Yesterday's glorious weather unleashed the Minnesota State Fair upon us and as usual, that means the area's food critics went wild, taking on every single one of the newest dishes before declaring the best and worst. Below, we've rounded up (and down) the best and worst as declared by Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune, Stephanie March and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl of Mpls./St. Paul Magazine, Jason DeRusha of WCCO & Minnesota Monthly and the force that is the Heavy Table Wrecking Crew.
" If you don’t get one this year, you’re missing out."
The Carpe Diem from The Rabbit Hole at Midtown Global Market in the International Bazaar
As we predicted, the miso buttermilk waffle cone, topped with vanilla ice cream and strawberry compote has fast become the must-try dish of the fair. The endlessly Instagramable fish-shaped ice cream come was entirely beloved and incredibly messy to eat.
Heavy Table: "Holy Carpe!"
Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune: "Thank you, chef Thomas Kim, for demonstrating that fair food can be visually striking."
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl of Mpls./St. Paul Magazine: "This thing is a home run. If you don’t get one this year, you’re missing out."
Stephanie March of Mpls./St. Paul Magazine: "But DON'T BITE THE FISH, chill the F down girl, use a spoon for crying in the barn." (Ms. March might have hit that bad boy a little aggressively and had a five napkin situation to deal with afterwards.)
Spicy Pork Bowl at the Blue Barn
Jason DeRusha: "First of all this isn't really spicy, but it is delicious."
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: "If you get to the Fair after a long day at work and need some serious dinner before drinking all the beers and seeing Weezer this is your pick."
Stephanie March: "Get this and remember that there is a world with real food."
"That’s the essential smell of summer."
There was no clear winner in the n/a category, but there are a couple of new refreshments worth checking out.
Watermelon Kombucha at the Produce Exchange
Rick Nelson: "Start with a straw, then dig into that beyond-juicy melon."
Blueberry Basil Lemonade at the Blue Barn
Heavy Table: "Drop your nose into the glass and grab a deep whiff. That’s the essential smell of summer garden freshness."
Whether topped with chocolate chips or steeped with funnel cake flavors, the offerings of State Fair beers can get weird. But sometimes weird can be a good thing.
Schell's Sangria Beer at Lulu's Public House
Rick Nelson: "Shamelessly refreshing, and topped with a smile-inducing foamy crown."
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: "Citrus, refreshing, not Kool-aid as I feared."
Jason DeRusha: "It starts sangria—not sweet—but deep fruit and red wine notes, and finishes with a malty ale flavor."
Stephanie March: "Man, this is a home run. It's got a sweet backbone, but it doesn't cloy or leave you thirsty. There's just a pleasing roundness to this drink."
Caramel Apple Cider by Sociable Ciderwerks at Giggles
Heavy Table: "A caramel apple cider made by Sociable Cider Werks. It tasted much like a Granny Smith apple, and despite the name, the caramel sweetness was present in the finish only to a small degree."
Minnesota Mule Cider by Sweetland Orchard at Ball Park Cafe
Rick Nelson: "The clarity of Minnesota-grown apples shines through clean lime and ginger notes. Highly quaffable."
Stephanie March: "Love love love. Refreshing and a brilliant cut through all the fryer grease in your mouth."
The Least Loved:
These are the dishes where we're glad these brave souls went before us. More than anything, the pro-eaters just beg for the candied bacon trend to die a horrible, candy-coated death.
"Sugar bomb overlord and no fatty happy pork bit."
Candied Bacon Sliders at Minnesota Wine Country
Rick Nelson: "Duds like this one raise the question: If this impressed the powers that be on the fair’s selection committee, what was rejected?"
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: "Candied bacon plus ganache frosting inside an ice-cold donut hole, and the garnished with squirty chocolate syrup."
Heavy Table: "Making a candied bacon doughnut slider is not the time to show restraint. If you’re doing a doughnut slider, you gotta go all in on the doughnut."
Jason DeRusha: "Dry and tasted more like a bun than a donut."
Stephanie March: "That bite was all sugar bomb overlord and no fatty happy pork bit."
There are so many ways this novelty beer thing could go wrong. Here's a lesson: no one wants your fake chocolate chips anywhere near their beer.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Beer from Big Wood Brewery at Andy's Grille
Stephanie March: "For sure ask for nothing on the rim, those fake chocolate chips aren't doing this beer any favors."
Heavy Table: "The chocolate chips on the rim attempted to make up for a weak Hershey’s Syrup effect in the glass."
Those are the highlights and the candy-coated low points! Check out their full write ups for the deep dive on what to eat and what to watch someone else you don't like very much eat.