The Best and Worst New State Fair Foods
With 32 new selections, MnMo food critic Jason DeRusha tells you what to try, and what to avoid
Photos by Jason DeRusha
At the Minnesota State Fair, new foods sell. There were long lines at every one of the 32 booths with signs reading "New Fair Food." For good reason? Eh. Not really. This year's list is underwhelming. But there are some gems worth adding to your list, some maybes, and some worth avoiding.
New fair foods to add to your list:
Chocolate Agate Ice Cream, Hamline Church Dining Hall, $5
Izzy's chocolate and caramel ice cream with chocolate cookie chunks and little chocolate "rocks" inside? It's awesome. Deep, dark, chocolate with decadent caramel swirls and the crunchy bonuses? Home run.
Spicy Pork Bowl, The Blue Barn, $9
First of all this isn't really spicy, but it is delicious. A huge portion that is easily a full meal for a fair worker or frequent flier. Great adobo pulled pork, beautiful charred salsa adds a smoky flavor, and the sauteed spinach is perfection. Wonderful.
Spam Curds, The Spam Can near the Grandstand, $9
This will be controversial, but I liked the cheese-flavored SPAM with a little bit of cheddar cheese on the outside of the cube, breaded, and deep-fried. It's salty, but not too salty, cheesy but not too cheesy. Perfect, fun, sharable fair food.
Minnesota Blueberry Aronia Coffee Cake Ice Cream Bar, Minnesota Farmers Union, $5.75
Awful name, delicious ice cream bar. It's intensely fresh blueberry with little chunks of coffee cake. Grand Ole Creamery in Saint Paul created this, and it's fabulous.
Barbeque Shrimp Tacos, Tejas Express (Food building annex), $10
Do you remember the original BBQ shrimp served at the original Tejas? This is that. And it's awesome. It's a chipotle barbeque sauce with a nice smoky spice balanced by a crispy jicama slaw. Only negative is the corn tortilla was falling apart, but such is life with corn tortillas. If you're into steak, I also recommend the chipotle-glazed steak in the Macho Taco, featuring a nifty horseradish/sriracha sauce.
The maybes of new State Fair food:
Rueben Dog, Pickle Dog, $7
Take a dill pickle, smear it with cream cheese and thousand island, add kraut and wrap it in a slice of pastrami. Why not? The crunch is nice, the cheese was good, if you're paleo or love pickle dogs, then you'll love this. If not: you won't. For most, it's probably not worth a special trip.
French Onion Monkey Bread, Blue Moon Drive-In Theatre, $7
Monkey bread is great. Cheese monkey bread is better. But dumping a ladle of French Onion soup over it seems weird. And it is. Weird. And messy. But strangely tasty. Both of my kids liked it, I liked it, but it's hard to get over the messy aspect of it.
Candied Bacon BLT, The Blue Barn, $8
This is mainly a maybe because there are so many other better things at Blue Barn, but I think this would be better if the bacon were not candied. It's not super sweetly candied, but this sandwich still leans sweet. The avocado spread is nice and so is the bun. Let me know if you like it.
Ghost Pepper Cheese Burger Quesadilla, Tejas Express, $10
I enjoyed this, but I can't ever picture myself buying a cheeseburger Quesadilla. Each half features two beef patties with a thick slice of non-melted ghost pepper (spicy/flavorful) cheese. There are jalapenos and a spicy mayo as well. It's an 8/10 on the Minnesota spice scale, probably a 6/10 for non-Minnesotans.
Carpe Diem, Midtown Global Market (International Bazaar), $6
The most-buzzed about new item at the fair gets a meh rating from me because it was such an incredible mess. This thing melted so quickly I got ice cream on the lens of my iPhone camera. The carp-shaped cone is adorable and kitchy but it's not crispy - it's soft like a cookie. So it's not a great vessel for ice cream, and the opening is so small it's hard to jam much ice cream in there anyway. The balsamic-roasted strawberry compote is good but it's near the bottom so you don't really get much of it, plus the vanilla is industrial-grade boring. Only available through August 30.
State Fair foods to skip:
Candied Bacon Donut Sliders, Minnesota Wine Country, $9
The glazed donut hole was dry and tasted more like a bun than a donut and the bacon was extremely sweet. The best part was the chocolate red wine ganache. Too sweet for me, and you can do far better for a dessert option at $9.
Sheep Dog, Lamb Shop in Food Building, $8
The hot dog itself was delightful, nice snap, nice lamb flavor. I even liked topping it with kale. But the quinoa was messy and too much, and the honey mustard drizzle overwhelmed the rest of the dog. Dial down the driz, maybe toast the quinoa, and you'd have a winner.
Minnesota Corn Dog, Gass Station (outside Food Building), $5
This is very affordable, and if you really like maple you might be into this. But, there's so much maple, I didn't really pick up the apple, blueberry, and wild rice flavors that are inside the hot dog. I did like the flavor of the corn breading, although it was quite greasy.
Bonus: New drinks to try
The biggest news at the fair this year is the explosion of beer options. Remember when it was novel to have craft beer? Now it's everywhere.
Schell's Red Citrus Sangria Beer, Schell's West End Market, $4.50/$7.50
It's a Schell's ale base infused with natural red wine sangria flavor. It starts sangria—not sweet—but deep fruit and red wine notes, and finishes with a malty ale flavor. The frozen sangria on top is fun. Share this one, I'm not sure I could drink the whole thing. But I liked it.
Funnel Cloud Beer, Mancini's, $8
Bad Weather Brewing from St. Paul made this copper-colored ale and infused it with vanilla notes. It's supposed to have flavors of toasted bread and caramel. I didn't get that, and frankly I'm glad. A slightly vanilla-flavored ale would go very nicely with a Mancini's steak sandwich. This is just a nice beer.
Barn Quilt Red Wine, Minnesota Wine Country, Part of $10 wine flight
Parley Lake Winery has been working hard in Waconia for years, and the Barn Quilt Red is the best Minnesota red wine I've ever tasted. Smooth, silky, jammy, delightful.