Break out the elastic waistbands and the walking shoes: it’s Minnesota State Fair time. Whether following a family tradition of banding together early in the morning on opening day or making an inaugural visit to the “Great Minnesota Get Together,” these are the dishes that absolutely cannot be missed.
No one cares about your gluten concerns or reduced sugar intake. This is State Fair time and massive food consumption is the name of the game. This is the time for buckets, literal buckets, of cookies to be heaped and balanced and eaten greedily as the crowd throngs surge around you. Don’t be that guy that gets the tiny cup of cookies with the reasonable serving size. Nobody likes that guy and he is just going to have to get back in line at one of the Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar booths and wait for another sad little serving. Be the Mr. Popularity of your fair squad and get a bucket to share before hitting up the All-You-Can-Drink milk booth.
Where to Find: Three locations: the West side of Underwood St. between Lee and Randall avenues; South side of Carnes Ave. between Nelson & Underwood streets; North side of West Dan Patch Ave. between Liggett St. & Chambers St.
The difference between a corn dog and the eponymous pup is thin, but it’s imperative that a side is picked. Both begin as hot dogs battered and fried. Only one is found at the many Pronto Pup stands dotting the Minnesota Fairgrounds. Pronto Pups are cradeled in a hot and crispy batter made from corn and flour. According to Pronto Pups MN, it was the very first concession item at the fair served on a stick back in 1947.
Where to find: There are seven stands located around the fairgrounds at Randall and Cooper Street; West side of Nelson St. between Dan Patch and Carnes avenues; East side of Cosgrove St. between the Fine Arts Center and 4-H Building; across from the DNR building; West side of Underwood St. between Dan Patch and Carnes avenues; South side of Carnes Ave. between Liggett and Chambers streets.
Fresh French Fries
It’s a rare fair food that could, in theory, be found at a million different locations around the state outside of these 12 days. However, those Fresh French Fries are unequivocally the best ever. That stand has been operating at the fair since 1973. Every year it goes through about 400,000 potatoes, that’s seven semi-trailers full and about 25,000 pounds of ketchup. (No stats available for gallons of ranch dressing.) It’s not often that it’s socially acceptable to walk around in public, cradling a vat of French fries, but these are the glory days.
Where to Find: There are two stands, East side of Liggett St. between West Dan Patch and Carnes avenues and North side of Judson Ave. between Nelson and Underwood streets.
One of the hottest stands at the fair is where they sell around 200,000 ears of roast corn every year. The idea is simple, Minnesota grown sweet corn cooks over a fire and is dressed in sweet cream butter. It’s even marginally healthy, depending on who you ask. Recycle the cobs in the nearby bins. Stick around at night near close down for the nightly tradition of the corn dance.
Where to Find: Southeast corner of Dan Patch Ave. & Nelson St., follow the intoxicating sweet, smoke scent.
The Turkey To Go phenomenon is the delight of getting mounds of steaming hot, roasted and chopped turkey piled onto a squishy bun. Now, there is the possibility of getting an entire turkey leg, but this is not the Renaissance Festival and a poultry club is not easy to wield when waiting on a ride in the Midway.
Where to Find: East side of Clough St. between Carnes & Judson avenues
Salem Lutheran Church’s Egg Coffee
Part of the charm of our enormous state fair is that it really is made up of the communal spirit that is a part of being a Minnesotan. That means we’ll bring a hot dish when there’s a family crisis, bars to a funeral, show up when a neighbor needs a hand and there will always be a pot of hot coffee put on for anyone that walks through the door. The fair is home to just two surviving church stands like the one run by the Salem Lutheran Church, but only this one serves the latest/old coffee trend: egg coffee. Eggs are mixed into the grounds that filter out bitter flavors and leave behind a simple, smooth, rich cup of coffee. Grab one with breakfast at the stand or pair with the nearby Rutana’s Hot Apple Dumpling stand.
Where to Find: North side of Randall Ave. south of the Progress Center, look for the unmistakable giant percolator at the top of the building.
Mouth Trap Cheese Curds
Fresh and squeaky chunks of cheese straight from a rural farm are shipped in by the truckload come fair time. Head to the aptly named food building for the best in purist curds. Cheese is tossed in batter and deep fried for crusty exterior and a molten oozen interior that’s impossible to resist, even though the liklihood of a mouth burn is just about inevitable.
Where to Find: The Food building
Lift Bridge Mini Donut Beer
The only thing better than a sugary bag of mini doughnuts is a beer that tastes just like one. The yeasty, toasty beverage from Stillwater’s Lift Bridge Brewery. It is the exact kind of oddity that encompasses what is wonderfully weird about the Minnesota State Fair.
Where to Find: Ballpark Cafe, East side of Underwood St. between Dan Patch & Carnes avenues.