All You Can Drink Milk
When I’ve spent a good time baking in the hot midday sun, there is only one beverage capable of restoring my calcium and vitamin D levels back to their status quo: milk, in a quantity definable only by as much of the stuff that I care to have. No other beverage will do. All You Can Drink Milk, whose milk is supreme because it comes from strong and proud local cows, is just what you need in order to fortify yourself before setting out to the 4-H building where you can assess which teenager has bred the handsomest turkey.
Carl’s Gizmo Sandwich
A hallowed institution of the Minnesota State Fair, the Gizmo begins as a long roll which is then filled with ground beef and Italian sausage, doused with spicy marinara, and finally smothered in melted mozzarella cheese. This is precisely the sort of sandwich that a shepherd of Campania would eat while taking a break from tending to his flock. If you would like to enjoy the full Italian experience, we recommend pairing the Gizmo with wine — look for a place that serves a certain vintage called “red.”
Cranston’s Famous Scotch Eggs
A hardboiled egg possesses many admirable qualities on its own, but once it has been ensconced in sausage meat and then deep fried it becomes a thing of great beauty. Cranston’s Famous Scotch Eggs takes the wonder and makes it appropriate for sale at the state fair by impaling it on a sharpened stick — the perfect thing to waggle at someone while boasting about your superior taste in treats. I’ve heard tell that the owner of Cranston’s has a brother who runs the Flowering Onions stand at the fair as well. If you eat both a Scotch egg and a flowering onion in one day, you’ll feel like there’s a little family reunion brewing inside your chest.
Danielson’s & Daughters Onion Rings
William Danielson opened up this perfect, happy green and yellow food stand back in the 1950s, and now his three daughters tend to its deep fryers. Their onion rings are so good that they caused me personal reverie last season. I hadn’t eaten an onion ring in decades, because an amateurishly made one got me sick when I was a kid. The hot, oily onion smell billowing out of Danielson’s demanded that I try onion rings again, and their exceptional onion rings saved me from a lifetime spent without them.
I am a snob when it comes to art. I think Mondrian’s work is massively overrated, Warhol was a hack, and that Pollock was just trying to see how stupid he could make his appreciators look. However, had Pollock swapped out his drizzle of oil paint for one made out of cake batter, and his canvas for a deep fryer, then the old sot would really have been onto something. Go to the stand named “Funnel Cakes” if you want to see what really could have been if Pollock hadn’t squandered his talent on art, and get an elephant ear as well while you’re at it.
Miller’s Flavored Cheese Curds
Growing up out east, I could never have imagined how many light-years the Midwest had advanced beyond the rest of the country. When I moved here I was floored to learn that natives had shortened to word for soda to a monosyllable, that shorts may be worn regardless of outdoor temperature, and that it is possible to deep fry cheese outside of an Italian restaurant. It is a good thing, then, that I didn’t encounter Miller’s Flavored Cheese Curds until a few years into my residency here. The mere sight of garlic curds, jalapeño curds, and ranch curds to one unprepared for it would call for immediate defibrillation. Eating flavored cheese curds may call for defibrillation as well, but fortunately not quite so immediately.
Ole and Lena’s
Let’s take a moment to touch on another distinctly Midwestern treat: the hot dish. Typically a dish’s appeal diminishes when its density approaches that of a dying star, but hot dish doesn’t obey such laws of culinary physics. Hot dish on-a-stick skewers tater tots and meatballs, envelops them delicious fried corndog batter, and comes served with a little cup of mushroom hamburger dipping sauce. Somehow the good people at Ole and Lena’s have constructed a stick sturdy enough to support so hefty a meal — if you’ve ever had to conduct a symphony while eating delicious hot dish, then this handy cuisine is indispensable to your unusual lifestyle.
I am not terribly well-versed in Vietnamese culinary tradition, although I am fairly certain that garlic cream cheese wontons have been a staple food throughout Mainland Southeast Asia for millennia. Que Viet brings that beautiful, crispy facet of a foreign culture to the state fair for all to enjoy. They also serve a mean giant egg roll on-a-stick, so your other hand can remain free to hold an appropriate drink such Pibb Xtra.
Sara’s Tipsy Pies
Based in Stillwater, Sara’s Tipsy Pies partners with local booze makers to create flaky and delicious things which no stop by the state fair ought to be considered complete without. Try their whiskey caramel apple pie made with 2 Gingers, their onion and gouda savory pie made with Fireside Flannel ale by Lift Bridge Brewing Co., or their blueberry lemon pie made with rosé from Chateau St. Croix. Each one is the best of two worlds: the pie world, and the booze world. Just don’t eat one of these pies while you’re driving — not that it would get you drunk, but you could get fruit on your dashboard.
I won’t miss an opportunity to sing the praises of SPAM, especially after they so graciously let me write a piece about their museum in Austin, MN a few months ago. Now, finally, you can appreciate delicious SPAM without having to drive all the way to Austin, because they set up a stand right at the state fair itself. Try a delicious SPAM burger with a side of even more delicious deep fried SPAM curds. Wash it down with a Coke, and pine for the day when SPAM finally invents a SPAM soft drink to accompany so legendary a meal.
This stand’s fare is so Minnesotan that you risk growing an extra beard on top of your preexisting beard just for having eaten some. In addition to their titular dish they also serve walleye balls, catfish on-a-stick, Cajun catfish, and smelt, a fish so good that you have to eat at least one dozen of them in order to get the proper effect. (How are smelt caught? Do people use a net, or do they painstakingly angle each one out using a lure the size of a peppercorn dangling at the end of some half ounce test?)
Wisconsin Gourmet Summer Sausage
If you want an especially exotic treat from a far away land, then you need only head over to the Dairy Building. There they keep the summer sausage beef logs from Wisconsin, a shadowy and mysterious land that lies somewhere to the east. This isn’t the most terribly convenient snack to munch on as you’re mincing around the Butterfly House, but it’s a delicious thing to enjoy at home, or alternatively use as a bludgeon to put people who’ve cut you in line back in their place.
By David Scheller