The 2015 Minnesota State Fair Food Tour

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This story was underwritten by generous support from the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Was this the year the State Fair jumped the shark, or found its rhythm? Has the food gotten more ambitious or lazier? Yes, and yes, and yes again two times. Our 10-person team tackled a list of 59 items (our biggest ever) and discovered some unexpected gems (including an array of brilliant frozen treats), some throw-it-on-the-ground bad trainwrecks, about a tanker truck of Sriracha sauce, and a cooler, quieter brand of gonzo than the fried lamb testicles and ghost pepper wings of yesteryear.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

As always, this list truly calls it as we tasted it — you’ll find no shortage of mixed and negative reviews here. But there’s also plenty of positivity and outright raves, and we always hope that initial stuttersteps may develop into confident strides by day 3 or 4 (and while that’s sometimes the case, we also find, alas, that some stuff that started strong falls apart as the fair wears on.)

save-bwca-banner-2The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota is America’s most visited wilderness. Proposals for risky sulfide-ore copper mining now threaten this national treasure. Help gain permanent protection for this beloved canoe country by supporting the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and signing the petition.

Capsule reviews were written and compiled by James Norton based on tasting notes from the Wrecking Crew, except where noted.

Headed to the fair? Join our conversation about this year’s food — use the hashtag #HTStatefair on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram!

THE DELICIOUS DOZEN

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

12. Grilled Venetian-Style Pizza | $7.50 | Mancini’s Al Fresco

What makes a pizza Venetian? If you’re buying what Mancini’s is serving up, it’s a soft, almost flatbreadlike crust, big chunks of tomato, delicious stripes of char on the bread, and very little cheese. This is almost the polar opposite of the greasy cheesebomb pizza we’ve gotten used to at the fair, and for that reason it deserves a salute — it’s light and fresh in a very pleasing way. — James Norton

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

11. Salted Caramel Puff Sundae | $5 | Dairy Goodness Bar
Imagine rich, eggy vanilla frozen custard. Add a generous dose of viscous, buttery salted caramel, the kind that oozes slowly along the sides of the glass without mixing easily. Then … puffcorn? Like the cheesy “white cheddar” bits of styrofoam that slowly deflate in your mouth when exposed to saliva and pressure? Honestly, we loved the rich, wholesome sweetness of this combination, and the puffs added a touch of whimsical texture, but this sundae didn’t hold our attention beyond a couple of bites. – Maja Ingeman

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

10. Cowboy Bites | $6 | Frontier Bar

These cheerful little corn fritters with sweet corn, bacon, jalapeños, and cream cheese might not be quite as flavorful as you would hope, but they’re soothingly tasty when dipped into the accompanying ranch sauce. If you’re a fan of fritters (and many people are) these guys are about as friendly and agreeable as you can possibly ask for. — J.N.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

9. Vanilla Banana Split Dot Shake | $6 | Dippin’ Dots

I’ll admit my bias now: Dippin’ Dots are my jam; I tend to seek the creamy, pelletized flavor bombs whenever I head to a ballpark or festival. But while our team wasn’t unanimous in its love of Dippin’ Dots, we agreed on this: add them to an otherwise soft-serve-dominated shake, and you’re in business. The dots added texture and bursts of flavor to the plain-Jane shake, while the shake’s thick consistency kept the dots from spilling all over the ground. Choose your own flavors; we liked the vanilla shake with banana split dots for its wholesome, not-too-rich taste and confetti-like colors. — M.I.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

8. Honey Lemonade Sorbet | $6 | Minnesota Grown Honey

This treat made by Sweet Science tore our group apart … well, that’s an overstatement, but it did provoke some somewhat different opinions. Those who liked it hailed the rich, real honey flavor and the sweet-tart balance provided by the clean, natural lemon flavor of the sorbet. Those who disliked it claimed it was too sweet and / or too evocative of fine European cough drops. When push came to shove, the “pro” group was passionate and the “anti” group shrugged, so we’re putting it on the list and asking you to form your own opinion. — J.N.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

7. Buffalo’d Bones | $8 | Famous Dave’s

We were huge fans of these center-cut spare ribs that were meaty, tender, nicely charred, and coated in a lightly spicy, well-seasoned Buffalo glaze. Straightforward and bold (though verging on too salty), these ribs are a solid choice. — M.I.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

6. Cowboy Dave’s Cluck and Moo | $9.50 | Blue Barn

The main complaint you can level against this dish is that it might make more sense in cold weather, when its ultra-hearty components would warm the chilled depths of the soul. But other than that, this combination of mashed potatoes, roast beef and grilled chicken topped with gravy and crispy onions really hit the spot for us — it’s big, bold, and tender, and a serious savory treat on a day when “sweet” really romped overall. — J.N.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

5. Chocolate-Dipped Cherry on a Spoon JonnyPop | $5 | JonnyPops

This whimsical, cheerful, lovely little locally made treat was about three tons of fun packed into one small, chocolate-dipped popsicle frozen onto a spoon. From the Walker Arts Center reference of its name and physical structure to the bright, natural taste of cherry to the high grade of chocolate used by the JonnyPops crew, this thing was all class. — J.N.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

4. Walleye-Stuffed Mushrooms | $8.50 | Giggles’ Campfire Grill

We’ve had good luck at Giggles’ in the past, and this trip was no exception. While these mushroom caps — heartily stuffed with bits of walleye, cheese, and red pepper, and then topped with crispy panko — reminded us vaguely of ’90s hotel hors d’oeuvres, their textural balance and meaty texture won us over. — M.I.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3. Limerick Stix | $8 | O’Gara’s at the Fair

Before we sing the praises of the O’Gara’s Limerick Stix, it’s worth mentioning that we got a tip — substantiated by an eye-opening PDF — that these soulless, mass-produced things are poured right out of a U.S. Foods bag. Does that make them bad fair food? If you’re trying to eat local and handcrafted, yes. If you’re just looking for flavor — well, no. We thought these things were delightfully tasty, from their trashily addictive pimento cheese interiors to their delicately crunchy exteriors. They’re good enough, in fact, that they render their accompanying dipping sauce mostly unnecessary. — J.N.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

2. Butter Queen Coffee Ice Cream | $4.50 | Hamline Church Dining Hall

This was the first thing we tasted at the fair that sent us into gibbering bouts of competitive expressions of happiness. Every move made by this Izzy’s confection was balletic and perfectly poised, from the mellow, true impact of the coffee flavor to the gently (but not insistently!) sweet character of the ice cream overall. This is an ice cream we’d seek out at the store, bring home, and hide from our loved ones. — J.N.

espresso-float-fair-ks1. Espresso Float | $7 | Java Jive

In my notebook, the Java Jive Espresso Float is accompanied by the word “AMAZING” written in all caps, with a squiggly underline. The specifics are this: yes, it’s a lot like an ice-cream-meets-espresso affogato, but it’s a solid step further toward being a full-on milkshake — without losing any of that lovely, soothing, clean coffee essence that makes the beverage so truly tasty. This stellar treat comes in three sizes; for the sake of everyone in your group, we recommend that you commit to the large. Is it weird that our top two tastes of the fair are both coffee ice cream derivatives? Yes. Will we apologize for loving either of them so hard? No, we will not. — J.N.

save-bwca-bagFind the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters in the Dairy Building at the Minnesota State Fair. Spin the prize wheel; sign the pledge; take your picture in our photo kiosk. Help protect this great Minnesota treasure from proposed sulfide-­ore copper mining.

If you want to save the “Delicious Dozen” list to your phone, save it on Foursquare here.

***¡WILD CARD!***

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Fire and Ice Kreme | $6 | Goertze’s Dairy Kone

We weren’t expecting this. You won’t be expecting this. Nobody could expect this insane dish of rich vanilla ice cream studded with salty bits of what tasted like Fritos and fat splashes of hot sauce. Kudos to the Dairy Kone people for keeping the Minnesota State Fair properly unpredictable. Pretty much everyone in our group who tried this dairy-based insanity had the same sequence of reactions: making a bunch of crazy faces, pushing the dish away, grabbing the dish and trying it again, eventually declaring their respect for it while shaking their heads in disbelief. — J.N.

THE DISASTROUS DOZEN

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

12. Island Slaw| $9 | Island Noodles

The description of the slaw promised brightness and pizzazz. There was pineapple, mandarin orange, and (of course!) Sriracha. We didn’t taste any of those things — just boring mayo-slathered cabbage, a few lonely shreds of carrot, and desiccated cubes of sweetish chicken. The slaw lived up to the worst stereotypes of bland Midwestern food. — Joshua Page

sriracha-balls-ks11. Sriracha Balls | $4 for 2 | Alton’s BBQ

These balls — more on their contents, as far as we could determine, in a moment — were hot. Really hot. Like hot to the point of “obliterating all other flavors, textures, and even sounds.” If you’re the sort of person who would generally eat Sriracha with a spoon, you may find these wads of untasteable corn, cream cheese and / or chicken appealing. If you’re, well, normal, you likely won’t. MINNESOTA STATE FAIR HACK: Drag one of your balls through the sour cream of your totchos to create a spicy new treat. What …? I meant your Sriracha Balls. Oh you. — J.N.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

10. Grandma Deb’s Snicker Bar Salad | $6.50 | Blue Barn

Snickers salad is one of those things we might normally be embarrassed to admit liking. But when made well, it involves a perfect balance of sweet, tangy, crunchy and salty; what’s not to love? Blue Barn’s version demonstrated only two of the four attributes: cloying sweetness and a quick zip of sea salt (atop flesh-colored pudding and a Reddi-Wip-ish garnish). No crunch, no tang. We’ll take the church-basement favorite over this disaster any day. — Kate N.G. Sommers

9. Minnesota Iceberg | $4.25 / $7 for a large | LuLu’s Public House

We get that there’s a certain backwater appeal to keeping homemade, boozy punch mix in an ice cream bucket: for a weekend at the lake or a family gathering, it’s great to have a just-add-soda drink at the ready. The Minnesota Iceberg is not that. Frozen Bud Light Lime-a-Rita does not a good drink make — it left our mouths wincing at the sour, artificial-boozy-limeade shards punctuating an otherwise unadulterated Summit Pilsner. Adding something to beer should enhance it. In this case, we found ourselves disappointed by the distinctly unwelcome addition to our glass. — M.I.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

8. Prime Rib to Go | $9 | Coasters

If you want to get full on flavorless food, this one’s for you! Thinly sliced prime rib tasted like mass-produced deli meat, and the bread cone and sauteed veggies were equally taste-free. In short: solid concept, but terrible execution, made worse by second-rate ingredients. — J.P.

7. Doo Wop Dip | $7 | West End Creamery

The Doo Wop Dip, a strawberry and chocolate sundae stuffed into a croissant, sounded fancy, but turned out to be a boring gut bomb. The A Baker’s Wife croissant might have been good, but we’ll never know, because we gave up on the Doo Wop after a couple of bites of low-grade ice cream and even lower-quality chocolate. — J.P.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

6. Chocolate Jalapeño Ice Cream  | $5.75 | Rainbow Ice Cream

The jalapeño is initially missing in action in this frozen dessert, but it eventually asserts itself at the end of every bite, leading you to think, “Why are there jalapeños in this otherwise tolerable chocolate ice cream?” Every bite you take, you hope that you won’t taste anymore jalapeño, but then, with the inevitability of income tax, it returns. A bad idea, executed competently. — J.N.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

5. Tikka On a Stikka | $6 | Hot Indian Foods

We adore chicken tikka masala. Sure, it’s a hybrid dish with roots in the UK and northern India, and it’s accessible to the point of aggravating purists. But at its best, it’s a lovely meal — heat, depth of spice, comforting cream, tangy tomato, and tender chicken. And conveniently enough, it’s fairly easy to prepare a passable version and hold it without the flavors deteriorating, making it fine fair food. No luck here — our Tikka on a Stikka looked lovely and promised all kinds of flavor, but we were stunned by how bland it tasted and how dry the chicken was. Was the marination in yogurt skipped by accident? We don’t know, but we weren’t impressed with this limp rendition of a popular standard. — J.N.

turkey-jerky-ks4. Turkey Jerky | $4.50 | Josef Abel Meats

Instead of a thin, chewy piece of jerky, this came as a thick slab that was tough and dry — and not in a good, dried jerky way. It looked unappetizing, and didn’t have a strong smoky, jerky flavor. It likely would have been better thin-sliced like traditional jerky and smoked longer. — Amy Rea

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

3. Oslo Taco | $8 | Shanghaied Henri’s International Tacos

On one level, we could just let the demented list of ingredients stuffing this taco speak for themselves: “Seared braised, peppercorn-rubbed pork, Norwegian Jarlsburg cheese, pickled cabbage slaw, red onion, apple-smoked bacon, lingonberry relish, sour cream, all topped with pork cracklings and served on two flour tortillas.” On another level, it’s important to note that the combination of flavors and textures so created evoked a train full of toxic waste, driven by a drunken, suicidal maniac into a poorly maintained nuclear power plant. If you’re one of those masochistic thrill-seekers who love it when food goes bad — like, really bad — pull up a chair and take a big bite of crazy. — J.N.

2. Up Nort Shoreman’s Lunch | $9.75 | Blue Barn

Expectations were high for this fairly expensive, meal-on-plate offering from the Blue Barn, and boy were they dashed to pieces once we sank our forks into the over-fried, listless, flavorless fish pieces that comprised the heart and soul of this dish. The smoked pepper sauce did nothing to save the dish from its intrinsic faults. If you’re going to serve fish to a Minnesota crowd, you need to tread carefully and respectfully (see: the perennial success of Giggles’ Campfire Grill), and this offering didn’t cut the mustard. While not as outright nasty as most of the items on this list, the disappointing Shoreman’s Lunch merits its low ranking due to the expectations set by its price and title. — J.N.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

1. Deep Fried Ribs | $9 | Ball Park Cafe

We thought, frankly, that these ribs sounded like a completely misbegotten idea — barbecue is an art, and ribs, properly done, arguably don’t even need sauce, let alone a deep-fried exterior. But when we actually got a chance to try these things, we were impressed with how thoroughly they crashed and burned: All three components of this concoction were flawed beyond redemption. The meat lacked even a hint of flavor, and the fried crust succeeded only in coating our fingers in grease. The barbecue sauce (which tasted just of corn syrup and liquid smoke) actually made the slick mess worse. We poured one out for the animals that died for this travesty of a dish. — J.P. and J.N.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR BEER REPORT

Our team tasted seven new beers this year, most of which put novelty and sugar ahead of balance and sessionability.

Beers to skip include the Maple Island Two Headed Goose at the Chicago Dog booth in the Food Building. Although supposedly made with Bavarian pretzels, the overwhelming taste was green apple from acetaldehyde, indicating a brewing flaw. No evidence of pretzel was present, and even the yeast wasn’t able to provide any breadiness. Equally unsuccessful was the Schell’s Bloody Beer. Rather than being a novel product, this was simply a combination of half frozen Bloody Mary mix and half Grain Belt beer. It tasted like a watered-down bottle of stale V8 with no redeeming qualities. Finally, the Caramel Apple Pi Beer from the Blue Plate Group failed after trying too hard. The caramel-drizzled glass was rimmed with graham cracker crumbs. After a few predictably sweet sips, the cracker began to fall into the glass, creating unappealing chunks in the bottom and on the surface of the beer. Finishing the entire glass would have necessitated using a blindfold and an insulin pen.

The middle of the pack was occupied by LTD’s Pineapple Wheat, which had the unfortunate taste of canned pineapple — complete with can — but it grew on a few tasters, especially as we imagined ourselves sipping it on a much warmer day.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Successful beers were the bright spots in our day: Bent Brewstillery’s Fest Hop was able to cut the sweetness and richness of several new food items. Using a 2014 Homebrew Competition winning recipe, Bent has created something for hop-loving fairgoers. Available at the Ballpark Cafe, Fest Hop struck several bitter chords and yet remained balanced and crisp. Another highlight, found at Giggle’s Campfire Grill, was the Maple Bacon Brown from Excelsior Brewing. While not bacon-forward per se, the smokiness created the illusion of meat, and the maple flavor was authentic rather than derived from something found in the baking aisle. As opposed to the caramel apple beer train wreck, this beer elegantly avoided a sugary mishap. — Paige Latham

We’d be churlish not to mention Lift Bridge Mini Donut beer, a fair novelty that seems to be growing into an institution. A growler of this pleasantly sweet, malt-forward brew was sent our way on the eve of the fair, and we found that it did a beautiful job of setting the mood for the day to come. — J.N.

THE BEST OF THE REST…

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Dark Chocolate Key Lime Pie Bar | $5 | Key Lime Pie Bar

We’re just getting around to trying these pie-plus-chocolate on a stick things for the first time this year, and damned if they’re not delicious. The chocolate is actually of high quality, and while the first, thin-tip-of-the-wedge bite of the bar is too much chocolate and not enough pie, that is soon balanced out, and the result is pretty ravishing. — J.N.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Virgin Piña Colada | $7 | Manny’s Tortas

We’re not going to lie — at least 50 percent of the appeal of this expensive, non-alcoholic drink is that it’s served in a whole, carved out pineapple. The other 50 percent is that it’s a lovely, foamy, clean-tasting blast of fresh pineapple and coconut. We sucked ours down with great pleasure, and it wasn’t even that hot of a day — on a scorcher, it’d be a divine treat. — J.N.

Caramel Chocolate-Dipped Bacon Ice Cream Bar | $7 | Pat’s Place

Imagine a Dove dark-chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream bar. Now triple the thickness of the chocolate (none of that shatteringly thin business, we’re talking a legitimate layer), and load on some still-chewy bits of bacon and a schmear of caramel. Pretty nice (but not mind-blowing) effect overall — salty, sweet, smoky, tried and true. — M.I.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Maple Bacon Funnel Cake | $7 | Funnel Cakes

Funnel cakes! Either you like these sweetened, fried-dough confections or you don’t. We do, and we liked this one a bit more than the average specimen, thanks to its crispy texture, a sprinkling of slightly chewy sandwich-grade bacon bits (atop the funnel cake and in the batter), and a generous drizzling of maple-ish flavor substance. Subtle it ain’t, but fun it was. — J.N.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Sriracha Sliders | $7 | Sausage Sister and Me

Without any exaggeration whatsoever, no fewer than six different people approached us while we waited in line for our funnel cake and asked us where we got the Sriracha sliders that we were toting around. These jolly little things just scream “Fair! Fair!” apparently. Make sure you get yours sauced — the heat from the Sriracha balances out the cumin-heavy spice blast of the meat. These are tasty, and darned if they won’t fill you up in a hurry. — J.N.

Smokey’s Breakfast Burger | $7.50 | Smokey’s Char-Broiler

This is a serviceable, stick-to-your-ribs sandwich that will keep you going for a couple of hours. The quality of bun, bacon, and burger didn’t impress, but the caramelized onions added a tasty sweetness and brought the sandwich from “meh” to “solid.” — J.P.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Italian Dessert Nachos | $9 | Pizza Shoppe

Did you know that when Mick Jagger sang “You can’t. always. get. what you waaaaant,” he was actually singing about the lack of Italian Dessert Nachos in his life? Yep, super true. Google it. NO WORRIES, MICK, WE’VE MADE IT. I don’t exactly know how authentically Italian these are (… not, probably) or how high Antonio in Florence’s nose would turn up at the sight of these (… high, probably) but OHMYLORD these were everything I wanted them to be and more. There are roughly 8 billion (give or take five) different combinations you can concoct, given the plethora of toppings, but all come with perfectly dusted cinnamon-and-sugar pita chips and clouded dollops of cannoli filling. For our first option, we went with strawberries and blueberries (surprisingly super fresh), a lemon curd (?), and sprinkles because: aesthetics. The second: same base, bacon bits (have mercy), Nutella (HAVE MERCY), topped off with a zig-zag of chocolate sauce. Experiencing true joy was cool. — Elizabeth Welle, largely expressing her first-person experience, not that the rest of the group didn’t enjoy the dessert nachos, but we were sort of more moderated about it.

BBQ Pickle Ice Cream | $5 | R&R Ice Cream

In concept this stuff sounds terrible. In execution, the bits of pickle bring a nice snap and tangy counterpoint to an otherwise lightly sweet, creamy, soft-serve base. This isn’t something we’d choose to eat all the time, but for proof of quirky concept, this (sort of) worked! — M.I.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Totchos |$6 | Boulevard Grill

I’m not saying ALL my pleasure in life is derived from the moment that something smothered in gooey cheese touches my taste buds, but definitely some. Definitely most. These weren’t just regular tater tots, either, they were like Boulevard Grill’s ode to Taco John’s Potato Oles. There is seasoned sour cream involved because it was a true nachos party, and you get to choose between chicken or taco-style beef because this is America. It’s perfect. — E.W.

THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK…

St. Paul Dog | $5 | Daryl’s Dog House

The St. Paul Dog at Daryl’s Dog House had a good foundation, and they should have just stayed with it. A good beefy hot dog on a soft poppy seed bun was sent over the top by a melted white cheese of unrecognizable provenance, pieces of bacon, and both fried onions and French’s crispy onion pieces that sogged apart in the cheese. Too much happening that detracted from the good dog and bun. Sometimes basic is better. — A.R.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Mini Cannoli | $6 | Mancini’s
All these little cannoli did was bring back sad memories of Ole’s Cannolis and wishes that the latter would return to the fair. Not that Mancini’s version was terrible, but it was overly sweet, and the shells were not nearly as delicate as Ole’s used to be. On the other hand, since the scale of fair food tends to be enormous, it was refreshing to see a tiny version offered, an actual snack or small dessert size, as opposed to a pie-plate-sized serving. — A.R.

Stuffed Meatloaf on a Stick | $5 | Green Mill

We’ve roundly panned Green Mill’s offerings in the past, but this twist on a bready meatball with pepperoni was straightforward and filling, if not memorable or enjoyable. The side dish of marinara we received with it was ice cold, not the best way to enjoy the sauce, in our opinion. — J.N.

bread-pudding-fair-ks

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Chilled Bread Pudding | $6 | Blue Moon Diner

First, let’s point out that this is a “choose-your-own-adventure” dessert, with 64 flavor combinations of bread pudding, hot toppings, and “moon gravel,” so take our thoughts (on one 64th of the combinations) with a grain of salt. Actually, salt could have done this dessert a bit of good. Upon a recommendation by our cashier, we opted for the brownie-batter pudding plus some (under-)salted caramel-graham-cracker topping and roasted pecans as “moon gravel” (whatever that means), hoping they’d complement an otherwise sweet base. The result proved a bit divisive: for the sweet, caramel-drenched bread pudding followers, this sugar bomb hit the spot; meanwhile, others applauded the pudding’s texture but sought some salt to cut the sugar. There’s certainly something to work with here, but this particular flavor combination wasn’t quite it. — M.I.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Indi Frites and Butter Chicken Samosas | $5 and $6, respectively | Hot Indian Foods

The sauces served with the fries served up by Hot Indian Foods were bright and fresh — many of us wished we’d had the sauces to accompany other foods we tried — but the fries were overly coated, and chewy rather than crispy. — A.R.

At Hot Indian, $6 gets you two neatly wrapped samosas filled with overcooked chicken in an underspiced marinade. Their saving grace: A bright and tangy, herbaceous, cilantro-studded green sauce, served on the side, which we rated our favorite food item among the seven we had at the time. If your taste buds are anything like ours, get your hands on as much of the sauce as you can, then smear it on everything you eat. — M.I.

Sriracha Dog | $6.50 | Snack House

Tired of Sriracha yet? No? Just do what we did, and go to the fair, and that weariness will kick in, in a hurry. This is a combination of a run-of-the-mill hot dog, some onions, and hot sauce, and it raises the question: why not order the far superior Chicago dog? Why not, indeed? — J.N.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Steak Apizzaiola | $8 | Spaghetti Eddie’s

Thinly sliced au jus steak on a kaiser bun really needs no marinara, but the crew at Spaghetti Eddie’s have one-track minds and went there regardless. Although the overall quality of this sandwich could be summed up as “airport food” or “theme day at the cafeteria,”  the addition of caramelized onions went a long way toward making it palatable. — J.N.

everything-dog-ksBurger Dog | $6 | Gass Station Grill

The description, “ground blend of hamburger, hot dog, bacon, cheese and a splash of jalapeño,” makes it out to be the Frankenstein of cased meats. What we received tasted more like a low-grade riff on a cheddar brat. Our thoughts? “I’d rather grab a real cheddar brat from Sentyrz.” (or Clancey’s, or Gerhard’s, or Kramarczuk’s …) — M.I.

…AND THE COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE, MAYBE

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Wine-Fried Kalettes | $9 | Minnesota Wine Country

A clean and modern building so close to the workhorse of the Food Building, Minnesota Wine Country seems to offer respite to the hot and grueling drone of the surrounding streets. But the meager offerings, coupled with the highest prices on the fairgrounds, topped off with a twenty-minute wait (with no line, mind you), may have pushed us over the edge. The tiny order of Wine-Fried Kalettes we received was battered and quick fried and decidedly crisp. Missing was the flavor of wine or any excitement about eating it. We spent $9 on fried vegetables and far, far too much of our lives waiting for the order. This is the third year running that we have found disappointment (and empty pockets) at Minnesota Wine Country. When will we (and the rest of the fair goers) learn? — K.N.G.S.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Mac & Cheese Cupcake | $6 | LuLu’s Public House

Ah, the disparity between concept and execution: In this case, a gross-sounding concept actually played out well. The foundation — a cornmealy crumb crust — mostly stuck to the wrapper, dispelling any notion we may have had of biting directly into the thing. We found the noodles reasonably al dente and flavorful, the Cheez Whiz “kind of pleasant and creamy, but not really that important.” All in all, a mediocre snack. — M.I.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Pretzel Croissant Sandwich | $10 | French Meadow

Pro: Fills you up. Con: Costs $10. Pro: Classic combination of cheese, croissant, ham, and mustard sauce. Con: Mustard sauces squirted on with a firehose, gets everywhere. Pro: Rich and flavorful. Con: Greasy as all get-out. Overall: This probably isn’t what you came to the fair to eat, so you may want to give it a miss. — J.N.

sara-tipsy-pie-ks

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sara’s Tipsy Pies | $5 | Rhubarb Blue Hunny Do

A fruity summer pie lives or dies by its sweet-tart balance (as we recently discovered at our grandiose Nordic Ware pie tasting.) But this pie was all tart with little depth of flavor to complicate it, or sweetness to moderate it. — J.N.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Hawaiian Sunrise Shave Ice | $6 | MinneSnowii Shave Ice

The Hawaiian Sunrise shave ice was lovely to look at, but instead of the promised flavors of passion fruit, guava, and mango, all it tasted of was sugar. Ice, sugar, food coloring. — A.R.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Minnesota BEE NICE Gluten-Free Muffin | $5 | Minnesota Farmers Union

We appreciate the sentiment behind this earnest and well-meaning blueberry muffin, but mildly deplore the resulting baked good, which lacked any sweetness whatsoever, and tasted primarily of gummy cornmeal. — J.N.

Sweet Potato Tacos | $7 for 2 | Potato Man and Sweetie

Compared unfavorably (by multiple tasters) to baby food, these sweet potato tacos offered little more than gooey, ooze-like bites of sugar and spice. Desserty enough to be confusing, but not so much that they could be enjoyed as such. — J.N.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Seafood Sliders | $9 | Minnesota Wine Country

The best part of these small sandwiches was the fluffy, slightly sweet Hawaiian rolls that they were served on. The slaw and the seafood patty were forgettable, and the end result wasn’t particularly interesting, delicious, or … anything really. — J.P.

 Nitro Coffee | ($6, Large) | Minnesota Farmers Union

When done well, nitro cold brew is delicious. The nitrogen gives black coffee a wonderful creaminess (think Guinness from the tap). Sadly, this brew was not done well. It was bitter and tasted as if it was made with old, reused grounds. Besides a tad of carbonation, there was no evidence of nitrogen. Please don’t judge nitro by this terrible facsimile. — J.P.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

ABOUT OUR TEAM

This year’s Heavy Table State Fair Wrecking Crew courageously demolished more than 55 different items in the name of gastronomy. Our team included: Becca Dilley, Maja Ingeman, Paige Latham, James Norton, Joshua Page, Amy Rea, Kate NG Sommers, Isabel Subtil, and Elizabeth Welle.

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The Heavy Table team of writers, editors, and photographers has been documenting food and drink in the Upper Midwest since 2009.

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3 Comments

  1. Bridget 08/28/2015

    The surprise breakfast hit for us was the raspberry mocha frozenyish drink at the Farmer’s Union. We bought it since it was in the coupon book, and while it wasn’t a true frozen drink, it was tasty and sweet.

    Second nomination for the sriracha sliders as delicious and the samosas as just fine. We’d love more of the first, and wouldn’t eat the second again.

    Also—thanks for staying up late and writing this for those visiting on days 2-12 of the fair! It makes it easier to balance the new vs traditional picks of the day.

  2. You do a nice job of reviewing the new food items. But I wish you would also do a list of your top 10 favorites, not limited by whether it is a new item or an old one. There are so many food choices out there, Id like to see a review that picks overall favorites or recommendations,not limited to this years newly added items.