The 2012 Minnesota State Fair Food Tour

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

State Fair food is a perfect model for gastronomy as a whole because you’re pitting “do it as cheap as we can as fast as we can” against “let’s do something that people love.”

That’s the case just about everywhere that money is exchanged for food, but under Fair conditions, the broiler’s really on — large sums of money ride on the outcome of a couple weeks’ worth of business.

And so: Just as with the sinking of a luxury liner, you get to witness both the angels of people’s better natures and the devilish depths to which humans can sink.

We tasted more than 40 items (many of which were new this year – and don’t forget to submit your photos for a chance to win prizes and glory!). Let’s kick it off with the angels.

THE TERRIFIC TEN

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

10. Black Cherry Soda | $3 | Spring Grove Soda Pop

Rarely on our pilgrimage through the Fair’s hundreds of temptations and punishments did we ever collectively look back with longing, but Spring Grove’s black cherry soda gave us all pause. “I don’t even like cherry soda, but…” began about three separate comments of praise for this stuff, which is both natural tasting in a restrained way and joyfully sweet.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

9. Blarney Beans | $5.75 | O’Gara’s

It feels good to salute O’Gara’s for a gastronomic job well done in 2012, because in 2011, we ripped their Reuben something fierce. No matter — the past is the past, and these cornmeal-crusted fried green beans are an admirable balance of hot crispy exterior and assertive, fresh-tasting vegetable interior, plus a creamy ranch-chipotle sauce. A surprising coup for the Irish pub outpost. 

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

8. Lamb Fries | $5 | Holy Land

First things first: Yes, these were fried lamb testicles. Yes, we actually ate them. And, somewhat to our surprise, yes, they were actually pretty tasty. The tartar sauce-like dipping concoction they came with was superfluous — these little bits of shorn sheep-hood had a curried, herbal spiciness that was sophisticated and balanced. Our tasters wished the exterior had a bit more crunch, but the relative tenderness made the overall flavor experience a pleasant one. Order them. Don’t think too hard about them. Enjoy them.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

7. Jerk Chicken Legs | $6 | West Indies Soul Food

On paper this is a simple dish that barely merits a second glance amongst all the wacky stuff breaking out left and right as you stroll through the International Bazaar. In fact: It’s fantastic. The chicken is tender and richly flavored with a nice note of smoke and a lovely, crispy exterior char. In short, that lovely moment in food when the ordinary is made magical.

6. Lift Bridge Hop Dish | $4.50 | Ball Park Cafe

Lift Bridge’s newly renamed beer creation tasted just fine when we had it last week at Buster’s on 28th, but it tasted even better out in the wild on a warm August day at the Fair. Its hop kick tasted fresh and balanced, “as real pros would do,” someone commented. If you don’t typically like hop bomb beers, the mellow edges and overall control of this beer may win you over; and if you do, it may become a new go-to drink.

Dilley / Dilley / Cannon / Dilley / Heavy Table

5. Great Balls of Fire | $5.50 | Sausage Sister and Me

These gorgeously charred, richly flavored spicy sausage meatballs were best paired with the accompanying cooling cucumber sauce (the barbecue and curry sauces were a bit less successful, but also pleasant).

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

4. Cannoli | $4-$5.50 | Ole’s Cannoli

We loved Ole’s Cannoli when we previewed them, and we loved them out in the wild, too, as they were filled to order by machinery originally intended to create sausages. As promised, the shells were crispy and light, and the simple ricotta / powdered sugar / vanilla extract filling was light and creamy like cheesecake, not gritty or over-sweet. We were pleased too by the quality of the chocolate coating on the chocolate-coated cannoli and the dark (to the point of slightly burnt), strong Swedish coffee also served by the stand.

3. Northwoods Original Breakfast Sandwich | $5.75 | Giggles’ Campfire Grill

We didn’t try a lot of breakfast at the Fair, so take this with a grain of salt: This dill havarti, smoked salmon, and scrambled eggs dish may be the best damned breakfast at the Fair. When you first get this sandwich, just follow our lead: throw out the mostly useless generic bun and dig in with a fork. The eggs were soft, creamy, and fluffy, and the salmon delectable: nicely smoked, properly salted, and surprisingly tender.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

2. Ragin’ Ankles | $6 | Famous Dave’s

Building on the success of their peach glazed pig cheeks from 2009, Famous Dave’s presents pork shanks that wowed our tasters with their tender texture, perfect balance of sweet and spicy, punchy “pineapple rage” glaze, and rich pork flavor. Eating ankles sounds like a mistake in theory, but in practice, it’s delicious.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

1. Classic Walleye Roll | $8.25 | Giggles’ Campfire Grill

This Northwoods twist on a lobster roll won plaudits across the board. The finely chopped smoked walleye salad was a perfect balance of fish, lettuce, and mayo, each element presented with a freshness and sense of proportion that was doubly pleasing when considered with the thick, buttery brioche toast underneath. Flavors of dill, garlic, and caraway added interest and depth to this light, more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts blue ribbon winner of a State Fair dish.

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THE EVIL ELEVEN

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

11. Cranberry Wontons | $5 | Pham’s Deli

It’s imperative to make your State Fair dessert choice (OK, choices) wisely. On that front: Do you want to accumulate precious calories in order to eat an industrial chocolate syrup-drizzled wonton wrapper stuffed with a paste that tastes like strawberry cream cheese? If so, Pham’s is the place to go. These things make a cranberry flavor promise that their innards can’t honor.

10. Ostrich on a Stick | $6.50 | Chinatown Minnesota

If you love Salisbury Steak but you wish it came with a thicker, sweeter sauce, you’ll enjoy ostrich on a stick. These weird meatball things rated a collective moan of indifference from our group. The stray, unfortunate remark “I don’t give a **** about the ostrich on a stick” summed up the mood quite nicely.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

9. Porchetta Sandwich | $7 | Blue Moon Diner

Historically speaking, we love porketta, a Minnesota heritage food with deep Iron Range roots. We also love the Blue Moon Diner, one of the most reliable food-forward outposts at the Fair. Therefore it was a little heartbreaking to make the acquaintance of this weird, fatty, underflavored, tomatillo-smeared mistake of a sandwich. We hope we got a bad one; we hope we caught the Blue Moon Diner at an odd, unprepared moment in its otherwise stellar career. This is not a sandwich you can build a dream on.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

8. Schell’s Shocked Radler | $4 | O’Gara’s

The Shocked Radler met with unanimous derision from our group — this watery, vaguely grapefruit-like beer was reminiscent of a Leine’s side project, and our self-proclaimed girly girl beer-drinking staffer thought it was actually “Too sweet! It’s like soda.”

7. Paul Bunyan Bar | $5 | Ice Cream Parlor

If you’ve never before understood how an ice cream treat can be accurately described as “stupid,” step right up to this block of unremarkable vanilla ice cream on a stick covered with indifferent chocolate and toppings that include — here’s where it gets very evocative of Minnesota’s lumberjack folk hero — shredded coconut. Just one bite will get you saying: “What? Why? Who’s responsible for this?”

Cannon / Sommers / Sommers / Cannon / Heavy Table

6. Chicken Nachos on a Stick | $7 | Tejas

In retrospect, it’s difficult to explain what was so horrible about the Tejas chicken nachos on a stick since all the components (corn chips, nacho cheese, pico de gallo, chunks of chicken) were in fact present in this dish. It may be the way that the chicken lacked any character or flavor; it may be the way the basket of food felt thrown together with a lazy sense of indifference that bordered on hostility; it may just be that if you can’t make a ravenously good pile of chicken nachos when you have months to plan it, that something has gone seriously wrong.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

5. Pulled Pork Sandwich | $6 | Spam Burgers

The signage claims that this is “The Best Pulled Pork.” It is not the best. “It is so far from the best,” said one of our writers. From the generic bun to the dry, flavorless meat to the sweet, ketchup-like Heinz barbecue sauce, this is truly a dish that tastes “like it belongs at the concession stand at a high school football game.” Perversely, one of the most disappointing things about this sandwich is that it’s not even made from pulled Spam, which would have at least been interesting.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

4. Duke’s Poutine | $5 | Duke’s Poutine

We like poutine, a dish generally consisting of melted cheese curds and gravy splashed atop French fries. We were excited to eat more poutine. We wanted to like Duke’s Poutine. But our good intentions didn’t stand a chance. Poutine is a ready-made Fair food, but this particular incarnation seemed to be designed by an accountant, not a chef — a few measly curds and a watery, peppery gravy over a small pile of indifferent quality fries does not a poutine make.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

3. Bacon Ice Cream | $5 | Rainbow Ice Cream

You’d need to aggressively plumb the depths American history to find an injustice as egregious and outrageous as this crime against dairy desserts. The so-called bacon in this ice cream wasn’t salty. It wasn’t crunchy. It was vaguely chewy and so tiny that it was accurately described by one of our group as “not even bacon bits, actually more like bacon sand.” All that in a tiny scoop of poorly produced ice cream that a) costs $5 and b) looks much, much smaller and less impressive than the Bacon Ice Cream poster hanging on the wall of the kiosk.

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

2. and 1. (Tie) Cheeseburger Sticks | Spaghetti Sticks | $5 | Green Mill

Choose your poison — you’ll be challenged to explain exactly which of these foul eggroll-parodying abominations is more of an insult to thousands of years of collective human culinary endeavors. Is it the squishy, tasteless horror of carbs-packed-within-more-carbs of the spaghetti sticks? Or is it the punk rock middle finger to the classic American hamburger that is a bunch of gray, flavorless beef jammed inside of a wonton wrapper? To think that people were waiting in line — in line, mind you — to eat these things is a testament to the power of branding. These cynically conceived novelty items left our group confused and emotionally adrift.

(PRETTY MUCH) EVERYTHING ELSE, INCLUDING THE PRETTY GOOD…

Schell’s Emerald Rye | $4 | O’Gara’s

This is a beer you can build a home in. Well balanced, mellow, strong shouldered, and pleasantly powerful, it’s an approachable brew with depth to it and a testament to the talent that resides in the Schell’s brew team.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Deep Fried Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough on a Stick | $4.50 | Sonny’s Spiral Spuds

We didn’t include the deep-fried chocolate chip cookie dough on a stick in the top ten for the simple reason that we’ve written about it before and it’s almost absurdly obviously good. It’s really, really sickeningly good. If you want to feel bad about yourself for feeling good, this is a solid way to go.

Aamodt’s Apple Brat | $5 | Ball Park Cafe

Aamodt’s Apple Brat should just be called “Aamodt’s Brat,” because the apple is invisible. A few of our tasters psyched themselves into believing that an apple had somehow been involved in the brat’s creation (Perhaps the brats were stored near apple barrels? Was apple sauce open in a jar near the bun?) but there were no large pieces or profound apple flavors that indicated that these totally tasty, serviceable bratwurst had any real apple influence. Still: bratwurst! Delicious!

McGee / Sommers / McGee / McGee / Heavy Table

Sparkling Apple Cider Float with Cinnamon Ice Cream | $4 | Caramel Apple Sundae

The cinnamon attack of the Apple Cider Float’s cinnamon ice cream was so harsh that several of our tasters were initially put off. But by the time the ice cream had melted and blended with the sparkling apple cider, we were actually fighting one another to finish the dregs. Order this, and let it melt for 10 minutes before you start eating it.

Stuffed Olives on a Stick | $2.50 | St. Martin’s Olives

St. Martin’s Olives in the International Bazaar slings surprisingly good and extremely affordable skewers of stuffed olives on a stick — they pack a profound vinegar / acid kick that cuts through the grease of just about whatever else you’ve been eating and wake your palate up so that it can sustain another round of abuse.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Fresh Cream Puffs | $3 | Cream Puffs

Smaller than what you’d find in Wisconsin, and daintier, too, we liked these rich, sweet, relatively delicate pastries just fine. The chocolate flavor on the “chocolate” variety was mild to the point of irrelevance, so you may as well order vanilla, but you won’t go wrong either way. And other than Ole’s Cannoli there may be nothing finer at the Fair for pairing with a cup of hot coffee.

Badger Hill Minnesota Special Bitter | $4.50 | Ball Park Cafe

This crisp, dry, balanced beer pulled off what seems to increasingly be the Upper Midwestern beer’s stock in trade: being effortlessly easy to drink and clean-tasting without being boring or characterless.

Mocha Frappe | $5 | Farmer’s Union

It’s not totally clear what a mocha frappe has to do with being a local farmer, but to hell with it — this was a tasty, refreshing iced beverage that was properly balanced from the perspective of sweetness and carried a pleasant charge of natural coffee flavor.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Red Velvet Funnel Cake | $8 | Becker’s

This funnel cake is no joke — it’s a whole plate full of unapologetic red velvet / cream cheese icing / powdered sugar sweetness all up in your grill. Some of our tasters liked the crunchy, crispy edges; others liked the thick, cakey interior; all agreed that one plate was probably enough to feed 20-25 people comfortably. Order with caution.

Mocha Bar | $5 | Custard’s Last Stand

Creamy, coffee-flavored frozen custard on a stick. Dead simple. Very tasty. If you’re in the mood for this sort of a concoction, this incarnation will totally satisfy.

Hot Apple Dumplings | $6 | Rutana’s

We weren’t expecting much from this ice cream meets apples meets pastry confection, but the apples banged out a surprisingly strong note of flavor that dominated this dish in a pleasant way.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Jamaican Pattie | $6 | West Indies Soul Food

This brightly spiced, orange-colored, palate-kicking beef- or chicken-stuffed dish is like a pasty on vacation in the Caribbean — it’s a rich, meaty meal in a jacket of pastry crust, and it’s a joy to eat.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Gluten-free Risotto Poppers ($6) | French Meadow

We were deeply suspicious of these fried rice balls (as we would be of anything sold more on their dietary qualities than their flavor) but they weren’t at all bad. An herbed black bean flavor predominated to the point where calling them Mexican food balls or jambalaya balls would have been more fair marketing, and the underseasoned corn meal exteriors were hard to love, but the tenderness of the rice and ultimately pleasantly creamy flavor of the interior made them likeable. Not a home run, but easily a single.

THE SOMEWHAT MEDIOCRE…

Pour Decisions Pubstitute | $4.50 | Ball Park Cafe

Most of our tasters were thoroughly thrown by the dark color of the newly debuted Pubstitute, which fully concealed its less than 3 percent ABV and clean-to-the-point-of-empty finish. While I found it sessionable and pleasant after a hard day of hiking and noshing, other tasters dissented and declared it “chocolatey, watery, and flat.”

Excelsior Pale Ale | $4.50 | Ball Park Cafe

The “blunt-force hops” of this pale ale mark a beer that was deemed “solid but not a standout” by our crew. A little more body and / or subtlety would have been appreciated, but it went down pleasantly enough on a mostly sunny day at the Fair.

Cannon / McGee / Dilley / Cannon / Heavy Table

Doubles | $4 | Harry Singh’s

Chewy, soggy fried flat bread wasn’t enough to stop these traditional Trinidadian street food treats from tasting good — the admirably spiced curried chickpea filling carried the day and made this vegetarian snack a fine purchase.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Deep Fried Slider | $3.50 | Axel’s

This fried mini-burger divided opinion. On the con side: The fried batter exterior was heavy, the hamburger inside seemed to lack cheese, seasoning, or any acid (a pickle would’ve been great). On the “pro” side: It’s a deep fried hamburger, man! And at $3.50, it’s one of the cheapest “fill me up fast!” options at the Fair.

Sauteed Alligator and Fries | $8.50 | Bayou Bob’s

One of our tasters had recently returned from New Orleans with a palate honed to appreciate fine alligator, so it’s with some authority that we can declare Bayou Bob’s Alligator “basically OK.” A little funkier in flavor and more chicken-like in texture than might be ideal, these little bits of sauteed gator were exotic enough to spark discussion and savory enough for most of our group to go back for second and even third bits. The accompanying French fries had a pro (they were cut to look like alligators) and a con (they did not taste good).

AND THE MOSTLY STUPID.

Mixed Fried Fruit on a Stick | $5 | Fried Fruit

A very simple request: Don’t fry the fruit again, please. We could not taste the fruit because of the fried batter, and that largely defeated the purpose of eating it. Not bad, but not really sensible either.

Liege Waffle | $5 | Blue Moon Diner

The Blue Moon Diner gets little love from our team this year, and the Belgian-style Liege waffle isn’t much of an exception — although the mixed-in pearl sugar was correct and admirable, the waffles lacked the gorgeous, profound caramelization that makes the real execution of the dish such a treat. To boot, our particular waffle was thoroughly dried out. (Here’s where a tactical topping choice could’ve saved the day.) It’s generally not a good sign when the name of the dish is misspelled on the sign for the dish, and this unfortunately was no exception to that rule.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Honey Nut O’s Cereal Killer Ice Cream | $5 | Blue Moon Diner

The weak-sauce vanilla-meets-cereal bowl-leftover-milk soft serve ice cream that is the basis for this special new “Cereal Killer” flavor of dairy dessert was a bit of a downer, and the sprinkled on Honey Nut Cheerios didn’t exactly redeem it. Compared to the stand’s sweet corn ice cream, a letdown, but not “bacon” ice cream bad. Then again: Not much else was “bacon” ice cream bad.

California Roll | $7 | Shanghaied Henri’s

The fact that this nearly chewing gum-chewy panko-crusted pseudo-sushi isn’t in the Evil Eleven is a tribute both to how many other unpleasant discoveries we made this year, and how much worse than this grocery store sushi can get — at least none of the flavors tasted rank or rancid, and while the texture problem was a serious challenge, the sushi itself was palatable. Still: worth considering whether we need sushi at the State Fair. (PS: The answer is “no, we do not need sushi at the State Fair.”)

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Jalapeno Pepper Jack French Dog | $4.50 | Sonny’s Spiral Spuds

In short: This was what seemed like 4 oz. of hot dog in a 24 oz. bun. Even with the accompanying mustard, pepper jack, and jalapenos, it was a struggle to taste the tiny little hot dog drowning in this massive bread bathrobe. If you get it and strip off two-thirds of the bun, the snappy wiener may delight.

ABOUT OUR TEAM

This year’s Heavy Table State Fair wrecking crew bravely mowed down 40 different items in the name of gastronomy. Our team included: Katie Cannon, Becca Dilley, Maja Ingeman, Jill Lewis, Sarah McGee, James Norton, Kate NG Sommers, Jason Walker, and David Witt.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of a book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who eat them, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a daily video blogger for CHOW. His latest book is a guide to the food and restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul called the Food Lovers’ Guide to the Twin Cities. Norton has written about food for Culture: The Word on Cheese, Salon, Gastronomica, Popular Science, Saveur.com, Minnesota Monthly, and City Pages (as a weekly restaurant reviewer).

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49 Comments

  1. Many thanks to the entire team for once again braving the gastronomic good and bad of the Fair so we don’t have to. After following your tweets yesterday, I was eager to see what came of it all, and am glad to have this guide on what I must get, and what must be avoided. I hope there was enough Pepto Bismal to go around.

  2. Morchella08/24/2012Reply

    Thanks for doing the hard work for us! Giggle’s, despite the horrible name, has some of the best food at the fair. Also, don’t forget the giant $3 peach at the Produce Exchange across from the International Bazaar. Grab a handful of napkins and find a place on the grass where you can drip away and enjoy!

  3. Author

    You’re 100 percent right about that peach. We could / probably should do a Bite just about that one item. It’s also a hell of antidote to pretty much everything else you’ve eaten during the day, which is nice!

  4. I was eagerly awaiting this article and it didn’t disappoint. Thanks!

  5. Ryan Watson08/24/2012Reply

    I am glad other people out there know about those fantastic $3 Sweet Dream Peaches. Those (oddly enough) are one of my highlights of the fair every year. Can’t find a peach like that around here any other time of the year.

  6. Another nice refreshing snack: the $1 apple freeze pop @ the Ag-Hort building.

  7. Walleye on a stick in the food building was a joke. $8.00 for a 3 inch fillet of Walleye? Never again. Was good to see Manny himself preparing his delicious Tortas, however.

  8. Did anyone try the lamb chop on a stick from the Lamb Shoppe? I’m curious. Also, how are Sonora Grill’s offerings?

  9. I love the deep fried slider, and it’s served with pickle slices. You can see them right in your picture. Kind of seems like this is the year for meat. I can’t wait to try Great Balls of Fire, the ankles, the jerk chicken legs, and of course the classics, the corn dog, the deep fried slider, the turkey sammy, and I loves me some london broil. Good thing I’m going twice.

  10. Dave — Sonora Grill shares its space with other Midtown Global Market vendors. So they will be at the fair from August 27 – August 30, but on opening day it was Pham’s Deli.

  11. The beer “reviews” on this website are painful to read. You guys should seriously consider leaving them out of your otherwise enjoyable articles. Or, you should hire someone with the chops and vocabulary to do them correctly.

  12. Author

    J, you actually raise an excellent point that I read like this: “You don’t use Ratebeer or BJCP terminology and process to assess beer, therefore you are not qualified to express an opinion about beer.” The question is this: Would we be doing our readers a service if we drilled down to a dozen quasi- or pseduo-objective metrics every time we wrote about a bottle of beer, or would we be alienating the mass of our readership to please a small percentage who demand specialist vocabulary?

    As beer’s profile continues to rise, there’s a growing tide of specialist (and yes, sometimes snob) opinionmakers rising along with it. We don’t want to buy into that. We write for a generalist audience, and generally find that our assessments of value and taste are appreciated up and down the ladder of expertise as being reliable.

    All that said: If you have a specific disagreement over how we’ve assessed any given beer or any given anything, call us out on it – we welcome the discussion, and if your superior knowledge and vocabulary grants us and/or our readers a meaningful insight, we certainly welcome it.

  13. If you’re gonna call yourself “Shanghai” anything, you better be dishing xiaolongbo.

  14. By the way, awesome guide. Came in huge two years back (we fly out from Seattle), looking forward to use them this year.

  15. James:

    When “most of your tasters were thrown by the dark color” of a scotch ale, you need to stop and consider whether you’ve appropriately prepared yourselves for publishing a review without some serious qualifiers revealing your own ignorance. That’s about on par with eating a tray of lamb fries before you realized they were testicles. I can appreciate writing from a generalist’s perspective, but there still needs to be some basic competence if you want your opinion taken seriously. A new local brewer making its debut with what’s known to be an award-winning recipe deserves better, and your own reputation deserves better than bush-league comments about crayons.

  16. Author

    Welcome to generalist versus specialist experience – a generalist tries a dozen relatively common dark beers and finds that 10+ are dense and heavy, and thereafter associates that color with deep flavor. A specialist tries 100 dark beers, many obscure, and stops associating the two criteria. If you’re going to engage with a beer like Pubstitute on behalf of the public, that contradiction needs to be addressed.

    If you want to market a dark beer that is feather light, get ready to throw most non-specialist drinkers for a loop. When I sat down with the Pour Decisions guys, we talked at length about the color and flavor profile of the beer, and the fact that there would be a contradiction there for many mainstream drinkers was something they were vividly aware of.

    The “basic competence” question doesn’t enter into this – it’s a question of writing to show off knowledge and mastery, or to inform and relate to the general public’s beer knowledge. We do the latter, perhaps to a fault, as we’re far more afraid of appearing like arrogant pedants than journeymen in search of knowledge.

  17. James:

    But you yourselves didn’t address that contradiction at all. Mentioning it explicitly would have been far more helpful to your non-specialist audience versus what you actually published. If anything, you reinforced the misconception by linking “dark beer that is actually light and easy-drinking” with substandard. Worse yet, it’s not your publication’s first exposure to this beer, which, as you mention, you already profiled last year!

    Regarding “basic competence” – If I eat a lamb fry and later find out it was a testicle, I think I would fault myself for not knowing what a lamb fry is or bothering to find out pre-ingestion. If I ordered a beer with which I’m unfamiliar (but which I wrote about already last year?!) and its appearance is not what I expected, I think I’d similarly have to admit I didn’t know what to expect of a Scotch Ale.

  18. Author

    That’s a totally fair point, and I wish I’d dwelt more extensively on the flavor/color connection (or lack thereof). The challenge when writing anything, of course, is drawing the line between pedantry and useful education/showing of one’s work – these massive roundups tend to shortchange more detailed deconstructions, necessarily.

  19. The point you need to draw from my and “J”‘s criticisms:

    When I read on Heavy Table about DiNoko’s Chicago deep dish, I feel like I’m getting a valid comparison with what I’d find in Chicago.

    When I read on Heavy Table about a philly cheese steak from Jerry’s East Coast Flavor, I feel like the opinions here at least address how their product relates to one from Philly.

    When I read on Heavy Table about locally produced cheeses, I feel like I’m getting a good perspective on how those cheeses relate to others from around the world.

    But when I read what you wrote about Pubstitute and, unfortunately, the majority of what’s been written here about beer, I’m resigned to disregarding it as amateurish and helpful on only the most basic informational level. It’s clear you’re not expecting or intending to capture the hardcore beer nerd market, but I’d have a hard time recommending your site as a dependable one for casual beer information, either.

  20. Justin Tulane08/25/2012Reply

    James-

    With all due respect, I’m curious how you think reviews such as this http://heavytable.com/around-the-poker-table-summit-summer-ale-and-saga-ipa/ have any place in a serious food blog. Would you have written the same about wine? One wonders. Comparing a beer to crayons? Sorry, you are doing nothing for your readers, except perhaps letting them know that you are one of the many wine/food experts who view beer as a second class beverage.

  21. James-

    With all due respect, are you serious? I mean, is this a serious review http://heavytable.com/around-the-poker-table-summit-summer-ale-and-saga-ipa/

    One wonders if Heavy Table would write something similar if a new wine was on the market. Props to you for defending your writers, but let’s be honest. You are not doing a service to beer, or the people who make the beer (with the possible exception of Mr Agnew’s posts, or your readers that like beer. What you are doing, is helping to keep beer and the craft brew movement firmly a step below wine.

    I’d go beyond calling it amateurish; it’s a bit embarrassing.

  22. Mr Norton. I love your site. But, please take some of these comments to heart. You do have the power to influence the opinions of your readers. I’m assuming many of them are just starting to familiarize themselves with the wonderful world of beer. They deserve a more professionally stated opinion.

  23. “As beer’s profile continues to rise, there’s a growing tide of specialist (and yes, sometimes snob) opinionmakers rising along with it.”

    I would argue that as beer’s profile continues to rise, there is a growing tide of people who know nothing about beer that are making their opinions heard. Misinformation may be more dangerous than no information at all.

  24. Thanks again for doing the leg work of tasting and writing about the hi & Low lights of the fair. You Rock, this is exactly what I needed to forward on to some buddies! You are a gentleman and a scholar.

    Don’t let anyone give you a hard time about being too informal about the beer, it’s the fair! Anytime you can get dust and duck feathers on you, you don’t need the mental equivalent of Black-tie clothes.

    Also, Just for fun – I recently got evaluated at a food company… it turns out I AM a super taster after all. So fun all around.

    -Jade

  25. Author

    Jade, thanks for the kind words. Everyone else: thanks for the criticism, sincerely. You think seriously about beer, and you feel that our evaluations are inadequate or even inaccurate – that’s enough to be alarming to me and for us to collectively endeavor to provide a more rigorous editorial product as we move forward. A publication is a living, breathing thing and if it’s not improving, it’s dying.

  26. My walleye roll had a lot of bones in it – literally every bite. Was that anyone else’s experience? I also had to wait a few minutes for a fresh batch along with a few other people, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they made it on the fly and weren’t as careful.

  27. James et al: Thanks for putting the master list together again this year. I really appreciate the list of “not worth it items” as much or more than the list of good ones. We’re looking forward to heading to the Fair with my parents later in the week and I was a bit at a loss for what to eat/do. This definitely gets me thinking! Now if only Stanley’s Sugarbush Sodas would come back…

  28. Thanks to everyone at Heavy Table for doing the dirty work at the fair so we wouldn’t have to today! We skipped out on some things that we would have probably made stomach room for otherwise thanks to your reviews! Oh and by the way, Ole’s Cannoli did NOT disappoint! PS: As someone who is not a big beer drinker, I like reading your reviews as they give me a chance to hear about beers that I would not even know about otherwise!

  29. Jim and friends, this was awesome. I have long ceased being able to psych myself up socially to wade into the sea of humanity that is the State Fair, but I can live vicariously through your great piece. As for the beer fiasco, I can tell you that as a beer-drinker who also has a life (albeit the ghost of the one I had before kids), I appreciate the clear-cut descriptions of the beers. Example: that the “girly-girl beer drinker” of the group found the first Schell’s too sweet was actually pretty instructive for me as someone who purchases beer but also isn’t necessarily interested in hearing beers described in terms I personally find laborious and non-illuminating. That being said, I’ve seen plenty of reviews here about new beers that are snobbish enough for me to skim, so I think you’re hitting both ends pretty well. You’re obviously getting called out here by some frustrated new brewers (and friends) who want their new beers to do well. Hey, it just shows how important HT has become in this market.

  30. Adam Myszewski08/27/2012Reply

    As “beer snob” I thought it was a great article. The title “The 2012 Minnesota State Fair Food Tour” pretty much tipped me off that it was going to be an article about…food at the fair. The quick blurbs about the beer were fine.

    There have been dozens of articles and broadcast news stories written about the craft beers at the fair this year, and hundreds of reviews likely associated with each of those beers on a wide variety of sites. Beer snobs/geeks know where to find them, and have likely read a bunch of them already.

    I really appreciate James’s willingness to step up the editorial content, but long-winded beer reviews aren’t why I come to Heavy Table.

  31. James-

    You can write intelligently about beer without being a snob or using BJCP or Rate Beer/Beer Advocate lingo.

    I love your site, but have to agree whole-heartedly with gromit.

    There’s no harm in including a small bit of background on a beer style to help the average joe with no knowledge beyond lite beer.

    You obviously understood the Pubstitute. What’s so hard about saying what a low gravity Scottish ale should taste like? A sentence or two. No lengthy treatise.

    It’s not complicated at all. People can understand things like lite, rereshing, full-flavored, chocolate/cocoa, clean. I’d say all of those qualities are in the Pubstitute. No fancy lingo at all.

  32. D. Anderson08/27/2012Reply

    James,

    You say that you don’t pander to beer nerds. You say you are doing it for the common person. Yet your in house beer ‘expert’, Jason Walker was the one that posted the ‘crayon’ drivel. This is the same beer expert that writes for the new Growler mag…a very much beer ‘nerd’ magazine. You, as editor, even tasted the beer last year and said, and I quote, The Pubstitute is ‘…a very slightly carbonated Scottish light ale (dark in color, light in alcohol content) that drinks fast and smooth, like a malty vapor.’ This is a million miles from ‘water with a black crayon’. It has already been stated that you yourself understood the cognitive dissonance of the beers colour and flavour. Although taken aback after the childish HT tweek, I decided to avoid the Pubstitute. It was very lucky that my mate made me try some of his. Would I drink more of it? Absolutely. Would I seek it out? Probably not. However, the beer, in no short words, was exactly how you, James, simply described it last year (which in all discretion I didn’t see until after I tried it). It seems that Rick Nelson also agrees with you James and described simply as the Brewer above stated.
    http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/taste/167342125.html

    As editor, if one of your staff said the Wild Boar headcheese (at Butcher and Boar, which IS wildly intoxicating) was rubbish and they were confused by the concept of ‘head’ and ‘cheese’ what would you do? Would you educate them to the wonderful world of head cheese? Or would you have them/allow them to post nonsensical piddle that degrades your magazine much more than it could ever the dish (or beverage)? Frankly speaking, how is Jason ever going to be taken seriously by beer nerds now? James, you can’t have it both ways. You are either a food blog with beers reviewed by the common folk or you are a non-beer blog that reviews beer by an ‘expert’; one that preferably doesn’t chirp out sophomoric tripe. You can’t pick and choose when people agree or disagree with you. I really love the Heavy Table. I read it everyday. This however, is sub-par, below the belt ‘cheeky’ pandering, for, in the best case, a giggle at the cost of a new business which happens to be so incorrect, you yourself can’t even stand behind it. The HT is better than this.

    D. Anderson
    Minneapolis, MN

  33. As someone that is in the food review game and not having the editorial chops of James and Co(we at Well Fed take amateurish to new depths regularly), I will defend him and his staff to the last. I think also that something like these guides are less traditional reviews and more a conglomeration of the opinions of many people, which therefore precludes real specialist opinion. That said, your thoughts on the poutine are damn wrong and you should be ashamed of yourself. I will never read this site again.

  34. @Brandon – a person sitting next to me in the tented seating area behind Giggle’s on Sunday picked a LOT of bones out of his walleye roll. So no, it wasn’t just you. There were a ton of people there so perhaps you’re right, they were rushing and not as careful as they should’ve been about getting all those tiny bones out.

  35. The ragin’ ankles were awesome!

  36. Thanks for the great information! I’m now ready to face the fair.

  37. I’m starting to hate beer nerds more then know it all hipsters wearing beanies. I say this as a beer enthusiast. Obviously some Pour Decisions schills upset that there Beer sucks after so much early hype. Join Lucid in the soon to be out of business new breweries line.

  38. Wait a minute. I have never even tried a pour decisions and I started this debate. Dave, your hate is unwarranted, uncalled for and out of line. This debate was over…

  39. kermit adams09/03/2012Reply

    Would like to purchase seasoning from Pork Chop on a stick. Do they have a website?

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