It’s that time of year again: the state of Minnesota is overwhelmed by having to eat and drink its way through a square mile of dairy-soaked humanity. It’s as close to a bacchanal as a chaste Midwesterner gets, filled with strange delights and curiosities and, most importantly, foods that become part of a person’s story and traditions. With Minnesota United quickly becoming a reflection of its home state, it’s not surprising that you can find every single player in the foods of the Fair. Literally. Every. Player. Let me take you on a journey through the Fairgrounds and all of the foods that, somehow, are still safe for PK to eat without becoming a cannibal:
Darwin Quintero: The rotating Midtown Global Market stand in the International Bazaar
The novelty never wears off from having different restaurants in the same space switching in and out. You get a new delicious flavor every day, whether it’s the venerable zip of the Nacho Fries at Tacocat or the BBQ Split from Mama D’s, which sounds terrifying until you realize that it’s just mac and cheese, pulled pork, and coleslaw arranged like a banana split, then you eat it, and it’s phenomenal. Your day of pain and suffering as you walk thirty miles around the fair is worth it for this discovery. You do your best to ignore the fact that all of these foods had been available from their home stand in Midtown for multiple years to this point, and the fact that you had just put it off for ages to try them.
Francisco Calvo: Deep Fried Snickers Bar from Deep Fried Candy Bars by the Giant Slide
All of the component parts make sense. Chocolate is better when warmed up, as is caramel. Warm peanuts are fantastic, and nougat is basically just more sugar. The problem one gets from a warmed Snickers bar on its own is that, when melted, it runs all over the place. A sweet, corn dog-style batter—dusted with extra powdered sugar, if you’re nasty—to envelop it seems to be the best possible way to stop that problem. There’s even a stick involved! However, there’s still an underlying feeling of constant disappointment, and it comes from the fact that, in being too adventurous, it loses any semblance of sense. It’s the culinary embodiment of Icarus flying too close to the sun—fitting, then, that his wings melted.
Michael Boxall: Irish Tater Kegs from O’Gara’s Public House at Dan Patch and Cosgrove
The temptation is to just admit that New Zealand is as Australian as the Australian Battered Potato, but it doesn’t quite do justice given the strength of the new addition. Eating your way through a giant tater tot filled with corned beef, sauerkraut and cheese replicates the feeling of running head first into a brick wall in the best possible way. The Thousand Island drizzle and the vinegar of the sauerkraut bed add some bite that really pushes it over the top. The only issue afterward is that after eating that much potato, it becomes difficult for you to run more than six miles an hour.
Rasmus Schuller: The 1⁄3 pound slab of bacon from Big Fat Bacon on Dan Patch
When Big Fat Bacon first hit the scene, it was a no-brainer: a large slab of bacon, with maple syrup. Come on, of course it’ll be delicious. Turns out, however, that its first year or two it was kind of questionable. The bacon wasn’t crispy enough, rendering the fat underdone and lacking in the more nuanced caramelization to make the maple glaze have depth. As time went on and the booth showed up at different fairs, these issues got resolved. Now, it’s a standout. The meat of the bacon is perfectly done, and while it’s perhaps overly sweet with the dipping sauce you can still get yourself planning repeat trips year over year. With pork tariffs going into place, be concerned about this becoming more expensive over time.
Bobby Shuttleworth: Pork Chop on a Stick from Peterson’s on Judson
It never ceases to amaze how easy it is for you to screw up a pork chop, so when you see someone churn out delicious, juicy chops in assembly line fashion it’s right to tip your hat. It’s a bold statement, but you think it’ll be hard to top eating anything else on the day. It’s one of the few things you eat and say, “I should have expected this to be as good as it is.” The smoky flavor of the charred fat and the seasoning salt makes you feel invigorated, like you just made a penalty save after getting kicked in the face. The juices from the meat dripping onto your shirt add to the motif.
Matt Lampson: Chicken Breast on a Stick from Peterson’s on Judson
It’s not as juicy as the pork chop, and despite coming from the same grill and with the same seasonings, the flavor isn’t quite there. That doesn’t stop you from ordering it a few times—chicken is healthier than pork, and it’s worth trying something new every now and then—and thinking it’s decent but not great. You can’t put your finger on it, but you are left lacking. When you come back and order the pork chop, you realize the error of your ways. You won’t make that mistake again.
Angelo Rodriguez: Lift Bridge Mini Donut Beer from the Ball Park Cafe
Everyone tells you this beer is fantastic. It’s a cool, different flavor, with a cinnamon sugar rim and delicious spices. You order it. The cinnamon sugar rim is a nice touch, but as it dissolves into the beer you realize that it’s really just a beer. Your beer judge friend points out that, while it does make it a little bit more like a donut, the weird butterscotch flavor you’re tasting is actually diacetyl, evidence of the yeast not being propagated well. You finish the beer grudgingly, then try to order a Surly Furious. Turns out, Ball Park just kicked its last keg. When you get home, you check Twitter and see that Surly is going to start distributing to California soon.
Brent Kallman: An overflowing bucket of Sweet Martha’s Cookies
You brought your friend from Nebraska with you and made him suffer through hearing about how great Sweet Martha’s is. The two of you stand in an enormous line, waiting for what you know to be delicious and for his mind to be blown. As they overflow the bucket, you salivate unknowingly. The two of you dive into the cookies, and you are overcome with pride in your state for coming up with such an invention. “Meh, they’re alright,” your friend says. You assume he got one of the slightly stale ones from the bottom. He didn’t. He got a fresh one and thought it was just “alright.” You are no longer friends, and he has to find a different way home.
Eric Miller: All You Can Drink Milk from the All You Can Drink Milk booth
You bring your bucket of Sweet Martha’s to the All You Can Drink Milk booth and realize just how wrong your Nebraskan friend is. All of the milk that can be consumed in one sitting is the true pair for all the cookies that can be consumed in a year As your BDC (blood dairy content) approaches the legal limit for the state, you decide to get a little adventurous, step forward, and order chocolate instead of white. It doesn’t pair as well with the cookies, so you slam it and get back to the good stuff where you belong.
Jerome Thiesson: Cheese curds from The Mouth Trap in the Food Building
The crispy, slightly salty texture of the coating feels like home, quickly fading into molten, cheesy goodness. It’s everything you want as an upper Midwesterner. Plus, the Food Building has ample curb space and benches to sit on outside. It’s been a long day, so you decide to sit down. In the crazy hubbub of the sea of humanity, resting your legs allows you time for contemplation. All is well. As you get up, you realize that your hip has cramped up, rendering you unable to move. You go back to your thoughts.
Abu Danladi: Caramel Apple Sundae from Granny’s Caramel Apples in the Food Building
You hobble back into the Food Building and continue your culinary adventure, finding an underrated gem. Every good flavor you need can be found here. The tartness of the Granny Smith perks up the palate like a fast sprint. The cool of the ice cream resets the palate with a rich, churned base. The sweetness of the caramel takes over, working both to augment the other flavors and close it out as a success on its own. You wonder why you don’t eat this all the time at the Fair. When you try to get back up, your legs have tightened, making it once again difficult to walk.
Miguel Ibarra: Pronto Pup from any of the seven Pronto Pup stands
You’re a person of discerning taste. You know the genuine article when you see it, when you taste it. It’s worth seeking out from a mile away even if you’ve eaten your weight in processed animal for an entire day because you know how much you need a food on a stick to make your Loons fair experience complete. The slightly sweet batter and the snap of the frank inside just screams the State Fair. It’s a mainstay in your lineup, and you know for certain it’s a superior product to those garbage Poncho Dogs.
Romario Ibarra: Poncho Dog from any of the three Poncho Dog stands
You’re a person of discerning taste. You know the genuine article when you see it, when you taste it. It’s worth seeking out from a mile away even if you’ve eaten your weight in processed animal for an entire day because you know how much you need a food on a stick to make your Loons fair experience complete. The slightly sweet batter and the snap of the frank inside just screams the State Fair. It’s a mainstay in your lineup, and you know for certain it’s a superior product to those garbage Pronto Pups.
Kevin Molino: The 15-inch Big Dog Corndog from the Big Dog Corndog stand
You’re a person of discerning taste. You know the genuine article when you see it, when you taste it. It’s worth seeking out from a mile away even if you’ve eaten your weight in processed animal for an entire day because you know how much you need a food on a stick to make your Loons fair experience complete. The slightly sweet batter and the snap of the frank inside just screams the State Fair. Plus, you get to pay a lot and expect a lot of return for the size. It’s a mainstay in your lineup, and you know for certain it’s a superior product to those puny Pronto Pups.
Ethan Finlay: The Polish Sausage Corn Dog from Hand-dipped Corn Dogs on Cosgrove
You’re a person of discerning taste. You know the genuine article when you see it, when you taste it. It’s worth seeking out from a mile away even if you’ve eaten your weight in processed animal for an entire day because you know how much you need a food on a stick to make your Loons fair experience complete. The slightly sweet batter and the snap of the sausage inside just screams the State Fair. Plus, you get a little bit of the heartiness from switching to a Polish versus a standard hot dog. It’s a mainstay in your lineup, and you know for certain it’s a superior purchase compared to just buying a giant corn dog.
Alexi Gomez: The Fire Pickle Dog from Pickle Dogs, south of Adventure Park
You’re a person of discerning taste. You know the genuine article when you see it, when you taste it. It’s worth seeking out from a mile away even if you’ve eaten your weight in processed animal for an entire day because you know how much you need a food on a stick to make your Loons fair experience complete. But when you bite into it, you get incredibly confused. Sure, there’s processed meat involved, but why is it kind of sour? Why are you overwhelmed with spiciness? Why is there a bunch of hot juice flailing out? Why is it a pickle instead of a hot dog? Why does it exist? Why haven’t you thrown it away yet?
Ibson: Alligator Ribs from Bayou Bob’s Gator Shack
The idea of eating alligator is kind of frightening on many levels. It seems like it has a gamey flavor to it, and the amount of cartilage and hard muscle doesn’t seem like it would have a great texture. If it’s overcooked, there’s not enough fat to keep it from drying out and getting disgusting. In other words, if it doesn’t work, it’ll be the worst thing you eat all day. You try three bones anyway. In some spots, the meat is tender and cooks similarly to pork; in other places, it’s as dry as you feared. All in all, you give it a B minus.
Collen Warner and Collin Martin: Vegie Fries from the Vegie Fries booth
There’s a certain heartiness to the Vegie Fry, a weird melange of chopped vegetables all mashed together and deep fried. You can’t quite figure out where and why you’d eat it aside from the Fairgrounds—the extra work involved in making it seems to suggest an actual potato would be more versatile, while the component vegetables all lend themselves to better dishes elsewhere on the plate—but you enjoy it nonetheless. It’s tasty, it’s nourishing, but all the while, you keep asking yourself, “Why do they spell Vegie incorrectly? There’s an incorrect number of consonants.” It dampens your enthusiasm.
Fernando Bob: Bananas Foster French Toast from Hamline Church Dining Hall
It’s brand new this year so no one has actually tasted it yet, but it looks absolutely fantastic. It’s a familiar flavor—can’t go wrong with a hearty French Toast—and you’d assume that it’d be hearty enough to stick to your ribs and fuel you all day. The bananas and rum sauce should give it a little bit of the tropical exotica as well, adding to the allure. Besides, it’s from the Hamline, those church ladies have been making food for 120 years at the Fair and always make great stuff. There is literally no way this can go wrong. Right?
Maximiano: Ham Loaf from Hamline Church Dining Hall
Quick question: do you know anyone who’s actually been to the Hamline? If so, did they survive getting the Ham Loaf? Just because it comes from a legendary place and gets hyped accordingly doesn’t always mean it’s good. Sometimes it runs up fouls and, while looking good in theory, becomes frightening when you try it for longer than a couple bites.
Sam Cronin: Turkey Dinner In a Bowl from Salem Lutheran Church Dining Hall
Yeah, it’s further away from the rest of the action in the Fair. It’s why you haven’t thought about it in years. But you’re reminded that it exists, that you ate it one time, and it was everything that church lady goodness should be. It’s got perfectly moist turkey breast, those slightly overwhipped mashed potatoes that end up like a bowl of ice cream, buttery sweet corn, stuffing, a thick gravy, and—the real kicker—a cranberry sauce that cuts through all of the flavors with just the right tartness. It’s basically a KFC Famous Bowl, but with better intentions. It seriously could be the thing that makes your culinary experience at the Fair a perfect day. If it only wasn’t so far away...
Tyrone Mears: Lake Monster Brewzo Lager from Dino’s Gyros on Carnes
There’s a lot to unpack with this. It’s new, but from an old standby. It satisfies a need that you think you have at this point in the day, even if you figure there are 26 other options that could be better in different ways. You like something that’s different from what you’ve had, so you opt for... licorice in your pilsner? Other “herbal flavors?” This can’t be a good idea. But there’s sugar on the rim to at least make the start more palatable. You drink it, and it’s okay. Not great, just okay. If you have to drink it again, you’ll consider it as a gimmick.
Alex Kapp, Carter Manley, Wyatt Omsberg, and Mason Toye: The “Fruity, Spicy, Tart, and Funky” Flight from the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild in the Agriculture Building
Here’s the thing with the local sour beer movement: not all of them are going to pan out all the time, and even if they do, lactobacillus and brettanomyces strains are always fickle mistresses. It’s why you don’t drink a pint of a sour versus a snifter, and even at that it’s best to try them in small doses. Don’t go full bore on drinking all of these in volume. Try them out, see if there’s a good component to work with—a smart amount of malt flavor, a strong bit of spice that can be dialed back—and keep coming back to it in the future. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a favorite. Plus for Mason Toye: while it’s not recommended to break the law, the minimal police attention at the Fair makes underage drinking surprisingly easy with of-age friends.
Harrison Heath: SPAM Curds from the SPAM Booth under the Grandstand Ramp
While you recognize that, irrespective of context, the Spam Curd is probably objectively disgusting, you can’t help but realize that your entire concept of it is based around your belief that SPAM is a sick vestige of Minnesota’s history of doing things and subsequently doubling down when presented with evidence that it’s a bad idea. Hell, there’s even a museum for SPAM in Austin. You decide to try it with an open mind in the interest of giving everyone a fair shot. Nope. Not. Even. Once.
Frantz Pangop and Bertrand Owundi Eko’o: Cotton candy and a Sno-Cone from a stand on Machinery Hill
Your buddy Ian told you about this small cotton candy place that’s dirt cheap and makes Sno-Cones with that Tiger’s Blood flavor, the one that tastes like Swedish Fish with a little bit of ripe raspberry. He says it’s awesome, and there’s never a line despite it being a dollar less expensive for everything. The only problem is that it’s on Machinery Hill, so it’s far from everything. Ian assures you it’s worth it. You walk up there. The stand is closed due to a faulty generator. It took you 135 minutes to hike all the way up there to get cotton candy and a Sno-Cone, things that are in abundance all around the fair. You take the SkyGlider back to civilization.
By the way, notice that no one is the fire-roasted sweet corn. This is no mistake. This team still needs to get better.