The Tap: Handicapping the Food of the 2015 Minnesota State Fair

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This week in the Tap: Our columnist sizes up the prospects for fare at the Fair, and looks at local restaurant openings and closings.

shepherd-song-tap-logo-final-keylineThe Tap is a biweekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm. “We raise 100 percent grass-fed lambs & goats traditionally, humanely, and sustainably.”


The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

The Oddsmaker Weighs in: 2015’s Minnesota State Fair Food

For five straight years, we’ve barnstormed the first day of the Minnesota State Fair and reviewed the living daylights out everything new under the sun. (Here’s last year’s epic, in case you missed it.)

So now that the announcement of 2015’s items has sunk in, we’re ready to offer odds on how the new batch of food will pan out — to be tested and assessed, of course, on Day One of the fair by our dozen-person Wrecking Crew.

ITEM: Deep Fried Ribs
MAKER: Ball Park Cafe
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 5-to-1 against

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Smoked baby back ribs, breaded, fried and served with BBQ sauce.”

NOTES: Let’s say you’ve gone and cooked ribs properly, a not inconsiderable feat. What’s the next thing you do? You eat the ribs. Period. The idea that you’d take perfectly good BBQed ribs and subject them to breading and frying is a barbarism along the lines of sacking Rome.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

ITEM: Grandma Deb’s Snicker Bar Salad
MAKER: The Blue Barn

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Chopped Snickers® bars and Granny Smith apples tossed in vanilla pudding with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce.”

NOTES:  We’ve had this dish before at potlucks. It’s simple; it’s charming; and it works, although the pudding in this case seems like overkill as opposed to the Cool Whip we’re used to. That said, we’re hopeful.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

ITEM: Hot Tail
MAKER: The Rabbit Hole at Taste of Midtown Global Bazaar
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 2-to-1 in favor

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Roasted pig tail coated in a scallion ginger sauce.”

NOTES: The crew at the Rabbit Hole know their meat, and they know their flavor combinations … and there are very few proteins that wouldn’t taste delicious slathered with some combination of ginger and scallions. Our bibs are tied on and at the ready for this one.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

ITEM: Minnesota Bee-Nice Gluten-Free Muffin
MAKER: MN Farmers Union
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 2-to-1 against

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Minnesota-grown, pollinator-friendly blueberries, sweet corn and honey with a hint of chipotle in a gluten-free cornbread muffin.”

NOTES: There’s plenty of call for gluten-free food, but — and this is an opinion that’s likely to be contentious — traditional bread-based products aren’t the best fit. Flavor often suffers and texture almost inevitably does. Still, we’ve enjoyed MN Farmers Union foods in the past, and we’re rooting for this one to work out.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

ITEM: Walleye Stuffed Mushrooms
MAKER: Giggles Campfire Grill

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Jumbo mushroom caps stuffed with flavored cream cheese spread, walleye, three cheeses, red pepper, panko breadcrumbs and a special sauce.”

NOTES: Stuffed mushroom caps are usually a recipe for disappointment — they tend to get rubbery and are fairly bad vessels for just about anything. That said, we’re giving this even odds based on Giggles’ reputation alone. We’ve had hit after hit from these guys, and walleye plus panko tends to equal tasty.

ITEM: Italian Dessert Nachos
MAKER: Pizza Shoppe
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 4-to-1 against

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Cinnamon sugar cannoli chips smothered with sweet ricotta cheese filling, fruit, chocolate, nuts and candy toppings.”

NOTES: This dish will be 100 percent about the quality of the ingredients, and here’s our downbeat prediction: the strawberries are going to be waxen and tasteless, the ricotta cheese filling will be 95 percent sugar and imperceptibly cheesy, and the chocolate will be standard-issue State Fair garbage.

ITEM: Stuffed Italian Meatloaf On-a-Stick
MAKER: Green Mill
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 2-to-1 against

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Italian meatloaf stuffed with Mozzarella and pepperoni, topped with marinara sauce and a Parmesan herb blend and served on-a-stick.”

NOTES: There’s no reason why this classic flavor mashup on a stick shouldn’t work, beyond the fact that bad marinara is going to sink this ship … and we’ve been less than impressed with Green Mill in previous years.

ITEM: Burger Dog
MAKER: Gass Station Grill

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “A ground blend of hamburger, hot dog, bacon, cheese and a splash of jalapeño on a hot dog bun.”

NOTES: Pointless as this hamburger / hot dog crossover may be, there’s also nothing about this combination that promises failure — taking a lot of low grade meat, grinding it up, seasoning it with bacon and cheese and hot peppers, and serving it on a bun seems like a recipe for reasonably satisfying lowbrow pleasure.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

ITEM:  Tikka On-a-Stikka
MAKER: Hot Indian Foods at Taste of Midtown Global Market
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 3-to-1 in favor

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “Chicken marinated in spices and yogurt, chargrilled and smothered in tikka sauce.”

NOTES: It would take real work to mess this one up, and we’re generally fans of the Hot Indian Foods style. Marinated chicken gets better the longer it hangs out; chicken tikka masala is a natural partner for a skewer-based presentation. We’re guessing winner, winner, chicken dinner.

ITEM: Seafood Slider
MAKER: Minnesota Wine Country
ODDS OF BEING GOOD: 6-to-1 against

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: “A lobster and seafood mix blended with mayo, red onion, garlic, celery, lemon juice and breadcrumbs, served hot on a Hawaiian roll with wine aioli.”

NOTES: Nothing fails like seafood at a Midwestern state fair, although this dish cuts its losses by soaking up any off flavors with filler (breadcrumbs) and distracting tasters with fat (mayo), it seems highly unlikely this will be anything other than dry and disappointing. But you literally never know.

— James Norton


Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table
Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
  • Romolo’s in St. Paul | Our review
  • Four Firkins (both locations, Oakdale and St. Louis Park)
  • Rice Paper in Edina
  • Nye’s Polonaise Room (closing 2015)



St. Paul

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
  • 11 Wells Millwright Cocktail Room, Historic Hamm Building, St. Paul | Summer 2015
  • Lexington (new ownership), 1096 Grand Ave, St. Paul | Summer 2015

Greater Twin Cities Area and Beyond

The Tap is the Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled and published biweekly by the Heavy Table. If you have tips for The Tap, please email James Norton at