Monday, August 31, 2015

Eating Our Way Through the Minnesota State Fair

Every year, around 1.8 million people visit the Minnesota State Fair. This year, we added to this figure; technically just four of us, but as you will see below, we ate enough for many more. Here is a tour of our several-hour smorgasbord.

Pre-Gluttony Photo Op

Stop #1: Famous Dave's.

Our first food stop was at Famous Dave's. I would not have voted for a barbecue joint since we have so many great ones in Texas, but my husband wanted to stop here and it was right near the entrance - so stop we did. We had originally planned to try the Buffalo'd Bones, which was one of the new State Fair foods for 2015, but there was an ordering mishap and we ended up with both regular ribs and Buffalo'd Bones. I much preferred the Buffalo'd Bones, which were less saucy, more manageably-sized, and tasted interestingly buffalo-wing-esque, but my husband loved the regular ribs, so they did not go to waste.

Famous Dave's
Famous Dave's Ribs

Buffalo'd Bones from Famous Dave's
Famous Dave's Buffalo'd Bones

Stop #2: Fried Olives.

My poor sister-in-law does not eat pork and waited very patiently while we ate our ribs, so it was clear that the next stop needed to be for her. These fried olives had been a favorite of hers in previous years - stuffed with cream cheese, fried, and stuck on a stick - because it's the State Fair, and that's what you do. They were very tasty.

Fried Olives

Stop #3: Big Fat Bacon.

I'm realizing as I write this how incredibly mean we were to my sister-in-law, who had just a protein shake for lunch. Our next stop involved bacon. Big Fat Bacon, to be exact. A quarter pound of thick, meaty bacon which is par-baked, grilled, and maple-glazed, then sprinkled with a seven-pepper and sea salt blend and, like everything else, skewered on a stick. One of my favorite bites of the day - this bacon was some seriously good eatin'.

Big Fat Bacon

Big Fat Bacon
Where the Big Fat Bacon magic happens.

Stop #4: Cheese Curds.

Cheese curds, both fried and plain, are in plentiful supply at the Minnesota State Fair. My sister-in-law's favorites are at The Big Cheese. I posted this photo on Instagram, and somebody asked me what fried cheese curds taste like. The best response I could come up with is that they are salty, ever-so-slightly squeaky on the teeth, and sort of like string cheese only much better. When they are deep fried, the slight rubberiness that I associate with cheese curds nearly disappears, and they become more melty and delicious.

Cheese Curds

Stop #5: Totchos.

Totchos were another "new for 2015" food item at the Minnesota State Fair. Totchos are basically nachos made with flattened tater tots rather than tortilla chips. We got the chicken version - which also included bacon, cheddar cheese sauce (read: Velveeta), sour cream, and green onions. I liked these quite a bit, mostly because the tots were very crispy and played very nicely with the sour cream and green onions. I think others in our group were less enamored with them. More for me.


Stop #6: Veggie Samosas.

We actually ventured to this booth hoping to try either the butter chicken samosas or the tikka on a stikka, but they were out of both, so we tried the veggie samosas. They were surprisingly good, chock full of fresh-tasting peas and corn and nicely spiced. It didn't seem much like State Fair food, but I liked them, nonetheless.

Veggie Samosas

Stop #7: Honey Lemon Sorbet & Honey Sunflower Seed Ice Cream.

In the Agriculture Building, there is a sweet display of all things honey, including several plexiglass-enclosed hives with live bees hard at work. The ice cream stand right outside the building serves up honey lemon sorbet and honey sunflower seed ice cream, both of which we tried. The honey lemon sorbet (not pictured) was quite tart, but I liked it better because the flavor of high quality honey really shone through. The ice cream was interesting, too, but the honey was a bit lost in the shuffle.

Honey Sunflower Ice Cream
Honey Sunflower Seed Ice Cream

Stop #7: Tom Thumb Donuts.

My dear friend Kimberly, who also grew up in Minnesota, told me in no uncertain terms that I had to try some Tom Thumb Donuts. She was right; they were one of my two favorite things at the State Fair this year (the other being the Big Fat Bacon). Fresh and piping hot out of the fryer, dunked in a pile of cinnamon sugar, and presented in the cutest, vintage-y bag. Surprisingly light and pillowy, like donut-flavored cotton candy.

Tom Thumb Donuts
Time to make the donuts...

Tom Thumb Donuts 2
Tom Thumb Donuts

Stop #8: 1919 Root Beer.

My husband has been known to wax poetic about a root beer he grew up drinking in Galveston, Texas, called XXX Root Beer. We had read that Andrew Zimmern is a fan of 1919 Root Beer, so we thought we'd give it a taste. It was wonderful stuff - and would have been even more wonderful if we'd had room to make it into a float. It got my husband's enthusiastic stamp of approval.

1919 Root Beer

Stop #9: Corn on the Cob.

If you need a momentary break from the onslaught of fried and sugary foods at the Fair, the roasted corn on the cob is the perfect detour. Crisp, sweet, and buttery. Can't go wrong.

Corn on the Cob

Stop #10: Sweet Martha's.

Everybody - and I mean everybody seems to stop at Sweet Martha's for an obscenely huge heap of hot chocolate chip cookies. There are two sizes of cones and a bucket option, and whichever you choose will be piled so high you will be worried about spilling them everywhere. These were a smidge sweeter than I like my cookies, but I'd be willing to bet that few other fair-goers have this complaint.

Sweet Martha's Cookies
Sweet Martha's Cookies. 
I knew I had to take this photo before taking possession of this precariously-stacked cone.

Between Eating:

There are a lot of things to do at the Minnesota State Fair that have nothing to do with eating. However, as you can probably imagine from the grueling eat-inerary above, we did precious few of them. Two that do deserve mention are the Miracle of Birth Center, where you can actually watch farm animals giving birth and see all manner of adorable baby animals; and the Dairy Building, where you can marvel over amazing busts carved out of 90-pound blocks of butter to commemorate the Fair's dairy princesses. The lucky princesses get to take their busts home with them after the Fair ends. Princess Pound Cake, anyone?

Butter Bust
Buttery Likeness of Princess Kay of the Milky Way

From the cheese curds to the butter busts to the breezy summer evening, our visit to the State Fair felt like a quintessentially Minnesota experience. I'm hoping that we can make it into an annual tradition.

After Dark


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