There’s plenty to enjoy at the Minnesota State Fair, food-wise. Still, we have ideas for 2021.
Creative minds in Twin Cities restaurants, food trucks, bakeries and bars are constantly coming up with inventive, over-the-top and tasty ideas that have the potential to turn into runaway hits at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. State Fair board, if you’re listening, here are the nominees for our future fair wish list. You’ve got a year; make it work.
There’s pizza to be had on the fairgrounds, but nothing that comes close to this distinctive Detroit delicacy. Baked in rectangular pans, the thick, focaccia-like dough is lavished with cheese, which means that the pie’s edges take on a distinctively fabulous, Cheez-It-esque character. The over-the-top elote-style version, with roasted corn and queso fresco, would be pitch-perfect fair fare, and the breakfast variation — scrambled eggs, bacon jam, sausage gravy — has all the makings of a huge a.m. hit.
729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-695-6525, wrecktanglepizza.com
Deep-fried deviled eggs ‘Devilish Eggs’ from Thirty Bales
Consulting chef Beth Fisher devised this amusing and ingenious cross between a Scotch egg and the picnic staple that is the deviled egg, and the outcome has “State Fair” written all over it. Cooked egg whites are panko-coated and deep-fried, then garnished with mashed and creamed yolks. A crumbled bacon garnish — because, why not? — adds a smoky accent. The only missing element is a stick.
1106 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-930-0369, thirtybales.com
Fried chicken is such a Great Minnesota Get-Together no-brainer. If fried chicken-centric Revival — which operates a stand at U.S. Bank Stadium, so it knows from crowds — can’t land a fairgrounds gig, what about leaning into fried chicken sandwiches instead? The Hi-Lo Diner already has a gleefully State Fair-ish view of overkill with its Hi-Tops, which are glazed doughnuts topped with fried chicken and a bourbon-maple syrup glaze. Or the fair could go old-school and stick with a Nashville Hot-style specimen from Nashville Coop, a food truck that should answer everyone’s prayers and open a brick-and-mortar shop already.
Revival, 525 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-340-2355, and 4257 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-345-4516, revivalrestaurants.com; Hi-Lo Diner, 4020 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-353-6568, hi-lo-diner.com; and Nashville Coop, nashvillecoop.com
It’s weird that there isn’t a fantastic burger on the fairgrounds, and no, the burgers (one of the fair’s great values) at the Midway Mens Club, which donates its proceeds to kids’ charities, don’t count. The State Fair’s powers-that-be could rectify this oversight by inviting the Parlour folks to park their truck somewhere on Dan Patch Avenue and serve what is arguably the state’s most sought-after diner-style burger.
Franken-pastries, part 1
Ever since New York-based pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s trendy Cronut (croissant-plus-doughnut) swept the nation, Minnesota bakers have been trying their hands at their own versions. For the past several fairs, French Meadow has offered a dough-sant. But there can’t be enough of a good thing when it’s a buttery and crunchy pastry with layers for miles. Marc Heu Pâtisserie Paris in Frogtown wows with the occasional Cronut special in flavors like rose Champagne and matcha lemon.
383 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-666-1464. Follow @marcheuofficial on Instagram for availability
Franken-pastries, part 2
Then there’s the doughscuit, the divine square doughnut-biscuit hybrid from Minneapolis’ Trattoria Mucci. These weekend-only treats come in always-changing flavors, like citrus coriander glaze with Fruity Pebbles cereal, peanut butter glaze with raspberry-thyme jelly. The Mucci’s Special doughscuit comes with chocolate glaze, whipped mascarpone and fried salami. That’s about as State Fair as it gets.
901 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-315-4608, exploretock.com/trattoriamuccimpls (to order)
Why do beer lovers get to have all the fun? For those who can’t tell their strawberry milkshake IPA from their dill pickle kölsch, we’d love to see cocktails not just allowed, but celebrated on the fairgrounds. Talk to anyone from the Minnesota Distillers Guild, which is allowed to exhibit at the fair even though its members can’t sell their products, and they’ll make the case that Minnesota-made spirits represent agriculture and industry in the state as much as craft beer does.
Minnesota Distillers Guild, mndistillersguild.org
Cauliflower ‘wings’ at Trio Plant-Based
State Fair overseers have made strides in recent years to reflect dietary options, and this vegan snack would fall right into that strategy. Cauliflower handles the rigors of the deep fryer with aplomb (all that owner Louis Hunter has to do is give the florets the on-a-stick treatment to make them fairgrounds-ready) and take on flavors (barbecue, Buffalo-style, lemon-pepper) with equal verve. The dairy-free ranch sauce? It’s lusciously creamy perfection.
610 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-326-1326, trioplantbased.com
Nondairy ice cream from Crêpe & Spoon
On the subject of fun-loving plant-based treats, it has to be tough for the lactose-intolerant (or those following dairy-free diets) to witness the fair’s many tempting ice cream options. This northeast Minneapolis shop knows how to produce velvety, flavor-packed ice cream (think “pistachio” and “cherry chocolate”) using nut and coconut milks. The ice cream sandwiches — which call upon well-crafted cookies from Duluth’s Positively 3rd Street Bakery — would also make for first-rate State Fair sweets.
339 22nd Av. NE., Mpls., crepeandspoon.com
Brown butter soft-serve ice cream at Bogart’s Doughnuts
This would be such a talker. One of owner Anne Rucker’s signature items is a brioche-style doughnut crowned with a thick brown butter glaze (“brown butter has always been our thing,” she said), so it was probably only a matter of time before she found herself infusing whole milk with brown butter, then converting it into a pale white soft-serve flecked with bits of what looks like vanilla bean but is actually brown butter. Let other fairs offer deep-fried butter (yes, that’s really a thing) and reserve this impressively rich and slightly nutty-tasting soft-serve for Minnesotans.
904 W. 36th St., Mpls., 612-886-1670, bogartsdoughnutco.com
Paella from Twin Cities Paella
The fair is all about theatrics, right? And what’s showier than watching the crew from this enterprising outfit as they prepare the Spanish version of Minnesota’s unofficial state delicacy, hot dish. Instead of a Pyrex casserole, the cooking vessel of choice is a shallow, wide pan that’s so big it should come with its own carnival barker. It’s perched over an open flame and filled to the brim with saffron-scented rice, mussels, clams, artichokes, chicken, shrimp, chorizo and other temptations. A sangria side operation would be the perfect add-on.
Turkey dumplings from Gorkha Palace
Sarala Kattel and Rashmi Bhattachan parlayed the popularity of these handmade dumplings — which they introduced at the Mill City Farmers Market — into a (terrific) brick-and-mortar restaurant. Street food doesn’t get any better than this (the sweet-hot tomato chutney would be a leading fairgrounds condiment), and there’s a local angle, too: The turkey is raised in Cannon Falls, Minn.
23 NE. 4th St., Mpls., 612-886-3451, gorkhapalace.com
Fry bread tacos from Trickster Tacos
File this new Native-owned food truck’s output under “T” for tailor-made State Fair fare. Let’s see: It’s fried, it’s portable, the portion is huge and the price ($7) is right. Also, it’s a great idea to repackage fried dough — airy, and slightly sweet — as the foundation for all kinds of taco-fixings mischief.
Follow the truck’s whereabouts on its Facebook page
Maid Rite sandwich at Dakota Junction
The Minnesota State Fair already has one ambassador from the state to the south. It’s the Gizmo sandwich, a classic that debuted decades ago at the Iowa State Fair. So why not also embrace the Hawkeye State’s most famous handheld meal, the loose meat sandwich? Owner Stephanie Bolles crafts a spectacular rendition of this sort-of Sloppy Joe, calling upon premium ingredients and dedicating it to the Iowa-based Maid-Rite chain of loose meat sandwich shops.
2281 Commerce Blvd., Mound, 952-479-1519
Siringate at Hyacinth
Imagine a chef-crafted funnel cake, where the dough is light and airy on the inside and delicately crisp on the outside. Where it’s artfully shaped into a pretzel-flower hybrid. Where it’s gloriously grease-free. Where it’s dusted (and not doused) with cinnamon and sugar. And where it’s served with a glorious, salt-flecked dulce de leche. That’s the don’t-miss dessert at this accomplished Grand Avenue restaurant, and its craftsmanship would set a fine example to the fair’s deep-frying denizens.
790 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-478-1822, hyacinthstpaul.com
@RickNelsonStrib and @SharynJackson