The corn is roasting, the butter is being sculpted, and the fryers are hot, hot, hot. As of yesterday morning, the Great Minnesota Get-Together has officially begun.
Here are the 35 new foods (and a few new drinks) of the 2017 Minnesota State Fair, judged according to our scientifically calibrated Skip, Shrug, Scarf! rating system. We ate the duds so you don't have to.
Cheesy Nacho Corn on the Cob
Roasted corn on the cob lightly coated with crushed Dorito corn chips and nacho cheese. At Texas Steak Out. $6
“Corn is great, but what if it were also Doritos?” This is the basic logic that led to the Cheesy Nacho Corn on the Cob from Texas Steak Out -- a somewhat glorious corn-on-the-cob mutant that feels like it was conceived after smoking a few joints and going to the gas station. That isn’t to say it’s terrible. This combination of ingredients could never be bad. It’s just a lot. A puddle of nacho cheese sits atop an already well-buttered corn cob with crushed cheese chips, and digging down to the corn takes a few messy chomps.
Flour tortilla filled with pepperoni, Italian sausage, risotto, mozzarella, and marinara, coated with garlic butter, parmesan, and Italian spices, baked and served with a side of marinara. At Green Mill. $10
After combining tacos and Italian food to miserable results in 2016, Green Mill is back on their bullshit with the Pizzarito. A weakly seasoned tortilla encases traditional pizza ingredients plus a beguiling layer of risotto. In their attempts to create something totally new in the pizza/burrito hybrid, Green Mill has basically just made a stromboli with grains in it. This fumbling concoction was one of the worst new foods we tried at the Fair.
Twist in a Waffle Cone
Chocolate-vanilla twist soft serve in a gourmet dipped waffle cone. At Waffle Cones. $7
Not every new vendor on the block is trying to kick in the door with fried abominations on a stick. Waffle Cones kicks it classic with an array of creamy soft serves delivered in their buttery waffle cones. The walnut and chocolate dip is preferred, but sprinkled options (both chocolate and colorful) exist, making this newcomer a welcome oasis in the culinary madness that is the State Fair.
Sweet Corn Blueberry Éclair
Kernza flour éclair filled with sweet corn pastry cream and topped with blueberry glaze. At Farmers Union Coffee Shop. $6.50
Though it looks like a Cronenbergian alien baby at first glance, the sweet corn blueberry éclair from Farmers Union is a beautiful dish. The iridescent slurry of blueberry on top is fresh and uncloying, and the dense, granular flour cake stands sturdy around a river of delicious sweet corn cream. The combination is uncharacteristically balanced for a State Fair food. Bring a beach towel though, ‘cause this one is messy.
Avocado slices dipped in a lightly seasoned batter, deep-fried, and served with chipotle ranch dipping sauce. At O’Gara’s at the Fair. $8
In an obvious ploy to meld Millennial eating habits with State Fair customs, the fryer-happy heathens at O’Gara’s chopped up some California avos and dropped them into a boiling vat of oil. The result is an odd muddling of textures -- the cool avocado sitting unyieldingly against a crisp, greasy breading with chipotle ranch dressing flailing to make up the difference. No one wins, and Millennials take the blame for killing another Boomer tradition.
Duck Bacon Wontons
Duck bacon, grilled sweet corn, and cream cheese combined inside deep-fried crescent-shaped wontons and served with dipping sauce. At Giggles’ Campfire Grill. $8.50
A spoonful of condensed corn soup fried into a wonton wrapper. Giggles’ latest affront to the deep fryer is a godawful Frankenstein of Asian food and down-home Midwestern comfort food. These are two twain that should never have met, evidenced by the fickle presence of duck bacon poking through the dairy bath. Not even one of cooking’s greatest delights can save this under-executed finger food.
Maple Cream Nitro Cold Press Coffee
Locally sourced heavy cream and maple syrup in a cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen. At Farmers Union Coffee Shop. $6.50
The big knock on cold press is its stymying bitterness, a problem Farmers Union solved with soft whips of heavy cream and a generous touch of maple flavoring. Maple Cream Nitro Cold Press Coffee is supple and silky. You think such a concoction would take 10-15 minutes of barista time, but no, the folks manning the taps at Farmers Union turn these out just as quickly as you can order them.
Dill Pickle Beer
American-style ale dry hopped with fresh dill, horseradish, and spices. Garnished with a dill pickle and havarti dill cheese. At Giggles’ Campfire Grill. $5
It’s long been a Midwestern secret that you can spice up any macro lager with a sidecar of pickle juice (see Nighthawks’ Pickled PBR), but Barley John’s and Giggles’ took it a step further, brewing a collaborative beer that’s literally hopped with dill and horseradish. Perplexing to some, enchanting to others, the Dill Pickle Beer is served with a hunk of havarti and a sweet gherkin, making it the lightest damn Bloody Mary you can buy. It’s a fun drink if you’re into fermented foods, and if you’re not, you’ll probably be revolted.
Spicy Thai Noodles
Rice noodles and red curry with coconut milk served with kaffir lime, basil leaves, bell peppers, galangal, onions, and tomatoes. (Gluten-free.) At Oodles of Noodles. $9
Absolutely do not bother elbowing through the claustrophobic chaos of the Food Building for these limp, soggy, and utterly forgettable noodles. Less melt-in-your-mouth and more fall-apart-on-your-fork, they’re like a pulpy pile of papier-mache that’s been doused with store-brand hot sauce. If there’s one impressive thing about this plate of pasta, it’s that something so spicy manages to be so bland.
Giant Gluten-Free Egg Rolls On-a-Stick
Exactly as described. At Que Viet. $6
When it comes to quirky cuisine on a stick, the humble egg roll doesn’t have the pizzazz of a pizza on a stick, the match-made-in-heaven obviousness of bacon on a stick, or the timeless classic status of a Pronto Pup. You’d be forgiven for overlooking Que Viet’s—big mistake. These bad boys have tons of zesty, savory pork packed into in a perfectly crispy, golden-brown shell. And to the dipping sauce, we issue an emphatic "Damn." It’s sweet and tangy and practically good enough to drink once you’re done dunking.
Bacon Up Pup
A Belgian waffle served on a stick with bacon in the batter, dipped in chocolate, drizzled with maple syrup, and topped with whipped cream and bacon. At Granny’s Kitchen Fudge Puppies. $7
Bacon-battered waffles with chocolate, maple syrup, whipped cream, and more meat on top? Seems kind of hard to fuck up. Still, these promising pups were all bark and no bite—mealy, cakey, overly sweet, and somehow not bacon-y enough? If we’re gonna order a waffle made with bacon batter, we’d like it to very obviously be a waffle made with bacon batter, thanks.
Deviation Stout Steak Taco Naan
Steak marinated in Modist Deviation 004 - Mexican Dark Chocolate Stout beer, grilled and topped with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, queso fresco, cilantro lime and jalapeño ranch sauces, and wrapped in warm naan flatbread. At San Felipe Tacos. $10
With this taco, the naan was kind of a naan-starter. It was way too big and far too dense and doughy for the rest of these ingredients. And that’s a shame, because the mouth-wateringly rich stout-marinated steak and just-right balance of bright cilantro and hot jalapeño were perfect. We ended up going after the meat and veggies with our fingers and leaving their sad, soaked shell behind… which wouldn’t have been so bad if this thing didn’t set ya back 10 bucks.
Brown Ale and Onion-Gouda Tipsy Pie
Onions caramelized in Lift Bridge Brewery’s Chestnut Hill Brown Ale with smoked Gouda cheese, baked in a pie crust, topped with an onion sugar and drizzled with a sweet beer glaze. At Sara’s Tipsy Pies. $6
We really wanted to dig this boozy, beer-soaked pot pie. And to Sara’s credit, the Lift Bridge caramelized onions were great. It’s the rest of the porta-pie package that came up short: the cheese a little chewy, the crust kind of damp. A clever oddity, to be sure, but overall it inspired a resounding “eh.” There’s just so much else here worth putting in your pie hole instead.
Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale
Fresh corn tamale with slow-roasted pork, mole coloradito sauce, and black bean and pineapple relish. At Tejas Express. $10
People peddle a lot of gimmicky bullshit in the name of fair fare, but this was the rare debut with no sticks or tricks—just an actually delicious, well-executed dish. The tender, juicy pork and fluffy masa in this tamale were beautifully bolstered by hearty, earthy mole and super-fresh veggies. At 10 bucks, it’s no steal, but as one of maybe three fair foods that won’t make you hate yourself—and that could hold up as a menu standout all year round—it’s also very worth it.
Sonoran Sausage: ONE.BAD.DOG
Tex-Mex sausage stuffed with pepper jack cheese, wrapped in bacon, baked, and served on a cornmeal-dusted bun with fresh corn salsa and a drizzle of avocado ranch sauce. At Sausage Sister & Me. $7
If we walked away from the fair sporting cornmeal-coated fingers and faces, it’s only because we literally scarfed down this incredibly good bad dog. Cheese-stuffed, bacon-encased, and dressed up with avocado ranch, it’s arguably got too many shticks for one bun. Against all odds, it works. The fiery pepper jack and smoky sausage are meant to be together, the bacon shell is the rare one that makes the food better rather than just saltier and more caloric, and the crema-like drizzle tops it off with a bit of brightness. Even in a sea of sausage, this is one worth tracking down.
Miller's Flavored Cheese Curds
Cheese curds in four flavor choices: original, ranch, jalapeno, and garlic. At Miller’s Flavored Cheese Curds. $15 for a sampler pack.
Let’s be honest: You’re not going to leave the fair without eating cheese curds. Miller’s offers four ways to get your fix: original, ranch, jalapeno, and garlic flavors. Try all four with their sampler pack, served up in a plastic pail with a handle for mobile eating. The original flavor is what you expect: squeaky, oozy cheese dipped in batter and nicely fried. The ranch and garlic flavors were underwhelming, but the jalapeno version was a big hit. It’s like an inside-out jalapeno popper, spicy but not painfully so. Our advice: Get a full order of the jalapeno curds, find the nearest beer vendor, and dig in.
Fall Guy Breakfast Panini
Capicola and scrambled egg topped with white cheddar on ciabatta. At the Hideaway Speakeasy. $8
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? Here’s another puzzler: Can you call a sandwich a panini if it’s not grilled? The Fall Guy didn’t show any signs of having hit the grill, although the cheese was melted, so microwave perhaps? Props for spicing things up with capicola instead of the usual suspects like ham or bacon, but at the end of the day, Italian cold cuts can’t redeem under-seasoned eggs and cold bread.
Cream cheese dip with crab meat, green onions, fresh red pepper, and water chestnuts, served with whole wheat flatbread crackers. At the Hideaway Speakeasy. $11
If the description of this dish makes your mouth water at the memory of hot, cheesy crab dips you’ve known and loved, snap out of it. This version is served cold and flavorless. There was much debate over whether the dip was made with real or imitation crab, or a combination (the consensus was a combo). Instead of the promised flatbread crackers, we got cottony, untoasted baguette. Disappointing, but not too surprising. After all, great seafood isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “State Fair.”
Honey-smoked salmon, cucumbers, capers, and cream cheese with fresh dill on pumpernickel, served with sliced lemon garnish. At the Hideaway Speakeasy. $12
There was nothing offensive about this sandwich (although the original name, The Swindler, had to be changed when it was deemed anti-Semitic). But there was nothing outstanding about it, either. If you like bagels with cream cheese and lox, you’ll like the flavors in this sandwich, which begs the question: Why not just serve it on a bagel? And with this price tag, the lox should be flown in from Zabar’s.
Red licorice dipped in batter, deep-fried, and dusted with powdered sugar. At Vegie Fries. $5
This newcomer gets points for a clever name and wacky concept. Chunks of Australian licorice are impaled on a stick, battered, and fried. Quirky does not equal yummy, however. The texture of deep-fried licorice is off-putting, like eating warm, almost liquefied gummy bears. The most enthusiastic comment they garnered was, “I don’t hate them.” The jury is still out on what Joan Jett would think of these delicacies.
Bowl O’ Dough
Scoops of straight-up, raw cookie dough that is safe to eat and available in four flavors: Brownie Batter Swirl, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (gluten-free), European Cookie Butter, Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake with Blueberries. At Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, located on the northeast corner of Carnes Avenue & Chambers Street, $8
"It's like ice cream!" A woman in line behind us tried to explain to her dubious husband. Except it isn't, it's just served in scoops like ice cream is. Otherwise, it's a sugar bomb that will make you feel like you're hurtling toward an insulin attack. That said, if you've got a friend to share this bowl o' dough with, we won't stop you from giving summer's hottest dessert trend a try. We liked the lemon ricotta and blueberry flavor, and could appreciate the Biscoff cookie-studded variety. But our favorite part was the accompanying "ice milk," a clear sign that we'd still prefer scoops of the real stuff.
Pie'n the Sky Malt & Sundae
A sweet and tart mix of crunchy, spiced “airplane” cookies and lemon curd, topped with dark chocolate drizzle, and served with vanilla ice cream as a sundae or malt. At Dairy Goodness Bar, located in the Dairy Building. $5 for the sundae.
Get this. Get this and never look back. Leave your family or friends or kids or whoever you brought with you to the fair. Take a few quiet moments to yourself and the 100,000 other fairgoers and luxuriate in the creaminess of real Minnesota ice cream, made all the better by a tart lemon curd, crumbles of Biscoff cookies, and a drizzle of dark chocolate. Everyone who ate this was instantly happier.
Italian Bomba Sandwich
Beer-braised pork shoulder with prosciutto cotto ham, fontina cheese, giardiniera (Italian relish), and aioli on a grilled ciabatta roll. At Mancini’s al Fresco, located on the north side of Carnes Avenue between Nelson & Underwood streets. $8.25
We wanted so desperately to like this giant meaty sandwich, which promised to be the substantive antidote to lots of fried, sugary fair foods. But then we picked it up, and oh how the grease flowed. A near endless dribble of meaty oil poured forth from the ciabatta like the tears of the Blessed Virgin. Meat was piled aplenty, but no other flavors came forward. The all-important giardiniera cowered in the shadow of overbearing porkiness. Where was the aioli? A sad squiggle of sauce peeped, unheard under the blanket of meats.
Cranberry Wild Rice Meatballs
Swedish-style meatballs with cranberries and wild rice blend covered with Lingonberry Sauce. At Hamline Church Dining Hall. $11.95, $12.88 with tax.
This is one of the few places at the fair where you get to eat off of real plates using metal utensils instead of flimsy plastic forks. And you get a whole meal for the price of two corn dogs. The tasty meatballs come with a choice of sides (mashed potatoes all the way), coleslaw, and a roll. There’s always a line, but it moves along efficiently, if not always quickly. You can tell everyone working here takes great pride in their outpost at the fair, which is celebrating 120 years of feeding fairgoers. The meatballs are available at lunch and dinner, starting at 11 a.m.
Deep-fried dough balls crispy outside and sweet inside, tossed in a sweet syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. At Dino’s Gyros. $6
Also known as loukamades, these Greek delicacies look like donut holes on steroids. But size isn’t everything; personality counts, too, and these guys just don’t have any. The predominant flavors here are “sweet,” and “fried,” without much else coming through. You can see the cinnamon, but you can’t taste it. One of those times when you think to yourself that it’s not worth the calories. “Makes you want some mini-doughnuts,” opined one taster.
The Donut Family
Mini donuts at the Mighty Midway. $5.
The past, current, and eternal king of Minnesota State Fair mini doughnuts will always be Tom Thumb – those spectacularly sweet, melt-in-your-mouth lil devils. The Donut Family, a longtime White Bear Lake favorite that’s just making its fair debut, gives T.T. a run for its money. Strewn generously with crystalized sugar, the golden-brown, half-dollar-sized rings warmly crumble to pieces, creating a mouthfeel that’s altogether heaven-sent.
Triple Truffle Trotters
Sliced peppers and bacon with black diamond truffle oil mayo on top of waffle fries. At the Blue Barn, located at West End Market, south of the History & Heritage Center. $7.50
Subtle truffle, this ain’t. Blue Barn’s truffle-oil mayo firehoses taste buds with an aggressive blast of truffle flavor. A bed of passable waffle fries can’t cut the overwhelming glob of mayo, and skimpy specks of peppers and bacon underwhelm. Those seeking to mainline truffle, this is your jam. Otherwise seek fries coated in something more savory and nuanced.
Wild Bill’s Breakfast Bake
Scrambled eggs, roasted chicken, and chorizo sausage baked and topped with salsa and a mix of lettuce, pickled red onions, and cilantro. At the Blue Barn, located at West End Market, south of the History & Heritage Center. $8.75
Real talk: I don’t pretend to know who Wild Bill is, but I’ll say this of his and all other State Fair eggs: avoid! These embryonic clunkers have all the textural charm of a hotel breakfast buffet. Flavor-wise, the Breakfast Bake packs some authentic taco oomph, though its uniformly beige sogginess doesn’t impress. It’s a filling, speedy, and (relatively) healthy day-starter – nothing more.
Breakfast Buddy Bowl
Waffle bowl filled with hash browns, maple syrup, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and bacon, topped with a biscuit, country sausage gravy, and green onions. At LuLu’s Public House, located at West End Market, south of the Schilling Amphitheater. $8.
For starters, please revisit the above egg tirade. Beyond that, the Buddy Bowl is a bland, carbo-loaded heap. Boilerplate gravy gloms onto a dry biscuit, one that rests atop limp hash browns and eggy clumps. The whole ordeal is cupped by a thin yet elastic waffle cone bowl… for some reason. Even the most Minnesota palate will be underwhelmed.
Chocolate Popover with Peanut Butter Spread
Hot out-of-the-oven chocolate popover with a side of peanut butter spread. At LuLu’s Public House, located at West End Market, south of the Schilling Amphitheater. $6.
This baby is chocotastic! Rich, deep cocoa essence permeates the piping-hot poof. Its delicately crispy exterior gives way to the chewy, bready bounty within. The oddly granular, honey-tinged peanut butter dipping sauce further justifies splurging on this fresh-baked delight. It’s the size of a softball, so pop ’er open with a friend.
Double Dose of Pork Belly
One-hundred percent ground pork belly burger topped with crisp smoked pork belly, pepper jack cheese, coleslaw, and pickled onions, served on a toasted bun. At RC’s BBQ, located on the north side of West Dan Patch Avenue between Liggett & Chambers streets. $7.
Let’s hear it for the noble hog, provider of incalculable meaty goodness, especially its deliciously fatty belly. It’s a pig-tummy twofer on this sammie, with smoky, satisfying results. The hockey-puck-sized patty boasts more flavor than your standard-issue burger, and it’s draped by a bacon-y blanket of even more pork belly. The cool punch of crisp, vibrant slaw and pickled red onions really set it apart.
Buttermilk scone holes filled with chocolate, marshmallow, and Nutella, deep-fried and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. At French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, located on the north side of Carnes Avenue between Nelson & Underwood streets. $5.
These generously sugar-powdered golden orbs contain molten multitudes. We’re talkin’ a gooey mélange of Nutella and marshmallow crème that bursts majestic when your teeth sink through the deep-fried shell. There’s nothing particularly sconey about this dish, but who cares? You’re basically getting artisan doughnut holes stuffed with melty, nutty, not-too-sweet filling worthy of the breakfast gods.
Adult Red Bull Slushie
LuLu’s Public House, located at West End Market, south of the Schell’s Stage at Schilling Amphitheater. $6.
Non-carbonated beer meets Red Bull meets slush machine. The result is a watery, morning-after Jager Bomb sensation that still manages to overwhelm with sweetness. On the plus side, it’s refreshing, highly caffeinated, and wallops potential hangovers at an 8 percent ABV clip. Getting over the aftertaste is its own kind of hangover, however. Energy-drink junkies will likely find it more agreeable.
Sliced bananas and sautéed bacon over tater tots, topped with peanut sauce. At Snack House, located in the Warner Coliseum. $9
Memphians weep at the all the culinary atrocities committed in the name of Elvis. Sure, the King famously loved the combo of peanut butter, banana, and bacon. But would he have gazed upon the glory of a basket of tots and thought, "This needs a few slimy rounds of banana"? No. No one would. So, this abomination went straight to the garbage.
Swine & Spuds
Bacon-wrapped pork belly and mashed potato croquettes served on a skewer and topped with a choice of homestyle gravy, Korean Bulgogi barbeque sauce, or sweet chili sauce. At Swine & Spuds, located in the Warner Coliseum. $8
Meat and potatoes make a much better team when they aren't separated by the sharp spear of a skewer. The individual components of this kebab are fine, but getting a giant hunk of bacon-wrapped pork belly and potato into one harmonious bite is too tricky for the average mobile diner to manage. The stick is supposed to make it easier to eat on the go, not harder.
Sweet potato, cinnamon, and nutmeg kneaded into a traditional churro dough, deep-fried and served with a side of chocolate or maple-brown sugar sauce or whipped cream. At Potato Man and Sweety, located on the west side of Liggett Street between Carnes & Judson avenues. $5
They're crunchy, they're sweet, they're inexplicably topped with rainbow sprinkles. What works in these churros is just as easily found in a bag of mini doughnuts. The maple caramel dipping sauce was a nice addition (hard pass on the chocolate sauce), but there's nothing discernibly sweet potato about them. We'd eat them, if the siren song of mini doughnuts weren't so much more alluring.
Grilled cinnamon bun sandwich with a bacon, peanut butter, and marshmallow cream filling. At the Sandwich Stop, located on the west side of Clough Street between Carnes & Judson avenues. $9
As painful as it is to admit that we enjoyed such a blatantly pandering flavor blast as this, we sure as shit liked it. This pancake-y sandwich has gooey peanut butter, obnoxious powdered sugar, strips of bacon, and an unnecessary syrup dipping sauce. And yet! We gobbled it right up, spending the ensuing minutes giving our hands a "State Fair Bath" of spit and napkins. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that the protein in the peanut butter made it health food.