State Fairs are often an afterthought. A relic of times past when most of us lived in rural areas and guessing the weight of a pumpkin was the best entertainment of the month. They offer variations on the same rides, foods and entertainment that you find at your local Memorial Day Carnival or County Fair and, I mean, how many people even go to those? But the Minnesota State Fair is so far from an afterthought that it seems to be on the minds of Minnesotans for the 50 weeks of the year in which it is not in operation. Plans are made, new foods are devised and longed after; then, just like that, it’s over again. This year, however, the Unvegan paid a visit to see how it would all stack up.
Swedish Meatball Smorgas – The Blue Barn
It’s not all about gluttony. Sometimes it’s just about doing something no one ever thought of. Like putting Swedish meatballs on a roll, pouring white gravy all over them and then topping them with lingonberry jam and dill pickles. I was smart enough to order without the pickles and it paid off in pure sweet, salty and savory deliciousness.
Mangonada Shave Ice – Minnesnowii Shave Ice
You wouldn’t think Minnesotans would be fans of shave ice since they live among it for so much of the year. Yet, the Mangonada is real and it is fascinating. Packed with mango syrup, drizzles of chamoy sauce, popping boba (for some inexplicably genius reason), spicy tajin powder and a tamarind straw (for some inexplicably strange reason). The straw was useless, but the rest of this was somehow light, refreshing, hearty and spicy at once. And with all that, it just somehow worked.
Giant Juicy Turkey Sandwich – Turkey To Go
Being a first timer, I couldn’t just go with new stuff. And, frankly, I wasn’t too excited about getting a turkey sandwich. But, my buddy told me it was well worth it and, well, it sure was. I added bacon and a sweet glaze to mine and it was unbelievably juicy for what’s generally the driest fowl of all. As I drove past many a wild turkey in the Northwoods, all I could think about was how juicy they could be in sandwich form.
Blu – Grain Belt
I love blueberries and I love beer. It makes sense that I would like a blueberry beer, right? Wrong. It seems to be that the special beers at the Minnesota State Fair are pretty much all sweet, but this took that sweetness way beyond balance and into juice territory. Good thing I had all kinds of savory and salty foods to counter that sweetness (and don’t worry, I still drank the whole damn thing).
Gizmo – Carl’s
The Gizmo is another classic, and yet it is churned out by pretty much the most nondescript cart in the whole fair. Sometimes you just know you’re good and it’s hard to go bad when you are an Italian roll filled with ground beef, Italian sausage, red sauce and a layer of melted mozzarella cheese to seal all of the goodness in.
Sweet Greek Cheese Puffs – Dino’s Gyros
Ricotta and Feta. Flaky phyllo dough. Powdered sugar. More than a drizzle of honey. I am a many who loves his sweet and salty combos and these Sweet Greek Cheese Puffs did more than satisfy that craving. It may have gotten a but too sweet toward the end when the honey congregated in the corner with the remaining puff, but these were a treat.
Zesty PB&J Sausage – Gass Station Grill
It doesn’t sound right. Nope, not at all. But if you’ve been paying attention to burger places lately, mixing peanut butter, jelly and some sort of spiciness is all the rage. It’s only natural that it made its way into a tube steak. While each bite may have been somewhat inconsistent, there is no doubt that this works. If they can get that peanut buttery and jelly-y goodness more evenly distributed, this sausage could take over the world.
Turducken Sausage – Giggles’ Campfire Grill
Not all sausages are created equal. Or is it something about the size of the sausage versus what you do with it? Regardless, the Turducken sausage didn’t just lose the battle of the sausages, it barely seemed to fight. It was too tightly packed, the grind seemed off and really all I could taste was the turkey, with maybe a touch of chicken. Perhaps in years past this may have flown, but in the world of the Zesty PB&J sausage you have to be oh so much better than this.
Passion Fruit Pilsner – Bent Paddle Brewing
Duluth is a cool city. And it sent a pretty cool beer down to the state fair. It’s not a sour per se, but does it’s best to harness the tartness of passion fruit and churns out a pretty unique pilsner that is not too sweet and not too sour. It’s not just right either, but it’s good enough to make the drinking enjoyable.
Bacon-Wrapped Pork Belly – The Hangar
You don’t go to the state fair looking to eat a balanced meal. But nowhere is that lack of balance more exemplified than in this pork on pork action on a stick. It was so unbelievably juicy, smokey and salty forcing the use of dozens of napkins lest your face runneth with juices that would later congeal into something resembling a wax museum. While this may be perfection in meat form, the critic in me did wish there was some sort of a sweet and acidic dipping sauce like apple cider vinaigrette or a cherry reduction to accompany this meaty concoction. Despite that, the universe seemed to pause in recognition of the beauty of each bite of this masterpiece.
Fried Cheese Curds – Everywhere
Some day I’d like to pull an Andrew Zimmern and try every cheese curd purveyor at the fair. Until that day, I am a satisfied man as long as the place knows to stick with the white variety of cheddar, to fry them just right amount of time to maintain the squeakiness and to only lightly batter them lest the batter overpower the cheese. It’s not the tallest order, but it’s not the easiest one to fulfill either. Plus, when you’re coming from Arizona all cheese curds are good cheese curds.
Whelp. That’s a wrap. The pilgrimage is complete. Now if only I can figure out a way to make this an annual thing…or at least get to Iowa somehow…