Monday, August 18, 2008

Top Ten Fridays - MN State Fair Food

There are a number of reasons to attend the Minnesota State Fair. Tradition, everyone's nice but also obese, butter queen and etc...

I don't give a damn about any of that. The only reason the fair has a science exhibit (at least I think there is a science exhibit) and the by-definition-incorrectly-named Miracle of Birth hut is to give us something to stare at until the nausea and gassiness subside.

Seriously, the only way I'm going to enjoy staring at a cows anus is if it's processed, ground, battered, covered with cheese for no apparent reason, and given to me on a stick. The State Fair is about food, people, and I REALLY like food. You know what time it is... It's Top Ten time... Here are my ten favorite items. Feel free to share yours and argue your case in the comments.

10. Sparkling Cider float

The caramel apple confectioneries at the fair offer this twist on the float theme. Whereas root beer floats succeed (or not) by compromising the abrasive texture of the drink itself, the sparkling cider float uses a vanilla canvas to hit the tongue with a subtle dance of carbonation and tartness. A welcome alternative to the free milk, which seems to form active cultures in your throat as the day progresses.

9. Cheese Curds

Obligatory reference here, though the item itself is a smidge overrated (not to mention widely available elsewhere). On the other hand, it's fried cheese. The key is to eat these in the morning or at night. Else, the hot grease conspires with the heat and crowds to create a sensation bordering on mild claustrophobia.

8. Olives on a Stick

Inexpensive, fun, and not at all filling*, the olive stand at the International Bazaar offers a refreshing break from the deep fried commodities. In spite of their pungent, almost acerbic onset, the olives (stuffed with everything from pearl onions to sun dried tomatoes) feature an exceptionally smooth finish. That's why they make oil out of olives. Do avoid the temptation to purchase the economically efficient pint-size containers. Try pounding 30 olives in a sitting if you don't believe me.

* - I should note that the "less-filling" moniker is generally to be taken as a positive. If you are one of those folks who just wants the most filling item for cheap, stop reading and get ready for some nachos. And if you are one of those people who sneaks food INTO the fair, well, you're dead to me. Seriously, you are not my tribe. It's the Great Minnesota Get Together, not the Mediocre Skinflint Rendezvous. What do you think pays for Tonic Sol Fa every year? Grab an ostrich burger and shut the hell up.

7. Bacon

On one hand, this is a new item that I have yet to experience in a fair setting. On the other hand, it's bacon. Also, it is dipped either in maple syrup or chocolate. There is no way the Big Bacon people can screw this up. What are they going to do, wrap it in bay leaves?

Incidentally, how did it take this long for someone to figure out that bacon and the Minnesota State Fair were made for each other? Seriously, it's like Judi Dench in a costume drama. How did we get hot dish on a stick before bacon?

6. Deep Fried Peppercinis

There is an entire subcategory of state fair food that falls in the "we have it, might as well deep fry it". The results are seldom very good (think pickles), but this undiscovered nugget from the Luigi Fries proprietors is an experimental success. The peppers do not lose their piquancy in the quick frying process, though the brine yields quickly to the frying oil, simultaneously de-emphasizing the bitterness of the fruit itself while adding nuance to the batter.

If I could cite one flaw, it is in the marinara accompaniment. A more ambitious plating might feature a complimentary fruit, or even another "spicy" component. Combine these puppies with a mango habanero salsa, and they vault to the top of the charts.

5. Deep Fried Candy Bars

Well, they taste as good as they sound. Whether this report obliges you to try one of three candy bars (Snickers, Three Musketeers, or Milky Way) coated in a doughnut-like batter is essentially up to you. That said, the item hits its target better than perhaps any other food at the fair. I prefer the Milky Way, which allows the formidably crispy batter to auger the taste experience. Also, by virtue of luck, more than anything, the treat happens to be the ideal fair size.

4. Pork Chop on a Stick

Simultaneous eating and maneuvering is what the Fair is all about. Perhaps the first item to thrive on the semi-ironic cachet we now associate with the stick-based comestibles (the corn dog et al. heretofore having been ideally consumed on a stick), the real key to this fair staple is the coating. Rich and fortified with oils and herbs (and, likely, human sweat), the pork chop is the fair's leading portable potable, the bone fixating the meat in place to make for easy navigation throughout the fairgrounds.

3. Gator

Let's face it, it would probably be easy to phone in gator. The sheer novelty of the offering would be sufficient to keep Gator Bob's open for business. The detestability of the notion of consuming the bastard beast is likely sufficient to prevent repeat business. It is to their credit, then, that the gator has me coming back every year. I prefer the olive oil treatment, which mollifies the gator's rubbery texture, creating a moisture that is rich, but not cloyingly so.

Also, there is a seating area.

2. Salmon on a Stick

Amazingly, one of the fair's best offerings is not deep fried, and might be almost nutritious. The dish features smoked salmon atop a grainy cracker, accompanied by cream cheese, onion, and preserves. The result is the most complicated dishes you can find. The execution strongly hints at the creation of snack-size, mini sandwiches, which makes it an ideal lunch staple. Scarf one while you wait an hour for the mediocre lumberjack show.

1. Australian Battered Potatoes

The quintessential fair food doesn't come on a stick, and lacks the regional bonafides to earn it's own PR campaign each August. But when it comes to delivering what we want, the Aussie's (or whatever catering company is pretending to be Aussie) hits it right on the head. Native New Yorkers often lament the fact that so many pizzerias can't even execute that most simple of styles. How hard can it be?

In short, simple is best. Potato slices, battered and deep fried, served with cheese, ranch, both or neither. Served in a mind-bogglingly efficient manner that makes one wonder if German engineers are running the show here. The end result is a heaping portion of joy. Easily shared (the potatoes are piled six inches high), the Aussie potatoes make for easy food evangelism as you listen to the decidedly unsoothing sounds of Todd Friel harassing some poor Lutheran.

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Blogger Sarah said...

I usually get the deep fried Snickers on a stick but may have to try the Milky Way this year.

I go for the reg. sied corn dog- not pronto pup. The malts at the dairy barn are a must.

There's nothing like a cup of Sweet Martha's taken to the dairy booth for some milk to wash 'em down.

Surprisingly I found that the deep fried mac n cheese on a stick is very good even if spendy. I'm a huge fan of cheese in pretty much any form.
For some reason the State Fair cheese curds don't tickle my fancy. Working at many carnivals these past 2 summers I've had some better curds...white cheese is better than yellow.

Cinnamon roasted almonds in the Bazaar are really good.

The happenings book usually has good deals that temp me to try other stuff as but the aforementioned are my must haves every year.
Also there's usually a happenings coupon for a free Watkins product.

What day are you going?

9:08 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Rypick said...

Maybe we're nuts, but we usually start the day with a Scotch Egg. Mmmm...

11:15 AM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

I had high expectations for the scotch egg. I was totally underwhelmed. Replace the country fried steak with bacon, and I think you have a winner. As it is, it seems to be a hodge-podge of flavors.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Rypick said...

Your expectations were too high. I went into it with no expectations, because I didn't even know what a scotch egg was.

I wouldn't be opposed to wrapping it in bacon though... :)

7:40 AM  

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