From candied bacon to mini donut beer: State Fair fare

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- It's always a curious sight: Minnesota State Fair-goer weaving through the masses upon masses with a corn dog. What the ... In a short-lived world where, each year, vendors try to go bigger, weirder and deeper-fried, this...

Candied Bacon BLT; Lift Bridge Mini Donut Beer, SPAM sushi. Photos by Christa Lawler /

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - It's always a curious sight: Minnesota State Fair-goer weaving through the masses upon masses with a corn dog. What the ...

In a short-lived world where, each year, vendors try to go bigger, weirder and deeper-fried, this norm-core fair fare seems like a sigh of resignation. An admission of a personal ho-hum-ness. Who would pick a corn dog over, say, deep-fried nachos supreme.

The Great Minnesota Snack Together opened Thursday and runs through Monday at the State Fairgrounds. There are more than 25 featured new foods this year, not including ice cream treats and beverages - both boozy and kombucha.

We mapped out this year's new foods and then chased down some of the most intriguing picks. Here is what we ate. Note: During this visit, the Blue Barn had run out of the spicy pork bowls, and Tejas Express was fresh out of barbecued shrimp tacos - otherwise we would have eaten those, too.

Another note: We can't diss too hard on the corn dog. Gass Station Grill is serving up a new take, billed as having ground sausage with blueberries, apples, wild rice, maple syrup and cayenne dipped in batter and fried. Give it a go, why dontchya.



• The Blue Barn, $8

• West End Market south of the History & Heritage Center

In a world full of bacon thises and bacon thats, bacon anything can be a bit exhausting. It's an "it" food that appears in ice cream, dipped in chocolate and is celebrated on T-shirts and bumper stickers. This was already tired four years ago when Burger King debuted its bacon sundae. A BLT, though, that's old school. That's the "I liked bacon before you sketched out your bacon tattoo" food.

The Blue Barn's version has candied bacon so thick, so candied, so crunchy. It comes with a green tomato slaw, think guacamole, and it's served on an egg bun that could stand alone.

Say yes to bacon.


• The Rabbit Hole, $8


• Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar, east wall

Introducing Taiyaki, fish-shaped and pressed like a buttermilk-miso waffle, which serves as a cone for vanilla ice cream topped with graham cracker crumbs and a single strawberry. Toward the tail you'll find a concentration of strawberry-balsamic compote. This shop was also selling kimchi 'n' curry poutine - a 2015 new food. When they ran out of Taiyaki and had to fire up a new batch, employees offered an express lane for poutine enthusiasts. But everyone in the super-long line, apparently, was waiting for the fish. Seize the day, indeed.

This one was a limited run, and they stopped serving it right around the time this edition was going to press. Sorry-ish. Maybe it helps that you can get Paneer on a Stick, which has only become available to fair-goers as of today in this same location.


• Texas Steak Out, $9

• West side of Underwood Street between Lee and Randall avenues

If you're looking for that one boat-filled mess of pure, State Fair-approved gluttony - or you need to sop up the effects of a rager - this is it. This is everything. Three balls of pepper jack cheese covered in a crust of crushed and seasoned tortilla chips. Also: taco meat, sour cream, guacamole. This is something the best college roommate would invent around 3 a.m. on a Saturday after realizing someone sat on the bag of Doritos.



• Ball Park Cafe, $8

• East side of Underwood Street between Dan Patch and Carnes avenues outside The Garden

Here's the thing: Sure you can eat mini donuts. But how often do you get the chance to drink them? Stillwater, Minn.-based Lift Bridge Brewing Co. brought back its take on the State Fair staple in liquid form. The secret here is that the plastic glass is rimmed with sugar and cinnamon, so every time your nose gets near the beer, which is a mellow donut-colored base, you get a whiff of fair flavors.


• Oodles of Noodles, $9

• East wall of Food Building

How you feel about this orange-on-orange-ish combo probably depends on how you feel about the sort of rich, thick ooze of cheese pump-delivered and favored by concession stand operators at high school basketball games.

Like it? You'll love this.


This mess is made right before your eyes: long spiral noodles and cheese, saltier, orangier, Whiz-ier than expected, ladled into a pan and whipped together with a spatula. Then, it's dumped into a carton and topped with a breadstick. The curds, each one a sort of buried treasure, are the cold kind you get in Wisconsin and eat in the car as you drive back to Minnesota, complete with a high squeak-on-teeth content.


• Pickle Dog, $7

• South side of Carnes Avenue between Liggett and Chambers streets

The newbie marks the union between one of the great cold sandwich meat hor d'oeuvres of the key-party era and a restaurant staple. Basically: Take your pickle rollup - pastrami and a few swipes of cream cheese and wrap it around a pickle slice. Add the signature reuben flavors, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. It's a fistful of grab-and-go though some of the bolder flavors get lost in the meat wrapper. Still, it's a nice reminder of when your parents partied till they'd liberated the lampshades.


• French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, $6

• North side of Carnes Avenue between Nelson and Underwood streets


This is a buttery croissant topped with beef crumbles seasoned well with slightly spicy/slightly sweet Moroccan flavors, spinach and goat cheese crumbles. It looked a little rough - stiffly pre-plated and under my nose before I'd barely finished the last syllable of the order.

Taste-wise: by mid-pastry, when all of the flavors come together, it was ooh yeah.

This restaurant, with spots in Uptown Minneapolis and St. Paul, always seems to have something new and delish at the State Fair. Consider the curious case of last year's pretzel croissant sandwich. The photographer took a bite before he took the photo.


• Sushi Rolls, $6 for 3

• North side of Warner Coliseum

There are two innovative ways to get your recommended daily allowance of Minnesota's favorite canned meat: flavored with cheese and deep-fried into curd-like bites (at SPAM, east of Chambers Street and south of the Grandstand) or sushi-style, wrapped in nori alongside a fried egg and sticky rice.

We went with the latter, dipped it in soy sauce and wasabi.


It's the saltiness of the slab of SPAM in the center, offering a boot of reality.

This is sold alongside other Minnesota-themed sushi, including one with bacon and walleye. But SPAM is a State Fair staple, a mark of Judson Avenue street cred, dang-near required eating in its various incarnations. It's not something you would order in the real world. But at the State Fai, why the heck not.

We played along, gave it sushi respect, and used chopsticks.

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