MN State Fair

I am so excited to be a resident of Minnesota again during the state fair! I have certainly made trips back for it during the 9 years I lived in Chicago, but there’s just something about living here and hearing the constant buzz about the fair on radio and TV stations. It’s hard to have a conversation with anyone during this time where the fair does not come up in some way. And it was Emily’s first state fair ever! We had so much fun.

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There is certainly more to do than just eat at the MN state fair. We saw a ton of animals, which Emily LOVED. She and Joe also road the giant slide, which she didn’t love. But sights, rides, and shopping aside, the food always steals the show. We were lucky to be able to go to the fair with two good friends and their toddler, so Emily had company and we had more people to share food with. This is my #1 strategy if visiting the state fair: go with as big of a group as possible so you can try a larger variety of food! Obviously the group should consist of people you feel comfortable sharing food with.

The very first thing we got was corn. It is one of the few items at the fair that is not deep fried, but they make up for it by dunking the entire ear of corn in a huge vat of melted butter. It is truly perfection and a fair staple that we get every time we visit the fair.

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The next stop was a spontaneous decision by me and was something I have never tried. But I don’t know if you can possibly get more Minnesotan that hotdish on a stick from Ole & Lena’s stand. I decided to give it a try.

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Ole and Lena did a take on tater tot hot dish by skewering meatballs and tater tots on a stick, dipping it in what tasted like corn dog batter, frying it, and serving it with a side of sausage gravy. I would recommend this dish to someone who likes the idea of corn dogs (or pronto pups as they are called at the fair), but isn’t a big fan of hot dogs. I really love the idea of this one and it was tasty, but not outstanding. The meatball bites were delicious, but the tater tot bites were just mushy and heavy. I think corn dog batter needs meat to stand up to it.

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Next we made our way to a new part of the fair, the West End Market. I had seen and heard a lot of buzz about the Blue Barn, which seemed to be doing some interesting “foodie” state fair food, so I had to check it out.

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First we tried chicken in a waffle cone. This was the dish I was most excited to try and I really wanted to love it. I wish I could say I did love it, but I would say it was just good. It was basically small pieces of fried, boneless chicken with a spicy coating, covered in sausage gravy, served in a waffle cone. The presentation was very clever, but the issue with serving it this way is that it was difficult to get a true bite of the whole dish, so it didn’t really come together for me. I would just eat a bite of spicy chicken with gravy and then an occasional bite of waffle cone. I also think I would have chosen a different sauce for the chicken such as a maple syrup-based sweet sauce to offset the spiciness of the chicken. The gravy got kind of lost in the dish. Hopefully they will build off of this year’s experience and improve the dish for next year.

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The other dish we had at the Blue Barn was my favorite of all the new food we tried this year. And I plan to get it again next year if it returns: blue cheese corn fritters. The blue cheese was quite mild and the corn was really sweet. Not only did the adults love this dish, but the toddlers did too! The fritters were served with a chimichurri sauce that was bright and fresh and cut through the the heaviness of the fritter. And although I did like the chimichurri sauce, I also thought they could have taken this dish one step further from an indulgent perspective (since it’s the fair and we’re not here to eat light) and make some sort of a creamy blue cheese dipping sauce to drive home that flavor. Maybe next year they could serve the dish with two sauces and let the consumer decide which route they would like to go.

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While at the Blue Barn, I heard several people talking about the West End Creamery. It was a sunny day and it was starting to get a little warm, so we decided it was a good time for the kids to get some ice cream.

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We decided to try another new food item to the fair this year, the hot waffle ice cream sandwich. They literally wait until you are at the counter ready to pick up your sandwich before they toast the waffle so that you’re sure to get a hot waffle, but not a melty mess. This was another dish that I really wanted to love, but it was just missing something. I actually think it was missing a bit of salt. The ice cream was good and the waffle was okay, but the whole dish just tasted really plain. If there was a way to incorporate some chocolate or caramel with a bit of sea salt, that would have made the dish unbelievable. But Emily loves ice cream in any form, so this wasn’t a complete miss.

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By this point it was the afternoon, and the adults were ready for a drink. We went in search of the last state fair item I had heard of but hadn’t tried that I really wanted to find this year: mini donut beer. I definitely wasn’t sure if I would like it, but knew I had to give it a try.

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To drive home the mini donut flavor of the beer, they rim the glass with cinnamon sugar. This beer was quite enjoyable! It had a mild, malty flavor and the cinnamon sugar was strangely addicting. Although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to drink this beer on a regular basis, it did a great job of capturing the essence of the state fair in a glass. And honestly, I kind of wish we would have gotten mini donuts with it to dunk in the beer. I’m guessing it would have been amazing. Maybe next year.

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Our next stop was the perfect beverage for Emily to enjoy: milk. And I will state right now that the best way to visit the milk stand at the MN state fair is with a bucket of Sweet Martha’s cookies. I’m sad to say that we didn’t get any cookies this year. I really didn’t want to bring any of the state fair home with us (it’s such an indulgent day, I don’t like the indulgence to carry over into my every day life) and even the cone of cookies is so huge. And I can’t bring myself to throw away what we don’t eat because they are so good. But Sweet Martha’s cookies with the all you can drink milk is a state fair staple for sure. This year we just got the glass of milk for Emily.

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To end the day, we found a table in the Garden and enjoyed some live karaoke. We decided we had room for one more snack to share before we headed home. So we got cheese curds! These are the best cheese curds I have ever had. And they are consistent every year. If I were recommending food to a person who was attending the fair for the first time, the three things I think a person has to try are the cheese curds, roasted corn and Sweet Martha’s cookies. That sums up the Minnesota state fair to me.

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It was such a fun day and an event I look forward to every year. And it was so much fun this year seeing Emily experience it for the first time! She absolutely loved the animals, had fun playing on the tractors, and was enchanted by everything there was to see around her. And she enjoyed some good food as well!

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