The Minnesota State Fair is once again upon us, adventurers—August 26 to September 5! Every year, it is always full of old favorite foods like the classic foot-long, deep-fried cheese curds, and my all-time favorite, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar. And every year also gives us a chance to try something new and add it to the list of favorite must-have State Fair foods.
My mission: go through all the new foods listed on the fair’s website and give a grade to the descriptions. But to give it a Twin Cities Geek flair, instead of a boring star system or thumbs up/thumbs down, I’ll be using the full D&D alignment!
Macaroni & Cheese Curds from Oodles of Noodles
We’re going to start off with something nice and safe. Now, based on the name, I thought this was going to be mac and cheese that has been deep fried into little balls or triangles, but I was happily wrong. It is actually simple macaroni noodles mixed with a very smooth-looking béchamel made with fresh cheese curds.
Rating: Lawful Good. Should be a safe bet, like asking whether the Paladin of Pelor will heal your paper cut.
Rustic Beef Pastry from French Meadow Bakery & Café
I do enjoy it when local eateries are able to nab a spot at the Great Minnesota Get Together, and French Meadow is one of them. This year the restaurant is bringing its new contribution: a buttery crust layered with Moroccan spiced beef, baby spinach, and goat cheese. It looks almost too nice to be a State Fair food, almost sophisticated, like something I would serve for tea . . .
Rating: Neutral Good. This is something straight out of Redwall. I can see it on the large oak tables, somehow managing to be both humble looking and boasting with flavor and needing to be on my plate.
Gumbo Frites from Ragin Cajun
I was intrigued by this new twist on fries. Despite my not being a big fan of fries, the trend of topping them with deliciousness has made a believer out of me. These Gumbo Frites are crispy fries topped with a traditional New Orleans gumbo, cheese, and green onions. It sounds like you’ll need a fork to make sure you can get all of the spicy goodness.
Rating: Chaotic Good. I have created a headcanon for this: food skeptics Gambit and Wolverine try this creation, Gambit working out whether the fries will be a good substitute for rice and Wolverine wondering whether the gumbo will be better than traditional gravy. Both secretly love it.
Beer Brat Buddies from Sausage Sister & Me
This is like Oktoberfest in a basket—nestled in a pretzel bun is a beer brat smothered in sauerkraut, onions, and your choice of mustard. While it looks like it will go great with your favorite brew, finely ground meat smothered in onions and mustard is not exactly uncommon at the State Fair. Side note: make sure you grab a breath mint after consuming!
Rating: Lawful Neutral. This is a question of taste. As in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you must choose wisely . . .
Burnt Butt Ends from RC’s BBQ
Despite having a name that reminds me why I stopped smoking, this sounds pretty good. It is very simply cuts of pork seasoned with a BBQ rub, smoked over oak and served with onions and jalapeños.
Rating: Neutral Neutral. This is going to satisfy those who are craving the meats. It looks a bit like the State Fair’s version of the turkey leg.
Deep Fried Nachos Supreme from Texas Steak Out
This is taking a classic idea straight to the State Fair’s favorite kitchen gadget, the deep fryer. Texas Steak Out is taking cheese, covered in more cheese and crushed tortilla chips, and deep frying it. They then cover it in taco meat, guacamole sour cream, and even more cheese.
Rating: Chaotic Neutral. This sounds like a mad scientist was left with some leftover Taco Bell, a bag of Doritos, and a deep fryer. It might be amazing . . . but it may also be a dripping, greasy mess.
Candied Bacon BLT from the Blue Barn
While this was not the first new fair food to make me do a double take, it will net me the ire of bacon lovers everywhere. This sandwich is made up of candied bacon, rancher’s coleslaw, and a green tomato spread, all on a sweet egg bun. Normally I am all for mixing up sweet and savory flavors, but you need a good balance, and this to me sounds too heavy on the sweet without enough savory to balance it out.
Rating: Neutral Evil. This sounds like someone slept through most of a group sandwich-making test, and the only bacon and greens left were candied and cabbage.
Cajun Peel-N-Eat Shrimp from Café Caribe
Café Caribe is introducing a classic new dish: a half pound of Caribbean spiced, shell-on shrimp, served cold with a cocktail dipping sauce. It looks like something that would be perfect to grab with a group of friends and share while sitting in the shade while people watching.
Rating: Lawful Good. Could this simultaneously cool you down and heat you up? Hmmm. Should test that . . . for science . . .
Cheesy French Onion Monkey Bread from Blue Moon Dine-in Theater
Monkey bread is traditionally a sweet dessert, but this is an updated version for you to try. Blue Moon has seemingly made a travel-friendly version of French onion soup—they make the pull-apart meal with artisan bread, filled with caramelized onions, beef broth, and cheese baked in a wood-fired oven.
Rating: Neutral Good. Deconstructed and reconstructed. Like a good reboot, if such a thing exists.
Paneer on a Spear from Hot Indian
Are you looking at cheese curds and thinking, “These are good, but they need a kick”? Hot Indian is taking Indian spiced paneer cheese, covering it in beer batter, deep frying it, and serving it with a tomato-garlic chutney. I think this will be a great twist on the classic beer-battered cheese curds you can get every year.
Rating: Chaotic Good. Chef Elzar would approve of adding a little “bam” to a fair favorite. The spear part just makes it awesome, because unlike a normal stick, this leaves you with a weapon.
Iron Range Meat and Potatoes from Giggles’ Campfire Grill
Have you ever had an April Fools’ day meatloaf “dessert” with mashed-potato “frosting”? (Just me?) Looking at this dish reminded me of those days gone by. It’s a portion of “seasoned beef”—their exact words, though it looks like meatloaf to me—with a layer of cheddar cheese and mashed potatoes with wild rice gravy to top it. Looks fun, but honestly I might have more fun making my own.
Rating: Lawful Neutral. It is probably a safe bet, but you may spend the entire time eating thinking of your favorite meatloaf/mashed potato recipe and how that would taste so much better.
BBQ Shrimp Taco from Tejas Express
While this item calls itself a taco, it has only one or two traditional taco ingredients. It is sweet and spicy barbecued shrimp wrapped in a tortilla with jicama slaw. It’s a wrap. It’s not a taco. It doesn’t sound bad, but the taco thing is kind of a sticking point. If anyone goes up and calls it a wrap, let me know what they say.
Rating: Neutral Neutral. This is like calling old-school Watson “Sherlock Holmes.” It’s just not right.
Sheep Dog from Lamb Shoppe
I question the logic behind this dog. Lamb Shoppe is exhibiting the Sheep Dog, which as a person who enjoys lamb sounded good . . . until, I got to a certain point. The honey mustard I think is okay, but the combination of sauerkraut and garlic sautéed kale makes it sound like they are trying to hide the lamb flavor. Add the quinoa and you’ve lost me.
Rating: Chaotic Neutral. This looks like someone had a bad childhood flashback to Lamb Chop’s Play-Along and decided to take terrifying revenge.
Saucy Shrimp and Slaw from Fish and Chips Seafood Shoppe
Fish and Chips Seafood Shoppe has a dish that is neither fish nor chips. They are taking breaded shrimp and coating it with either Parmesan garlic, sweet chili, or buffalo sauce and putting it on top of coleslaw. So they are taking the crispy shrimp, dousing it in sauce to loose the crispiness and then adding coleslaw too?
Rating: Lawful Evil. This has all the planning of the underpants gnomes from South Park.
SPAM Curds from SPAM
Now I know that Minnesota, and specifically the State Fair, is known for deep frying things and for SPAM. I have even had some deep-fried SPAM at the Blue Door Pub that was pretty good (came with cream cheese and pickles). But this sounds off-putting and disturbing, and the side of ranch dressing does not do anything to help. Its sounds like a bland meat covered in bland batter with a bland dipping sauce.
Rating: Neutral Evil. This is like when you are checking your email and hey look, it’s SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAM it’s wonderful SPAAAAAAAAAAM . . . okay I’ll stop now.
Deep Fried Grilled Cheese Bits from O’Gara’s
The idea of bits of grilled-cheese sandwiches served with a tomato-soup dip sounded really good—until I read this again and saw that is just cheese curds with a new style of dip. Sad face. It does sound good, but honestly it’s cheddar cheese curds and a bloody Mary mixer for dip. O’Gara’s, I expected better from you.
Rating: Chaotic Evil. This is when you figure out that the DM is planning on having that great NPC betray you. You should have seen it coming…
Ruben Pickle Dog from Pickle Dog
Pickle Dog is taking a new idea out of its jar: a spear pickle with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing, wrapped in a slice of salami. This breadless wrap should have a solid foundation in taste, even if it sounds a little floppy and messy.
Rating: Lawful Good. This sounds kike running with Elliot from Leverage. You know it’s going to be messy, but it is also going to look fabulous and give you what you are looking for.
Spicy Pork Bowl from the Blue Barn
The Blue Barn has a double entry this year. Resting on a bed of rice are layers of adobe pork, beans, spinach, charred salsa, and fried onions. This bowl sounds like it will be a fun mix of flavors and textures. I just hope they get the balance right.
Rating: Neutral Good. This is like when you are picking your party in an RPG video game and go random, and somehow it works.
Carpe Diem from the Rabbit Hole
And now for something completely different. The Rabbit Hole’s new dessert not only sounds interesting but makes my mouth water thinking about it: a taiyaki (fish-shaped) cone made with miso and buttermilk, filled with balsamic strawberry compote and vanilla ice cream, and topped with graham-cracker crumble and a fresh strawberry. Yum.
Rating: Chaotic Good. This makes me think of all the beautiful sundaes I’ve seen in anime and all the times I’ve wondered “Where can I find that?” The Rabbit Hole has given me an answer. This is the top of my “to eat” list.
Strawberry Donut Delight from the Strawberry Patch
Strawberries are one of life’s little pleasures. As are donuts. Bringing them together is a sweet and delicious idea, and I have to give the Strawberry Patch props for their dessert, a glazed donut sliced in half to make a whipped cream and strawberry sandwich. Hopefully it won’t be too sweet, but it does sound really good.
Rating: Lawful Neutral. This makes me think of Kaylee from Firefly. She would come up with something shiny like this.
Bang Bang Fresh Chicken Tenders from Lulu’s Public House
Lulu’s Public House has brought in its contender, fresh chicken tenders with a sweet and tangy chili sauce. It sounds pretty good, but that is all it is.
Rating: Neutral Neutral. This is as boring as going to a game night and finding out the only games available are Monopoly, Life, and a deck of cards.
Candied Bacon Donut Sliders from Minnesota Wine Country
I would not expect a place called Minnesota Wine Country to serve something called Candied Bacon Donut Sliders—which are sliced glazed donut holes with candied bacon and red wine chocolate ganache—but I can’t say I am super surprised. This savory, chocolatey, sweet mess should be pretty good.
Rating: Chaotic Neutral. Just like Jake and Elwood, Minnesota Wine Country is on a mission from God. And their mission is to get us some nummy eats.
Minnesota Corn Dog from Gass Station Grill
This eatery has not only an odd name but an odd corn dog. The Minnesota Corn Dog has a ground sausage dog made of apples, wild rice, maple syrup, cayenne, and . . . blueberries. This is then dipped in corn batter and deep fried. It just sounds like too much sweet for a corn dog. They had me until blueberries.
Rating: Lawful Evil. This is that one guy in the group everyone wants to stab, but who somehow rolls 20s all night.
Italian Taco from Green Mill
While I think the BBQ Shrimp Taco will be a fail, I’ll give Green Mill a tiny bit of credit for their Italian Taco. The difference from Tejas Express is that Green Mill are upfront with what this is and that it is a take on a taco. That being said, stuffing the Parmesan-butter tortilla with Italian sausage, mozzarella, roasted bruschetta, lettuce, Caesar dressing, pesto pizza sauce, and more Parmesan cheese, then drizzling it with balsamic glaze, seems like overkill.
Rating: Neutral Evil. Schlock Mercenary’s Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries states there is no such thing as overkill, but they never ran into this taco.
SPAM Sushi from Sushi Rolls
An outside source has told me this last new food is actually fairly normal in Hawaii, but I am still trying wrap my mind around it. SPAM, sushi rice, and fried egg wrapped in nori and topped with wasabi. I can’t quite make out what this is going to taste like. Even if it may be popular in Hawaii, I’m not going near it.
Rating: Chaotic Evil. I can’t even give this the mad-scientist treatment. This just sounds weird.
So there you have it! I think we have some definite natural 20s this year . . . along with a couple nat 1s. The Minnesota State Fair New Food page has more information and locations to help you in your quest to find the above-mentioned restaurants. I am excited to eat quite a few of these this year—let us know in the comments if you try any! (Especially if you have enough points in CON to brave the SPAM Sushi.)