Oh, Labor Day. If you’re anything like me, you too are sitting on your couch, drinking some sort of green juice, wondering how the heck you survived the collective food coma that is the Minnesota State Fair.
They say the average American gains 2-3 pounds each year because of Thanksgiving. I would up that to 4-5 pounds per year for Minnesotans. Mostly because of the cheese curds. And my new favorite thing: deep-fried buckeyes.
These deep-fried balls of peanut butter and chocolate are a new staple for me at the fair. They are a gooey mass of chocolate/peanut butter surrounded by the soft, chewy texture of fried dough. A. Maze. Ing. But be warned, this is not a solo event, split it with at least 3 people or you won’t be eating anything else for a week – these babies are rich! You can find them at the same place you get deep-fried Twinkies, right between the two Spaghetti Eddie’s.
Not so stellar, however, were the deep-fried mac & cheese bites from Lulu’s Public House (new vendor this year). They weren’t awful, they had a nice cheesy flavor, and the breading wasn’t over powering, but they were more Kraft mac & cheese than anything else. Fine in a pinch, but Lulu’s had other offerings that were far tastier.
Like this deep-fried Lobster! Huge props to Lulu’s for not skimping on the lobster. There are nice big hunks of lobster here, surrounded by a batter that is more like tempura than corn dog, and the dipping sauce was delicious! Some sort of mustardy-mayo goodness – definitely worth a try.
An odd first for me this year, given how hugely popular it is, was the roasted corn from the giant Roasted Corn booth. And yep, totally worth the hype. It’s the freshest, juiciest corn you will ever eat.
Let’s talk about beer now. We’ve had a good amount of fried foods, and we really need something to cut the grease. I’m not a beer drinker, but I did have a chance to sample the S’mores beer from Giggles Campfire Grill. I was really hoping this beer wouldn’t taste like beer (since I don’t like beer) but more like an actual s’more. It didn’t. It was a super dark chocolate stout with a very bitter after taste. The presentation was adorable though, the glass is rimmed with chocolate and graham cracker crumbs, and a marshmallow floats in the brew.
Also from Giggles, we got some of the tasty Walleye Mac & Cheese. This one was a hard one to judge at first. The mac and cheese is high quality, and there are tasty chunks of smoked walleye as well as a fried piece of walleye that top it. They also threw some roasted corn and red peppers into the mix. The whole thing makes for a very complex flavor combo that takes a while for you to process, but is really good once you figure it out. I could have done without the fried bit of walleye in favor for more of the smoked, and while it was good, I don’t think I would order it again. After only a few bites, we all realized that having mac and cheese at the state fair is difficult because it fills you up fast and doesn’t leave room for much else. Would I eat it at a restaurant? Totally! The state fair? Maybe not.
The award for Thing-I-Thought-I-Would-Hate-But-Didn’t goes to the Jello Salad Ice cream from Izzy’s at the Hamline Dining Hall. It tasted exactly like jello salad with none of the weird texture of jello I dislike so much. Bonus points for flavor accuracy!
Disclaimer here: This is the deep-fried breakfast sandwich. I did not actually try this one, but am recording the reviews of my friends who did. I can say it smelled very strongly of maple syrup, which was delightful.
Our consensus on the deep-fried breakfast sandwich was positive. Both of the tasters said they would order it again, although it was a bit difficult to eat. Other reviews of this dish were negative, siting a great idea, but poorly executed frying technique, but ours seemed to be alright. Maybe the technique just needed some finessing.
A super delicious breakfast offering at the fair was the savory rustic scone from French Meadow. The texture of the scone was excellent, very flaky, and while there wasn’t a ton of ham and cheese (and something we suspect was bechamel sauce) the overall flavor was awesome.
A passable dinner option was the steak sandwich from Mancini’s Al-Fresco. The steak was tender (although we did have a gristle issue with one tester) and the bun was buttery and herbed. We did think it would benefit from some sauce, roasted veggies, something to add a little more than just “STEAK!” to the flavor profile, but if “STEAK!” is your thing, this is definitely for you.
The deep-fried baklava from Dino’s is pretty much everything you would suspect it to be. Sweet, gooey, and fried. I’m not sure the fried really added anything fantastic to the combo, but it did bump the novelty favor up a notch.
The meatball Cicchetti from Mancini’s Al-Fresco was way better than the steak sandwich in my opinion. The bread cone was fresh, and perfect for munching on with the tasty sauce, and spiced meatballs. It was a little tricky to eat without getting sauce all over your face, so I would recommend forking a few meatballs out of the cone before attempting that first bite, but it was really tasty.
The Caribbean-style lobster roll from Cafe Caribe was an interesting one. The one we sampled in the morning had no spice, nothing to help us figure out why this lobster roll was “Caribbean” as opposed to just a lobster roll. It was a good lobster roll (maybe a tad light on the lobster), but nothing Caribbean about it. Later that night, however, we did get some spice in the roll, so maybe it was just a mishap on their part. Or maybe they thing real Caribbean things are too spicy for a Minnesotan’s breakfast?
Finally, we have the most delicious turkey sandwich on the planet. How on earth you get turkey to be this juicy and this flavorful, I have no idea. But if you can do it, I’d really like an invitation to your Thanksgiving! I didn’t want to like this sandwich. The booth’s location is right outside the poultry barn, which I find to be cruel since the turkeys inside can probably smell the turkey cooking all day long, but this is definitely worth a stop. It’s the best turkey sandwich you’ll ever have, and definitely not needing any of the lettuce/tomato business I usually demand on a sandwich.
Planning your own excursion to the state fair? Here are some pro tips:
1. Travel in packs – the more people you bring, the more you can sample, and the less you end up spending over all on foods that were just plain tragic.
2. Get the State Fair app! It comes with a hand map and schedules to help you find whatever you’re looking for.
3. Buy your tickets early if possible – they go on sale at most Cub Foods before the state fair starts and are sold at a discount. Sadly you can’t get them once the fair is open.
4. Always always always use the park and ride. It’s amazing and will save you money, time, and stress headaches!