Cream in the Grandstand.
  • Oh no. It’s ice cream topped with a “fruity cereal” (aka Fruity Pebbles) and wrapped in cotton candy.
  • My take: My teeth hurt. However, I’ve heard positive reviews from many who have tried it. I’m quite shocked.

Shrimp Ceviche

  • From Shrimp Shack at Carnes and Underwood.
  • Shrimp, cucumber and other things you expect in ceviche served with tortilla chips.
  • My take: It’s an appetizer you could get at any Mexican restaurant. Seafood at the State Fair makes me uneasy.

Slider Flights

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There was a lot of confusion around these sliders.
  • From The Hangar, a new vendor for 2018. They’re up in Brainerd, I mean, the (old) Pet Center that got transformed into a restaurant. The Pet Center has a new home right next to where it was last year.
  • They’ll have three “slider” sandwich flights at The Hangar (get it?). One is brisket, one is a burger, and the last one is pulled pork.
  • My take: So I’m digging what they did with the old Pet Center. They have communal tables and high tops inside with patio furniture and corn hole (aka bags) in the back outside. Live music provides a fun ambiance. So I was thinking the food would be good. The new vendor sells bacon wrapped pork belly, and it sounded delightful, so I placed an order. I paid the cashier and then waited my turn. About 60 seconds later, the employee who is the runner said it would take 15 minutes for them to make another batch. That’s a long time to wait for anything at the Fair. So I got my money back. Oh, and they were completely out of another food on their menu that mixes chicken with ice cream. My friends from college got their sliders. They were hoping the flight would be one of each of the three options they serve — brisket, burger and pulled pork — but you have to choose one, and they come out three different ways. Some had slaw, some had pickles, etc. They said the meat was fine and they tasted okay. The $10 price tag is a bit hard to digest.

Smoked Soft Serve Ice Cream

  • From Blue Moon Dine-In Theater which is across the street from Adventure Park.
  • Two cold-smoked ice cream flavors include COLD BREW COFFEE flavored ice cream and another with vanilla beans is served with bacon candy.
  • My take: I’ve had a couple bites and it’s worth splitting with a few people. Mike and Steph at Blue Moon knock it out of the park year after year. Their bread pudding is an honorable mention in my favorite fair foods list. And their booth is a great place to hide on a hot day.

Swedish Meatball Smorgas

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Look hard: there are meatballs underneath all that gravy goodness.
  • From The Blue Barn in the West End Market.
  • It’s a meatball sandwich with Swedish pork and beef topped with white gravy, lingonberry sauce and dill pickles.
  • My take: The Blue Barn, run by Steph Shimp from the Blue Plate Restaurant Group, is a fantastic spot for food, and their menu has something for everyone, making the wait in line worth it. The meatballs were filling but didn’t have me feeling like death.

Sweet Greek Cheese Puffs

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Surprisingly, these cheese filled wedges aren’t bad.
  • From Dino’s Gyros near Ye Old Mill.
  • It’s phyllo dough filled with feta and ricotta cheese and deep-fried. They drizzle that with honey and powdered sugar.
  • My take: So Dino’s Gyros always seems to have a new food. Last year, they introduced honey puffs to the world. I rated them one of the worst new foods in 2017. At a State Fair preview event I attended in the summer of 2018, I heard the State Fair Food Superintendent speak. He said to be weary of those who create new foods year after year…all they want is buzz from the media. You know, he’s not wrong. So when I saw Dino’s on this new foods list again, I was a bit skeptical. However, these puffs aren’t bad. They’re priced right at $5 for three wedges. The cheese stuffing to dough ratio was close to spot on. My biggest issue is that the honey basically pooled at the bottom of the paper boat, so they actually didn’t have enough sweetness.

Sweetie Cakes

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Homemade toffee crumbles adorn the treats from Sweetie Cakes.
  •  From Sweetie Cakes, located in the Food Building.
  • You can choose from black forest cake, birthday cake or chocolate peanut butter cake. They put whipped cream and toffee on it.
  • My take: It was fine. They’re basically microwaved cakes. However, they make their own toffee, which added a bit of crunch I liked. But to be honest, I think it’s a bit dull for a State Fair food. You could have the most amazing birthday cake in-a-cup recipe and I would say the same thing. And they’re $7. Too much. Now, if they deep-fried birthday cake, I’d be the first in line.

Triple Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake

  • From The Strawberry Patch on the north end of the Fairgrounds.
  • It’s a dense chocolate cake with chocolate chips and fudge icing that’s topped with strawberries and whipped cream.
  • My take: sounds like a dessert on the menu at The Cheesecake Factory.

Turducken Sausage Sandwich

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What do you get when you mix a turkey with a duck and a chicken. A mediocre sausage.
  • From Giggles’ Campfire Grill at The North Woods.
  • They’re combining turkey, duck and chicken and putting that on a bun. It’s gluten-free.
  • My take: Giggles’ usually has a line that’s way too long and slow, and to be honest, the food is over-hyped.  I tried this Turducken sausage. It was okay. It seems like more of a gimmick to get people to stand in line than a new State Fair staple.

UpNorth Puff Pasty

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The crust on the UpNorth Puff Pasty is delightful.
  • From Sausage Sister & Me in the Food Building.
  • They’re mixing porketta with cheese curds, mustard and pickles that’s all baked in a puff crust.
  • My take: Sausage Sister & Me has some delicious food. This is no exception. The crust was delightful. Airy and well seasoned. I was underwhelmed with the amount of ingredients inside. Usually, the menu items at this booth are not filling enough for the price you pay.

Wood-Grilled Elote

  • From Tejas Express located in The Garden (where the people who think they can sing do karaoke).
  • It’s corn on the cob brushed with chili-spiced mayo and sprinkled with queso and lime juice.
  • My take: It’s basically MexiCorn, which is delightful. Not original, but if you’ve never had MexiCorn, you should try it. Or you can go to El Burrito Mercado in Saint Paul and purchase it from the truck in the parking lot. That way you don’t need to pay for admission into the Fair.

Za-Waffle Sticks

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A pizza flavored waffle stick served with maple syrup and marinara.
  • From Green Mill, by the Family Fair stage.
  • “Waffles” are combined with pepperoni and mozzarella cheese. It’s served with pepperoni-infused maple syrup and a marinara sauce.
  • My take: Green Mill serves an important role for parents who are walking around the Fair with their tiny picky eaters. These aren’t worth getting unless you fit that category.

Zesty PB&J Sausage

  • From Gass Station Grill. It’s on the outside of the Food Building.
  • It’s a sausage with peanut butter, cherry jelly, cayenne pepper and cilantro.
  • My take: Gass Station usually has food that sounds fun and quirky, but looks and tastes awful. Hard pass.
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