"Is butter a carb?" asked one t-shirt at yesterday's opening of the Minnesota State Fair 2015. So began the annual display of Midwestern grandeur that has us gnawing on turkey legs in the full light of day and dragging small barrels of chocolate chip cookies hither and yon.
In other words, a small piece of heaven has settled on a 320-acre plot in the saintly city.
And each year, dozens of new State Fair foods are marched in to do battle with buckets of mini corndogs and piles of fresh cheese curds. Below you'll find the majority of those 40 new foods (minus a few that were unavailable on opening day, plus a few desserts we included for good measure). We tasted, carton by carton, stick by stick, to bring you the ultimate new State Fair Foods guide for 2015.
Buffalo’d Bones, Famous Dave’s, $8, Slow-smoked center cut St. Louis-style spare ribs, fried, tossed in buffalo sauce, and served with blue cheese dressing and celery.
We almost wished for more bones as the name promised, a reprieve from the copious, gelatinous fat clinging steadfastly to any semblance of actual meat. And, buffalo sauce over BBQ makes for a schizophrenic mashup. Avert your taste buds.
Burger Dog, Gass Station Grill, $6 , A ground blend of hamburger, hot dog, bacon, cheese, and a splash of jalapeño on a hot dog bun.
Not so much burger meets hot dog as bacon meets cheddarwurst. Tasty and grilled up to the right temp (no molten cheese to scald your tasters), it's something you can and probably do make in your own backyard.
Hot Tail, Rabbit Hole, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $8, Roasted pig tail coated in scallion ginger sauce.
(Available Sept. 2-7 only)
We didn't get a chance to sample this hot piece of tail because Hot Indian and Rabbit Hole are splitting their booth time this year. Get your Indian on this week and your Korean the next. You needed an excuse to fair it up just one more time anyway, and this is it.
Prime Rib to Go, Coasters, $9.50, thinly sliced prime rib, sautéed peppers, onions and mushrooms in a soft bread cone with your choice of au jus, horseradish or Parmesan garlic sauce
Like the love child of a Chicago hot beef sandwich and a gyro, with the bread cone standing in for pita. It seems like you should be able to pick it up and eat it, but you’ll be much better off with a fork.
Sausage Sister's Sriracha sliders, Sausage Sister & Me, $7, “Great Balls of Fire” meatballs with Monterey Jack cheese at the center, served on a crusty slider bun with Sister’s Sweet ‘n’ Hot Sriracha Sauce
Remove one half of the bun to avoid the onslaught of dense dinner roll starch. Otherwise, these are simple mini-burgers you can dress yourself — with traditional Sriracha or their special Sriracha sauce, a creamy sweet mayo-based concoction fit for more tender palates.
Sriracha Dog, Snack House, $6.50, all-beef hot dog on a Sriracha cream cheese-smeared bun, topped with bacon bit and drizzled with Sriracha sauce
Cream cheese and hot dogs? Don’t think this will become a thing. The extra drizzle of Sriracha on top ensures that you won’t taste anything but the heat. A waste of a good hot dog.
SPAM burgers, SPAM® Burgers, $6, A grilled SPAM® burger with cheese and onions, in your choice of five flavors: Jalapeño, Hot & Spicy, Bacon, Hickory Smoke and Black Pepper
The mystique of the SPAM burger, as overheard at a nearby table: "Do they sell SPAM burgers in the grocery store?" "I think you just get SPAM in a can and slice it up." Bingo.
Steak Apizzaiola, Spaghetti Eddie’s, $8, Cuts of Italian steak sautéed in au jus, served on a seasoned kaiser bun with caramelized onions, melted cheese, and marinara sauce
If you’re in need of sustenance, this is a great baseline meal. Focus on the creamy goodness of the gooey cheese to take your mind off of the grey color of the meat. Though served as an open-faced sandwich, don't try to walk with this one — it's a knife and fork situation.
Stuffed Italian Meatloaf On-a-Stick, Green Mill, $5, Italian meatloaf stuffed with Mozzarella and pepperoni, topped with marinara sauce and a Parmesan herb blend and served on a stick
How often we've wished mozzarella sticks were cloaked in meat instead of breadcrumbs! Our wildest dreams have come true, topped with layer of pepperoni, a dusting of parmesan, and served with a side of marinara for dipping. Truly tasty, easy to eat, gone before the Chevy Trucks hawker across the street even finishes his spiel.
Up Nort Shoreman’s Lunch, The Blue Barn, $9.75, battered northern pike in a fresh tomato sauce with fried potatoes and corn, finished with smoked pepper tartar sauce
This is an actual meal, although not all the pieces fit together. The fish gets a little kick from the pepper tartar sauce and the corn was a nice touch, but the tomato sauce everything was floating on was a confusing addition.
Cannoli, Mancini’s Al Fresco, $3.25 for 1 mini, $4 for a large, $6 for 3 minis, pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese
These demure Italian pastries can’t compete with all the over-the-top options vying for attention and stomach space. They were a decent version of the classic, just not a standout you’d walk across the fairgrounds to search out.
Chilled Bread Pudding, Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, $6, Custardy bread pudding baked and served chilled — sundae-style — with a warm glaze/dunking sauce and a choice of crunchy “Moon Gravel” condiments.
It's a little unnerving to see your bread pudding scooped out of an ice cream bucket in one solid sphere, but the build-your-own component of this standby makes it a cool addition to the state fair repertoire. We went traditional with a sweet corn bread base, caramel sauce, and rum-soaked raisins. Surprisingly adult.
Italian Dessert Nachos, Pizza Shoppe south side of Food Building, $9, Cinnamon sugar cannoli chips smothered with sweet ricotta cheese filling, topped with crumbled bacon, chocolate chips, and chocolate sauce
Ignore the “healthy” version of this sweet treat, which includes fresh fruit toppings, and opt for the “Bacon Chocolate” option. Served cold with chocolate chips and wonderful blobs of chocolate sauce, this dessert is a welcome change from all the hot, fried foods offered at the fair.
Grandma Deb’s Snicker Bar Salad, The Blue Barn, $6.50, Chopped Snickers® bars and Granny Smith apples tossed in vanilla pudding with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce
We hate to hate on a Midwestern classic, but we must on this hussied up pudding cup. Anticipating loads of crunchy fresh apple and Snickers niblets, we were sorely disappointed by the ratio of bland pudding and whip to anything with flavor and texture. (Don't let the photo above fool you, it was almost all pudding.) Fie, Grandma Deb!
Maple Bacon Funnel Cake, Funnel Cakes, $7, a funnel cake infused with bacon pieces, then topped with sweet maple glaze, a dollop of whipped cream, more bacon and a cherry
Get this! It’s not fancy, it’s not sophisticated, but it sure is good. The sweet and savory combination has never been put to better use. If you’re with friends, don’t even think about sharing; get one for everyone, or there might be blood.
Sara’s Tipsy Pies, Sara's Tipsy Pies, Food Building, $5-$6, Traditional hand pies with local alcohol-spiked fruit fillings.
Irresistible indie pie maker where five cute kids cheerfully man the booth. Tender and flaky, not too sweet, no fork necessary. Available in flavors like Irish (whiskey) apple and maple bacon apple. Salted caramel gets crunchy with rock salt and gooey a drizzle of the good stuff.
Chocolate Jalapeno Ice Cream, Rainbow Ice Cream, $5
Don’t let the unlikely combo fool you. As worth seeking out as mini donuts or corn dogs, the formidable kick of chile against the creamy cool of cocoa are the makings for a new classic. Implausible, yet irresistibly entertaining, like Laurel & Hardy.
Fire and Ice Kreme, Goertze’s Dairy Kone, $6, Soft serve vanilla ice cream with Sriracha sauce and corn chip crunch, topped with whipped cream
If you like ice cream, try this. If you like Sriracha, try this. Just as the hot sauce bite hits, the thick and creamy cool of the vanilla soft serve puts out the fire — and the salty crunch from chopped corn chips leaves your mouth begging for the cycle to begin again.
Cowboy Bites, Frontier Bar, $6, Sweet corn kernels, bacon, jalapeños, and cream cheese blended into bite-sized balls, breaded and fried, and served with ranch dipping sauce.
Deep-fried batter as the substrait for anything beneath is cliche and a little weary. These live up to nothing more than that, but if you long for the deep fried ball of whatevertheheck, then this is your nirvana. A lake of bottled ranch arrives on the side for dippin’, natch.
Deep Fried Ribs, Ball Park Cafe, $9, Smoked baby back ribs, breaded, fried and served with BBQ sauce.
Why? Ribs are meant for smoke and spice and everything nice, not a deep fryer run amok. When you wrap a rib in batter and fry it, you strip away its very ribness — that essential crust of spice that gives way to tender-to-the-bone pig meat. The side sauce was an anemic, sweet glaze, making this one big gut punch to pitmasters the world round.
Limerick Stix, O’Gara’s at the Fair, $8, A blend of pimento cheese and cayenne pepper coated in a corn meal mix, deep-fried, and served with custom dipping sauce
Small, deep fried sticks, coated in a light cornmeal batter, filled with salty, pimento cheese with a light creamy dipping sauce make the Limerick Stix the perfect snack to satisfy deep-fried cravings without leading to overly-bloated feelings of regret. Enough for two people to share and fairly easy to eat on foot while heading to the next destination.
Totchos, Boulevard Grill, $8, Tater tots smothered in cheddar cheese sauce with seasoned sour cream, bacon bits, and green onions (chicken or taco-style beef optional). Gluten-free.
Over the river and through the . . . entrance to the horse arena? Whatever route you take, it is worth the trek to Boulevard Grill in the west end of the Warner Coliseum. Round tots covered in melty cheese sauce with just-seasoned-enough sour cream, covered in chicken or beef (or both if you ask)—the Totchos are the poster child for MN State Fair comfort food.
Wine fried Kalettes, Minnesota Wine Country, $9, Battered kale, fried crispy in wine and served with sweet Thai chili sauce
We like kale enough to like it battered and fried, but not for almost ten bucks. Besides, if you're going to batter and fry something, shouldn't it be cheese and/or potato? We rest our case.
Grilled Venetian style pizza, Mancini’s al Fresco, $7.50, Grilled over an open flame for a crispy crust and offered in three varieties.
Surprisingly snarfable pizza with universally likable crisp-fluffy crust. Think of it as the Pillsbury Cresent Roll of pizza, and love it. Margherita is reasonably classic with not too much cheesy overkill and pretty, seasonal cherry ‘maters.
Island Slaw, Island Noodles, $9, coleslaw with pineapple, mandarin oranges, sugar snap peas and spinach, topped with teriyaki chicken, Sriracha glaze and macadamia nuts
Just the thing for a hot day at the fair, this gussied up coleslaw is a welcome antidote to all the other stuff you’ll probably be eating. You’ll feel virtuous, but not deprived, with all the textures and flavors going on.
Salad Named Soo, Rabbit Hole, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $5, Cubed watermelon, basil, mint, arugula and almonds mixed with a chili honey lime sauce
(Available Sept. 2-7 only)
Seafood slider, Minnesota Wine Country, $9, A lobster and seafood mix blended with mayo, red onion, garlic, celery, lemon juice and breadcrumbs, served hot on a Hawaiian roll with wine aioli
You can take a break from the battered and breaded here (though there are cheaper and tastier options for a grease reprieve). A mildly spicy slaw adds crunch and the surprisingly flavorful seafood patty held up to squishing between the soft bun.
Sweet Potato Taco, Potato Man & Sweetie, $5 for one taco or $7 for two, Mashed sweet potatoes, black beans, sautéed onions, and vinegar coleslaw in a single flour tortilla
No frills, but perfectly done, if you like sweet potatoes. These tacos are not overfilled, making it possible to eat with a single flour tortilla—the last thing you need at the fair are boring, empty carbs taking up valuable real estate. Add Sriracha for the extra needed kick on this one.
Walleye Stuffed Mushrooms, Giggles’ Campfire Grill, $8.50, Jumbo mushroom caps stuffed with flavored cream cheese spread, walleye, three cheeses, red pepper, panko breadcrumbs, and a special sauce
Not quite worth the long line, the two stuffed mushrooms were topped with what appeared to be a walleye cake, but lacked the great Minnesotan walleye taste. Mushrooms were tough and hard to cut, spilling the special sauce, which had strong cinnamon undertones, all over the cardboard container. Do not attempt to eat standing up. Do not attempt to eat if you love walleye.
Minnesota Wild Rice Benedict Muffin, LuLu’s Public House, $6, a wild rice English muffin cup with sliced ham and a soft cooked egg covered with hollandaise sauce
When the friendly guy at the counter slid the muffin over, the egg, which was hidden under a blanket of sauce, jiggled like your grandma’s underarms. The muffin was leaden and doughy, and if the menu didn’t tell you there was wild rice in it, you’d never guess. Much better in theory than in reality.
Minnesota BEE-NICE Gluten-Free Muffin, Minnesota Farmers Union, $5, Minnesota-grown, pollinator-friendly blueberries, sweet corn, and honey with a hint of chipotle in a gluten-free cornbread muffin
Deepest condolences to those who are gluten-free, for this was a disappointment. Cold, thick, heavy, and hard to remove from the paper lining, this muffin (which showed potential with its variety of flavors) leaves a strange, almost bitter aftertaste.
Pretzel Croissant Sandwich, French Meadow Bakery, $10, Grilled chicken breast and ham, swiss, spinach, honey-mustard and chive aioli grilled and served on hot pretzel croissant. Gluten free.
Salty, squishy and seductive, the pretzel croissant is an inspired mashup that will have you looking askance at the regular old croissant from here on. Though the bulky chicken breast is excessive here— remove it and sandwich perfection is achieved.
Meatloaf Hash, The Blue Barn, $8.25, Blue Barn meatloaf sautéed potatoes, peppers, and onions, topped with scrambled eggs and béarnaise sauce
Consider yourself warned, this menu item will set the bar dangerously high for the rest of the day. Tangy bearnaise sauce covers fluffy scrambled eggs and baked potatoes that crunch as if they spent a hot second in a deep fryer. Thick chunks of veggies add the perfect amount of texture and flavor. Get here by 10 a.m. or you will be SOL.
Smokey’s Breakfast Burger, Smokey’s Char-Broiler, $7, seasoned sausage and hamburger on a corn-dusted bun with applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, melted provolone cheese, fried egg and a tomato slice
A tasty, if somewhat messy, start to your day. You’ll want plenty of napkins to wipe the egg off your face, and maybe your shirt. Probably not the best choice if you’re trying to impress someone, but then again, you have to have priorities.
Butter Chicken Samosas, Hot Indian, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $6, pastries filled with chicken in a tomato curry sauce and served with a side of green chutney.
(Available Aug. 27-Sept 1. only)
A contender for the best bite of the fair, they’re almost too haute for the folksy milieu. That is, if they weren’t such an ideal candidate for just this backdrop. These are what deep fryers were made for. And if you can’t or won’t eat the mind-bendingly delectable combination of butter and chicken, well, that’s sad. But the veggie version is a good close second. Instead of a gray paste of pulverized, overcooked peas, these remain the color nature intended, along with sweet pops of whole corn kernels.
Mango Lassi, Hot Indian, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $5, traditional blended drink of yogurt and mango.
(Available Aug. 27-Sept. 1 only)
Because the impregnability of grease hanging in air needs an equally forceful foil. Choose the terrific refreshment mango lassi for zingy fruit and that zips through fat and heat like a waterbug on a late August lake.
Kimchee n’ Curry Poutine, Rabbit Hole, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $8, Braised pork and potatoes smothered with curry gravy and cheddar cheese, then topped with kimchee and a poached egg
(Available Sept. 2-7 only)
Shanghaied Henri’s International Tacos, Shanghaied Henri’s, $8, seasoned chicken chorizo braised in tequila and red wine vinegar, served with green cabbage carrot slaw, quest fresco, pickled red onion, and cilantro sour cream on two flour tortillas
Anything braised in tequila and red wine vinegar should really pack a punch. It was a slight swing and a miss in the case of the Yucatan Taco. Somewhat bland chicken disappointed while cilantro stems interfered with the fresh taste we craved. Two flour tortillas is overkill for the amount of filling in the taco.
Chicken Tikka on a Stikka, Hot Indian, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $6, Chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, chargrilled and smothered in tikka sauce.
(Available Aug. 27-Sept 1 only)
Potentially the only sous-vide chicken on the fairgrounds, strip away the stick and this is high-class eating. Don’t though— the transcendental tomato cream sauce is also otherworldly orange, and keeping it off your lapel is easier while its impaled.
Indi Frites, Hot Indian, Taste of Midtown Global Market at International Bazaar, $5, Indian seasoned russet and sweet potato fries in a crispy batter.
(Available Aug. 27-Sept. 1 only)
What French fries want to be when they grow up, go to college, and return from their study abroad. Cumin, coriander, and cardamom render these heady as a magic spell on their own. But then, dunked in batter and deep fried? A fry experience of a lifetime. Spicy aioli ups this already significant ante.
Cowboy Dave’s Cluck and Moo, The Blue Barn, $9.50, smashed potatoes, roast beef, and grilled chicken covered with beef gravy, crispy onions, and mustard BBQ sauce
OK, it sounds weird, and it looks like last night’s leftovers with a scoop of mashed potatoes on top, but once you get past its appearance (and the name), the Cluck and Moo is pretty tasty, although not the dish you’d pick on a 90-degree day at the fair.
Sriracha Balls, Alton’s BBQ, $4 for 2, $8 for 4, choose from two fillings, either shredded chicken, corn, tomatoes, egg, and Sriracha or Sriracha cream cheese with corn, tomatoes, and egg, breaded in panko, deep-fried, and drizzled with Sriracha sauce
Remember cafeteria mystery meat? These were the deep-fried equivalent, with no discernible flavor except for the Sriracha. Even though we knew what was in the filling, we kept poking around trying to identify the bits and pieces, and in the end, all we could name for sure was the corn.
BBQ Pickled Ice Cream, R&R Ice Cream, $5
Overkill and melodrama is almost always a bad idea, and this unfortunate treat is proof. Grainy soft-serve ice cream with bleak chemical top notes and disconcerting chunks inspired grimaces all around. Neither BBQ, nor pickle, nor ice cream. Avoid at all costs.
Mac & Cheese Cupcake, LuLu’s Public House, $6, mac & cheese nestled in a breadcrumb crust, sprinkled with breadcrumbs, frosted with a dollop of Cheez Whiz
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, mid-morning munch, late-night snack — this little ditty needs to be part of our every day life. Don’t let the sticky paper frustrate you, just use your fork and go to town. Thick and creamy mac and cheese is surrounded by a light layer of breadcrumbs. Share with a friend; this cupcake is heavy in weight but will lighten your spirits.