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Food & Drink

The Best, Worst, and Most Middling New Foods of the 2022 Minnesota State Fair

Our review crew returns to the fair for the first time since 2019.

Union Hmong Kitchen's winning addition to the flavors of the Fair.
Em Cassel

Earlier this year, your Racket pals took our best guesses at which of the 38-ish “official” new State Fair foods would be worthy of your time, money, and stomach. (What’s the difference between an official new food and a regular one? Ask the fair braintrust.)

On Thursday, the State Fair called our bluff, and we’ve returned from six hours of filling our guts to report our findings back to you. Were we right about what to anticipate? Not always! But now we’ve evaluated all those new fair foods according to our peerless, pitiless Scarf!, Shrug, Skip system. Accept no substitutes.

All italicized menu descriptions courtesy of the Fair’s PR team; all photos by us. 

Dej Qab Zib 
Price: $7.50
A coconut lychee colada made with a blend of coconut milk, lychee syrup, lime, and mint, served over ice. At Union Hmong Kitchen.

Dej Qab Zib was even more beautiful in person than in the “new foods” teaser pics. Topped with flowers and greens, it’s so dang pretty that people passing by turned their heads and noticed it. Oh, and it’s delicious, too, with its creamy coconut milk really acting as a backdrop to showcase the lime and mint flavors. And it’s refreshing: not too heavy, and just sweet enough. If you’re into Tom Kha Gai soup or looking for an elevated, booze-free pina colada, Dej Qab Zib will speak to you. 
Verdict: Scarf!

Breakfast Gnocchi
Price: $11.75
A bed of potato gnocchi topped with scrambled eggs, bacon, pesto cream, shallots, and balsamic glaze. At The Blue Barn. 

Blue Barn puts the “no” in gnocchi with this bummer of a breakfast dish. Let’s start with the gnocchi themselves, which are chalky, hard, and dry enough that perhaps they could be better saved to mark up local blackboards during the approaching school year. The continental-breakfast eggs aren’t much better, though at least they provided a rubbery reprieve from the “gnocchi.” (The gnocchi is an affront to god and man.) The one saving grace here is the pesto gravy, but though it’s simultaneously rich and zippy it’s fighting a battle that can’t be won by sauce alone.
Verdict: Skip

Buzz’n … Hot Honey Chicken Sausage Kebob
Price: $11
Hot honey drizzled over chicken sausage skewered with cornmeal biscuit chunks and served on a bed of coleslaw. At Sausage Sister & Me.

The Sausage Sister (and You) get some points for originality on this one—it’s always a good sign when you’re leaving the Food Building and someone stops you to ask, “What is that?” But the visual appeal of this chicken and biscuit skewer doesn’t hold up once you get the first bite of the chewy but bland chicken sausage, which is nestled in a pile of fine but not memorable slaw. The biscuits are fluffy and tasty, though, and you can’t go wrong—can’t go too wrong—with a drizzle of hot honey. Which makes us wish the sister went ahead with a Southern-ified, deep-fried chicken in here instead. Definitely not buzz’n.
Verdict: Shrug

Pork Schnitzel Sandwich
Price: $14
Breaded and deep-fried Minnesota pork loin topped with pickled cabbage and served with mustard mayo on a toasted bun. At Minnesota Farmers Union Coffee Shop.

We’re not saying our prediction was wrong, exactly: Dads will indeed love this hearty sandwich, but so will any other pork-eating fairgoer with functioning taste buds. The fried pork loin is surprisingly juicy, flavorful but not too salty, and coated in a thin-ish layer of crispy breadcrumbs. Crunchy, tart cabbage slaw on top contrasts beautifully with the meat, and mustard mayo on the bottom brings the tiniest bit of spice. Even on the bun we have no notes. The only thing keeping this delicious sandwich from being an ideal fair food is the very heft of it: Finish one of these and you might be done for the day. (Pictured with the also new-this-year blood orange lemonade, which mostly tasted like lemonade.)
Verdict: Scarf!

Belly Full Nordic Waffle and Vanilla Dream Nordic Waffle
Price: $12 and $10, respectively.
Two new fresh-made waffle sandwiches: Belly Full is a spring onion-infused Nordic Waffle filled with sous vide (pronounced sue-veed) seasoned pork belly with coleslaw and locally made jalapeño jam; Vanilla Dream is a Nordic Waffle coated with cinnamon and sugar and filled with Norwegian vanilla custard cream. At Nordic Waffles.

We’ve been fans of Nordic Waffles since its 2018 Fair debut—no one else is brave enough to ask, “What if a waffle was a hot dog bun?” So it brings us no joy to say that this year… this year is a big ol’ skip. Let’s start with the Vanilla Dream, whose custard cream filling has the texture and taste of vanilla icing that’s been slathered on a hot cake too soon after it was taken from the oven. It also looks… I’m sorry, it looks exactly like semen. (More like the Wet Dream! Folks!) Then there’s the Belly Full, which piles limp, gray pork belly and unseasoned slaw into its onion-infused shell—the one tasty component between the two. Better luck next year!
Verdict: Skip

Credit: Em Cassel

Mov + Nqaij
Price: $12-$15
Purple sticky rice with choice of sauce, including Krunchy Chili Oil (dried Thai chilis, garlic, shallots), Lemongrass Scallion Dressing (lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots), and Tiger Bite (Thai chilis, garlic, shallots, cilantro, fish sauce, oyster sauce, lime juice); plus, choice of skewered and grilled meat, including Hmong Sausage (house-made coarse-ground pork sausage link with Krunchy Chili Oil), Hilltribe Chicken Thigh (ginger, lemongrass), or Lemongrass Turmeric Tofu (marinated in a lemongrass and turmeric blend). At Union Hmong Kitchen.

It’s about time: Hmong food finally shows up at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. And judging by the day-one lines (which moved quickly), white Minnesotans are more than ready for this. Union Hmong Kitchen owner Yia Vang appeared happy to be there, as well he should, because the dish offered at this stand is a definite winner. Having to choose among three proteins and three more sauces adds a layer of difficulty to ordering, but we can highly recommend the Hmong sausage, which was snappy, full of flavor, and perfectly charred, and the Krunchy Chili Oil sauce—the latter only if you’re up for some real, non-Minnesotan level heat. Pretty purple sticky rice and refreshing pickled veggies rounded out the artful arrangement, which we took a moment to appreciate before devouring. 
Verdict: Scarf!

Concha Bacon Burger
Price: $12
All-beef patty with raspberry aioli, lettuce, pepper jack cheese, pickled jalapeños, and bacon served on a concha, a traditional Mexican sweet bread roll. At Aldo’s.

The Concha Bacon Burger is a scarf-able marvel—proof that there’s a way to do a lot with a new State Fair food without overdoing it. Here, salty and savory meet sweet and spicy in a handheld that’s also a colorful reminder that we’re here to have fun. (There are two colors of concha—canary yellow and hot pink!) Pickled jalapeños provide the perfect pop of flavor, cutting through the greasy burger from bite to bite. The bacon is bacon—it’s good. And the soft and squishy bun left our fingers dusted in its yellow topping, as if we’d been pollinated by a sweet burger bee. Very cute, and very tasty. 
Verdict: Scarf!

All Quacked Up!
Price: $12
Fried, farm-fresh duck egg from Graise Farm in Faribault atop shaved smoked ham, aged cheddar cheese, tomato and spinach, served open-face on toasted sourdough bread with paprika aioli. At The Hideaway Speakeasy.

What are we doing here? I mean, really, what are we doing? Who asked for this? Show me the demand for a sandwich that’s almost impossible to eat with a plastic fork, one whose avalanche of runny yolk will remain suspended in your beard long after you finish trying to eat it? The cheese isn’t melted! At all! The shaved ham is a couple rungs above Carl Buddig; the produce would fit in at any airport’s grab ‘n’ go cooler. The sourdough is nice and ideal for sopping, though it’s entirely uncuttable. The marquee ingredient here, the goddamn duck egg imported from Faribault, tasted like an egg. This thing is a mess. My plate looked like a tornado hit it. Fair foodstuffs must be streamlined for ease of consumption—you’re sweaty, dripping with sunscreen, and have a lot of ornate chickens to gawk at. All Quacked Up! requires proper utensils and seating, but even then you’re dealing with a middling sandwich.
Verdict: Skip

Gray Duck Sundae
Price: $9
Bridgeman’s Black Licorice Ice Cream topped with marshmallow cream, crunchy mini marshmallows, whipped cream and a cherry. At Bridgeman’s Ice Cream.

What we have here is a real YMMV type of Fair food. If you’re among the people who really, really like black licorice—one of the folks who down those salty Swedish candies with abandon—you’ll probably be into this licorice-swirled dessert treat. For the agnostics, it’s just fine: a serviceable sundae with instant-hot-chocolate-like marshmallows and a playful squirt of whipped cream. If you’re black licorice averse? We’d recommend eating just about anything else you can find at the Fairgrounds this year. 
Verdict: Shrug

Pickle Pizza
Price: $9
Hand-tossed homemade pizza dough topped with homemade specialty dill ranch sauce, fresh mozzarella and crunchy dill pickles, and finished with dill weed seasoning. At Rick’s Pizza.

No, you’re the dill weed! Look, we’re willing to admit this’ll be another divisive one. You either love pickles, dig dill, and are down for the idea of a pickle pizza, or you’re a boring culinary rat who—sorry, that got out of hand. Anyway Racket’s staffers fall into the former camp, and Rick (insert softball Pickle Rick joke here) has done it with this State Fair debut. The pizza is on the floppy side, and it’s big. (Which is good, because at nine bucks a slice, we’re willing to admit this one is “a bit pricey,” as your Minnesota mom would say.) The pickles play nicely with a punchy white sauce and plentiful helping of melty cheese, and the seasoning on top results in a delightfully dilly denouement.
Verdict: Scarf!

New Mexico Chile Dog Sliders Two Ways
Price: $10
Green chile and red chile – made with roasted-on-site New Mexico Hatch chiles and a hint of chorizo pork, topped with queso-style cheese and red onion, served over all-beef hot dogs on slider buns. Comes with a prickly pear cactus slushie shooter on the side.

The promises of hot dog manufacturers can be a real tell. If “all-beef” is all they can muster, you’re slumming it through Hot Dog Town. It’s tough to even find these lil wieners, considering they’re entombed by mammoth, dry buns. The two-way toppings are mostly indistinguishable, delivering too many onions and too few chilies. Those all-beef dogs? Salt bombs of the highest order; any beef flavor had been nuked away by an infusion of sodium that’d make your doctor weep. They’re industrial-grade doggies, hidden between surplus dry bread and flavorless toppings. That said: The slushie shooter was bright, refreshing, and adorable. 
Verdict: Shrug

Cotton Candy Float
Price: $6
Cotton candy soda poured over Kemps vanilla ice cream and topped with cotton candy. At German Root Beer and Popcorn.

We ate this one late in the day, and to be honest we were real worried it was going to be a sugar bomb. And it was, but it was also… bomb. This is a pretty drink, the stuff of unicorn floss, bubbly joy, kawaii dreams, and Instagram hearts. But it isn’t just photogenic, it’s a delight to drink. The carbonation really saves the day here, bringing everything together just right. It gets even better once that vanilla ice cream melts. If you’re like us, you might find that it gives that extra bit of energy you need to enjoy the fair a little longer. 
Verdict: Scarf!

Deep-Fried Ice Cream
Price:
$8
Handmade ice cream bar covered with a crispy corn flake coating, deep-fried, drizzled with raspberry and blueberry sauces, and topped with sprinkles. At Snack House.

“This is a no brainer,” we wrote in our new-food production post. “Of course it will be tasty.” Oh, Racket, you online paradise of fools… Here’s what I think happened here: The folks at Snack House plopped a bunch of ice cream rectangles of indistinguishable flavor into the corn flake coating, then dunked ‘em in oil, then flash-freezed ‘em back into storage. The result is such a massive bummer, which is so easy to avoid when you’re dealing in the realm of ice cream. To no benefit, the vendor put this poor ice cream through hell, rendering it hard as a puck and freezer burnt. The too-sweet drizzles add little; the mealy, soaked batter tastes like old, milk-logged cereal. This is what happens when you put the gimmick before the treat horse. 
Verdict: Skip

Birthday Cake Paleta
Price: $6
A Mexican frozen dessert on-a-stick made with chunks of birthday cake, sprinkles and a vanilla extract base, specially created by locally owned La Michoacana Rose to celebrate Hamline Church Dining Hall’s 125th year at the fair. Additional paleta varieties are also available. At Hamline Church Dining Hall.

I’ve never in my life had a bad thing to say about a paleta, and the Birthday Cake Paleta at Hamline Church Dining Hall (pre-made and pre-packaged by La Michoacana Rose) is no exception. This thing was a rich and creamy delight, absolutely flavor-packed and playfully flecked with rainbow sprinkles. Each cake bite was a pleasant surprise, proof that a paleta is so much more than just a popsicle. Plus, at six bucks, it’s one of the cheaper new treats you can find while traipsing around Dan Patch Avenue this year. We’ll be back to try some more flavors of these newbies for sure. 
Verdict: Scarf!

Poultrygeist and the Steak-xorcist
Price: Poultrygeist: $13 Steak-xorcist: $14
Poultrygeist is fried chicken topped with sausage gravy and french fried onions on buttery Texas toast; and Steak-xorcist is chicken fried steak topped with sausage gravy and french fried onions on buttery Texas toast. At The Herbivorous Butcher.

This is Herbivorous Butcher’s first year at the Fair, adding even more options for plant-based eaters. As you can see in the pic above, these dishes look pretty similar. But beware: They are not equal. Both are visually appealing, resting on a bed of spongy Texas toast, smothered in creamy gravy with oregano and other mild spices, and topped with crunchy little onions and flecks of parsley. Normally these are things that make or break a good vegan dish, and they’re all really good! But it comes down to the meat. The Poultrygeist nails that fried chicken essence with a pleasant crunch coating and a chewy texture. The Racket gang even preferred it to the chicken in the Soul Bowl’s Soulsicle—impressive, coming from a group of mostly meat-eaters! The Steak-xorcist, however, wasn’t really steak-like. It was more like a gummy sausage, which was just confusing, and kinda off-putting. 
Verdict: Poultrygeist: Scarf! Steak-xorcist: Skip

Sweet Potato Poutine
Price: $14.75
Sweet potato waffle fries topped with cheese curds, Beyond chorizo sausage, turmeric gravy, pico de gallo and fresh cilantro. At The Blue Barn.

Why is this called poutine? It really doesn’t resemble the national dish of our Canadian buddies. First of all, poutine does not need to be modified much to be made vegetarian, you just gotta make veggie gravy. But so much has been changed here as to render it unrecognizable. The overcooked Beyond chorizo sausage was spiced with cinnamon for some reason. The cheese curds were flavorless. We couldn’t find the gravy anywhere; there was just an oniony green sauce. Was that the gravy? The waffle fries were both soggy and depressed, weighed down by the layers of lies. What did Canada do to deserve this?
Verdict: Skip 

Kulfi: Indian-Style Ice Cream
Price: $5
Made with condensed milk, nuts and infused spices. Available in three creamy flavors: Almond/Cashew/Pistachio Kulfi; Mango Kulfi; and Saffron/Almond/Pistachio Kulfi. At Hot Indian.

Hot Indian is usually a pretty safe bet at the State Fair; I don’t think they’re failed us yet with their offerings. Kulfi is no exception. We chose the mango flavor, and it was refreshing, full-on fruity, and frozen solid enough to not get too messy while eating it. Added bonus? This is a treat that is as delicious as it was economical at a very affordable $5. 
Verdict: Scarf! 

Molotes
Price: Two for $10
Deep-fried corn masa empanadas with choice of fillings: Chipotle Style is filled with shredded chipotle chicken and topped with chipotle sour cream, cotija (pronounced kuh-TEE-huh) cheese and fresh cilantro; and Elote Style is filled with roasted corn and topped with mayo, cotija cheese and Tajin (pronounced tuh-HEEN) seasoning (can be prepared vegan). (Gluten-free). At Midtown Global Market’s Andy’s Garage. (Available Aug. 25-30 only)

These pronunciation guides, man. The fair’s PR team thinks we’re about as worldly as the hooved inhabitants of the Cattle Barn. (Overestimating your audience’s intelligence gets you nowhere fast in the corporate communications biz.) Anyway, hand-holding fairgoers through cotija aside, these molotes (am I saying that right?) are ho-hum. The thick, cake-y batter was dry, as was the shredded chicken inside, though the zesty seasoning did match well with the creamy chipotle sour cream and cilantro. My vegetarian companion’s review of the elote version? “Needs more corn!” A sad state of things, when dealing with a corn-forward dish. The two-for-$10 price tag provides some value, but be warned: The molotes are not that SIZE-a-ble.
Verdict: Shrug

Sundae Sammie 
Price: $10.
Grilled sandwich with cinnamon bread, Minnesota strawberry jam, vanilla cream, fresh strawberries, whipped cream, toasted peanuts, confetti sprinkles and flaked sea salt. At Jammy Sammies by Brim.

If you’re not someone who makes their way around Machinery Hill, you might miss out on some of the tastier things they have to offer. The Sundae Sammie is basically a sweet panini, which is not something we are terribly familiar with, but we… think we like it? The jam this Sammie is stuffed with tastes homemade, with big chunks of strawberries—did we spot some apples or pears in there, too? The vanilla cream is just the right sweetness, and plays nicely with the tartness of the jam. Brim’s booth just has good vibes in general—it was fun to watch the server delicately place the peanuts, sea salt, and sprinkles just so before handing it over to us. A lot of love went into this pretty little Sammie, man.
Verdict: Scarf!

Earth Sliders and “Meat” Balls & Marinara
Price: $13
Earth Sliders are a marinated, battered and crispy fried “chicken” patty topped with house-made, slightly spicy secret sauce, shredded lettuce and house-made cucumber pickles that have been marinated in turmeric, garlic and sweet onion, served on a grilled bun. “Meat” Balls & Marinara are Italian herb-seasoned “meat” balls browned and sauteed in house-made garlic and oregano red marinara sauce, topped with plant-based Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley, served with a slice of grilled sourdough bread. At French Meadow Bakery & Cafe.

Have you ever had Gardein’s Crispy Tenders? That’s basically what these Earth Sliders are. And that’s not a bad thing! They get the job done and taste chickeny enough. You get two generously sized mini sandwiches when you order, and it comes loaded with fresh heaps of lettuce and a legit-tasty “secret sauce” that is definitely not spicy and tastes a lot like Thousand Island dressing. The pickles are the scene stealers here; they’re thick and vinegar-y and great on their own or in the slider. There are more adventurous things to try if you’re a vegan, but these guys have enough going for them to be worthwhile. As for the “Meat” Balls, those are kinda a bummer. The “meat” tastes more like sausage, with a bit of a chemical aftertaste. The sauce tastes like Ragu. The little wedge of bread though? Delicious. It’s the star of this dish. Which is not a good sign. 
Verdict: Earth Sliders: Scarf! “Meat” Balls: Skip 

Pink Guava Slushie
Price:
$6
Frozen slushie drink made with juice squeezed from fresh pink guavas. At Holy Land.

Blended smooth and uniform, this highly drinkable slushie delivers nice, not-too-sweet notes of guava. If you’re a guava freak, you’ll be in hog heaven. If you’re a guy like me, the kind of guy that pays little mind to guava? Better options exist for drinking an unfathomable amount of sugar. 
Verdict: Shrug

Tirokroketes
Price: $7
Mix of spicy feta, cream cheese and mozzarella blended with Dino’s Greek seasoning, then rolled in a gluten-free panko, deep-fried and sprinkled with lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and Dino’s seasoning. At Dino’s Gyros.

This Greek standby knows how to deliver tasty cheese apps—their Feta Bites, which debuted a few years back, remain a Team Racket favorite, a nice alternative to the cheese curd when you’re feeling a lil Mediterranean. These new crunchy balls, served in a boat of five, are as elaborate as the feta bite is simple, combining three cheeses (feta, mozzarella, and cream cheese) with a lemon tang that pushes the ensemble to an almost cheddary sharpness. The fine outer crunch is complemented by a sprinkling of parmesan. It’s tasty stuff. But we’ll still take the Feta Bites, just an impossible act to follow. 
Verdict: Shrug

Lemon Cookie Tortilla Chips
Price: $9
Lemon sandwich cookies deconstructed into four large tortilla chips made from a blend of cookies and corn, served with creamy-center-of-the-cookie cream dip topped with lemon curd. At Blue Moon Dine-In Theater.

I’m so fucking mad at this dish. Somebody needs to go to jail. It’s Day 1—DAY 1!—of the Fair, and you’re charging us $9 for four stale—STALE!—chips? Outrageous. The sugar dusting wasn’t unpleasant, while the lemon curd dip could pass for the filling inside a gas station doughnut. So much of indulging at the fair is knowing—being promised, really—that the glitzy, overpriced item you’ve chosen for you and your family will be worth the monetary and caloric payoff. When my colleague brought this sad, sneering, insulting platter over from the Blue Moon, my heart sank. Visually, you know it will suck. The extent to which it did? That surprised even this grizzled veteran of the fair-chow wars. Thank god it’s at least a tax write-off for us.
Verdict: Scarf! JK, run away.

Minneblueberry Pie
Price:
$10
Handmade blueberry pie made with a crisp, flaky crust, filled with blueberries, and served with vanilla ice cream. At Minneapple Pie.

From the folks who bring you the perfectly fine Minneapple Pie each year comes the perfectly fine Minneblueberry Pie. The blueberry filling is fruity and fresh, the crust is deep-fried and crisp, the accompanying ice cream scoop (vanilla or cinnamon) an ideal complement. What’s not to like? But then again, what’s there to love? If you’re in the mood for a blueberry pie, this is exactly the one you’re in the mood for. If not—well, it’s a big Fair with lots of food. 
Verdict: Shrug

Tandoor-Fired Jerk Chicken Mini’zza
Price: $7
White chicken meat, bell pepper, onion medley, whole milk mozzarella cheese, West Indies Soul Food’s signature Jamaican Jerk Sauce and Pizza Karma’s Tikka Sauce on a mini crust. At West Indies Soul Food.

The International Bazaar is sneakily becoming the best place to feast at the fair—turns out welcoming in vendors whose cultures thrive on street food is a wise plan. And this Pizza Karma/West Indies collab is a perfect fair food. The naan crust is light but sturdy, the rich tikka sauce of Pizza Karma blends with the flavorful kick of West Indies’ hot sauce into a palate-taunting cross-cultural nectar, the chicken is tender, the cheese is pizza-gooey, and the peppers and onions are crisp. Oh, why is our beloved Pizza Karma in Eden Prairie and why is Eden Prairie so far away?!
Verdict: Scarf!

Chicken Tandoori Rolls
Price: $12
Chicken seasoned with tandoori spices, onions and peppers wrapped in paratha flatbread, then grilled and served with a side of avocado cilantro lime sauce. At Holy Land.

Two hefty rolls for $12 is a good deal in the economically distorted world of the State Fair. As for the rolls themselves, they’re a little underwhelming, just slightly limp flatbread tubes of nicely stewed, if a smidgen under-seasoned, tandoori chicken. The accompanying avocado-lime sauce provides some needed auxiliary flavor. Perfectly chompable on a nice fair afternoon. But this isn’t “chomp, chew, choke”—we scarf, shrug, or skip, around here. And before I unwrapped roll #2, my shoulders were already rising involuntarily.
Verdict: Shrug

Coco-Nuts Bowl
Price: $12
The Beauty and the Buffalo bowl features ranch hummus, buffalo chicken, crumbled blue cheese, scallions, buffalo sauce and buffalo dust, served with pita puffs. The Coco-Nuts bowl features hazelnut chocolate hummus, chocolate chips, hazelnuts, shredded coconut and bananas, served with powdered sugar pita puffs. At Baba’s.

Some may find the very concept of a dessert hummus blasphemous, but we food apostates at Racket pay such concerns no mind. (Or perhaps we pay them too much mind?) Whether this specific dessert hummus is worth valuable stomach real estate, however, is a different matter. It’s creamy enough, to be sure, and those pillowy pita bites are exquisite. But the whole shebang isn’t quite sweet enough, even when you make sure to include the chocolate chips, the shredded coconut, and the banana slices in your pita dip. On the other hand, Beauty and the Buffalo puts the puffy pita to work in an equally elaborate and more crave-worthy bowl of buffalo chicken and blue cheese. It also lets us use the word “buffalo dust,” surely a win in its own right.
Verdict: Coco-Nuts: Skip. Beauty and the Buffalo: Scarf!

Tot Dog
Price: $7
All-beef hot dog dipped in corn dog batter, rolled in a mixture of minced tater tots, cheddar cheese and onions, then deep-fried. At Lulu’s Public House.

We’ve already got corn dogs and pronto pups battling it out—do we really need a third contender for top dog at the fair? Well, this year Tot Dog makes a good case for itself, with a plump, beefy frank encased in crunchy, onion-abetted batter. Quite simply, what’s not to love about a hot dog enveloped in an onion ring, especially with some Velveeta-ish dippin’ sauce to add flavor? By the time we hit Lulu’s, it was late, we were hot, and we were far from still hungry, but this highly dunkable dog had us, uh, wagging our tails (or whatever corny dog metaphor you prefer).
Verdict: Scarf!

Celebration Cake On-A-Stick
Price: $6
White cake infused with almond flavoring and decorated with white frosting. This mini version of Mancini’s house cake can be personalized on-site with short text to celebrate a favorite fair fan or special occasion. At Mancini’s al Fresco.

I nearly maxed out my allotted character count for the personalized message, but the friendly worker did her best to spell out RACKET, as you may or may not see above. As for the cake itself? Sweet and sturdy, with strong almond notes, just enough moisture, and an almost doughnut-like feel. The personalization element is a whole lotta fun—we just pray teens and fairgoers who’ve been chugging day beers keep it PG. At $6, you’re not gonna find much better sweet treat value out there, though there’s not a big “wow” factor here.
Verdict: Shrug

Sweet Cheese Blintz
Price: $5
Soft baked crepe filled with sweet vanilla-flavored cream cheese and sprinkled with powdered sugar. At iPierogi.

Hey iPierogi, are you… doing OK? Because this is not a food to serve anyone—it’s a depression meal to eat hunched over the sink. The sad little tube tasted like nothing; its overwhelming flavor was beige. No part of it was discernible from the rest: Is this soft, squishy, bland cheese or soft, squishy, bland crepe? Impossible to tell. Pierogi are so, so good—maybe focus on those? Because to be blunt, your blintzes are blegh. 
Verdict: Skip

Minne Hot Hot
Price: $12
Smoked Rib Tips tossed in Nashville Hot Sauce, served with Comeback Sauce. At RC’s BBQ.

Some bits were a little tough. Others were a little chewy and fatty. Some bites delivered a BBQ HR. Throughout it all: bones, so many itty-bitty bones. The value is evident, because you’re dealing with a generous heap of meat, but navigating the hit and miss bites while avoiding mini bones wasn’t ideal, especially when the item is hot and sticky with sauce. (That zingy and flavorful sauce, by the way, barely approaches the Minnesota-defined threshold for hot; the mysterious Comeback Sauce tastes like Ranch.) Inexplicably, the piece of toast cradling those ribs is infused with so. much. salt. How do you make bread salty? Why would you want to make bread salty? Those desperately seeking BBQ could do a whole lot worse, but this impractical platter of pig parts will leave most folks messy and underwhelmed.
Verdict: Shrug

Reuben Rolls
Price:
$10
Corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut hand-rolled in an egg roll wrapper, deep-fried and served with a side of O’Gara’s homemade Thousand Island dressing. At O’Gara’s at the Fair, located on the southwest corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Cosgrove Street.

We’re sick of your shit, O’Gara’s! My colleague laughed at me when I drew the short-straw task of housing this unholy fusion. He was right to do it. This reuben gimmickry happens nearly every damn year, and it’s always a low point on our (otherwise joyous) munchin’ journey across the fair. As promised, the hot mess of Hot Pocket-grade corned beef granules/cheese/kraut is, indeed, crammed inside of egg roll casing and deep fried to hell. The crunch? Fine. The insides? Punishingly hot and possessive of a weird, charred aftertaste. Just give me a reuben, though, after being jerked around by O’Gara’s every August, we’ve forgotten whether the signature dish was even solid to begin with. 
Verdict: Skip

Vegan Corn Dog
Price: $8
Plant-based vegan hot dog hand-dipped in plant-based vegan corn dog batter and deep-fried. At Daryl’s Dog House.

We have the technology. At last, vegetarians and vegans can eat a freakin’ corn dog at the Fair! Well, we have had the technology to make vegan corn dogs for years. But it’s never been at the Fair, and that makes these guys something special. Yes, hot dogs are probably the easiest meat to dupe–tofu dogs have been adequately copying the Oscar Meyer wiener for years. But when you dip them in a corn batter and fry them? That’s magic on a stick, baby. 
Verdict: Scarf!

Turmeric Ginger Lemon Surprise
Price: $6
Fresh ginger, turmeric syrup and a dash of bitters mixed with West Indies Soul Food’s Original Caribbean Lemonade. At West Indies Soul Food.

So… the surprise is the bitters? Despite needing a new, catchier name, West Indies Soul’s Turmeric Ginger Lemon Surprise (see, all the other ingredients are listed right there!), is a damn near perfect fair beverage. The tart and sweet flavors are well balanced, and the prominent ginger adds a nice little kick–not to mention helps soothe any stomach experiencing fried-food overload. This might be the most refreshing drink on the fairgrounds.
Verdict: Scarf!

Soulsicle
Price: $9
Fried chicken on-a-stick topped with candied yam sauce, cornbread crumble, mac-and-cheese seasoned cheddar cheese, hot sauce and green onions. At Soul Bowl.

Much like Dennis Rodman, some entries in the fair-food game just try to do too much. A popsicle stick could not contain the multitudes this piece of fried chicken was forced to bear. The meat itself was fairly tasty but dry, the breading too thick. As far as the toppings, candied yam sauce dominated with an overwhelming sweetness, while the cornbread crumble fell off as soon as we picked this thing up. Hot sauce was visible but not detectable in taste. The mac-and-cheese seasoned cheddar (huh?) was finely shredded, which did help it stick to the chicken, but it still didn’t add anything enjoyability-wise. No issues with the green onions; those were a nice touch. 
Verdict: Skip

Chick N Swiss Sausage
Price: $9
Grilled chicken sausage custom-made with chunks of Swiss cheese and asparagus, ground pineapple, bacon and jalapeño, served on a bun. At Gass Station Grill.

If this brat-style sausage at Gass Station Grill has taught us one thing, it’s that asparagus and chicken are meant to lead fulfilling but separate lives, occasionally sharing space on the same grill grate or dinner plate, but never, ever ground up and combined into one unholy creation (also with cheese and fruit!). Each bite of this was different, as some were taken over by too-large chunks of Swiss cheese, but the asparagus was prominent throughout, and not in a pleasant way. The texture of the intact asparagus pieces only proved that this (not even in season!) veggie was not meant to be encased in meat and then cooked. The bun was… fine. 
Verdict: Skip