Fair Fare

Various Vendors,
Minnesota State Fair

1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul;
642-2200.

           I CAUGHT A glimpse of the Milky Way Princess as she steadied herself while climbing into a white convertible last Friday night, getting ready for a rough ride of waving and smiling to the crowds at the 1996 Minnesota State Fair. It is almost certain that she did not obtain her white, blank complexion or sleek figure by daily consumption of Ben's brats, sausage on a bun, hot dogs on a stick, or fresh French fries. But the truth is, people go to fairs to stuff themselves full of these nasty, decadent foods. How does it feel? Well, it feels a lot better than you might think, though it's still a good idea to have a friend eat half of everything that you order. Also, be sure to remember to leave a little something for the trash can, or for the kids for that matter (I witnessed plenty of parents shoving gobs of fried cheese into their children's mouths while shrieking "eat this!" just in case their kids didn't understand).

           We were impressed by the amount of beautification that went into setting up the food stands--plant and flower arrangements next to geometrical displays of fruit and vegetables. The fresh produce was a particularly nice reminder of what the food had been before the vendors got ahold of it.

           Take, for instance, the popular Australian battered potatoes. (What makes them Australian you ask? The owners of the stand are Australian.) The windows of the place looked like a crime scene, splattered everywhere with batter instead of blood. We stood in a comparatively long line to see what the fuss was about, intrigued by the number of people standing around with paper plates saying "ouch!" each time they took a bite, though they seemed not to let the pain deter their pace of eating. These treats come $3.50 plain, $4.50 with melted mild cheddar cheese, ranch dressing or both. They are gigantic slices of russet potatoes battered with a nondescript batter and deep fried. "This is so gross!" said one woman next to me, clutching her stomach with one hand and reaching out with the other to fish another piece off her boyfriend's plate. We were no different than anyone else; even though they burned our fingers badly (thus the cries of "ouch!" we'd been hearing), and even though they were pieces of fried starch drenched with a pools of runny ranch dressing and tasteless orange cheese, we kept right on eating them.

           We followed a leggy blonde over to the all-you-can-drink-for-50-cents milk stand across the way. How much 2% do most people drink there? Anywhere between 3-6 glasses according to the freshly scrubbed kid working there. We split a glass and moved onwards, passing plenty of chubby kids whining "I'm so hungry" at their parents. A charbroiled porkchop on a stick ($4) was our next item, found right across from the milk stand at the Charbroiled Chicken & Chops place. It sounds ghastly, yes, but was the best thing we had I dare say; lean, tender, smoky tasting, and well seasoned with paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper. Delicious.

           We retreated for awhile to the poultry barn to admire the frizzle hens, and would have eaten again if the first thing we saw after emerging hadn't been the Turkey Tenderloin booth, featuring the best in grilled turkey ($3), cold turkey ($2.75), and for the kids, gobble snacks ($1.75). No thanks. Instead we made a stop for water at the nearby Steichen's Complete Food Market, the only complete market on the fairgrounds where you can find fresh fruit, coffee, aspirin, and other survival tools.

           Of course we had to eat a pronto pup; the cheapest stand is right across from the Grandstand entrance, $1.75 compared to $2 charged elsewhere on the grounds. This is the ultimate fair food, a hot dog dipped in a vat of cornbread batter and deep fried, then brushed with your choice of ketchup or mustard. The batter might be a little runny and cold on the inside, but you'll eat it anyway.

           Dessert can be more interesting than caramel apples and cotton candy, if you're brave enough. We didn't have the guts to try "fudge puppies" on-a-stick; if you do, you can find them outdoors on the west side of the Food Building. We fancied the latest trend in ice cream, "Dippin' Dots," to be found just outside the Main Grandstand. You get a scoop of hundreds of minuscule balls of ice cream in a cup for $2.25, made by pouring ice cream batter through a strainer into liquid nitrogen. Was it the liquid nitrogen that made me feel nicely light-headed or the spray paint booth next door? Yum.

           The silliest food we saw, as I remember it anyway, was the Pickle dog ($2), a dill pickle wrapped in pastrami and treated to a smear of cream cheese. We had to decline this final challenge, remembering the quasi-axiom that you will never eat enough, have enough money, or have enough time to experience the whole fair.

           The Fair runs through September 2; general admission is $5/$2.50 for kids ages 5-12.

           TABLEHOPPING

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