Top State Fair Tips

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Get the best food…


 MY NUMBER ONE STATE FAIR TIP:

1) Timing is everything. 

If you want the best food a vendor has to offer, be willing to get up early or be willing to wait. Everything is fresh right when the gates open so your best bet is to get there early and tackle your favorites right away. If it is painful to get up early, be ready to wait in line. If there isn’t a line the food is likely old and you shouldn’t be eating it. Period.

Most people think convenience: I am nearby so I will get it. If you truly want the best food: find their peak time, wait for them to make a fresh batch, or ask for a new one. It can make or break your fair food experience. 

2) Don’t order food that the vendor doesn’t specialize in. 

You wouldn’t order sushi from McDonalds, don’t order a corn dog from a slushy maker. Only order the one item that vendor specializes in. If they don’t have a “top selling item” think twice before placing your order. 

3) Speak up. 

If your food isn’t cooked properly, RETURN IT. I returned at least 6 different foods that were undercooked. (GROSS!) The vendors want to make you happy and you shouldn’t be stuck with a half-cooked item. If your food isn’t perfect, get a new one. 

4) Don’t judge a vendor by their booth. 

Some of the best foods I have tried have come from the most generic looking vendors. If you know you want to try what they are offering, go for it. If it ends up being a flop, you can always get your other standby option. 

5) Keep an eye out for deals

Most of the vendors I visited on “Thrifty Thursday” didn’t even know what their deal was. Pay attention to what you expect to pay and ask about deals. I showed the discount to several of the vendors for proof. $2.00 in savings adds up quickly when you have a whole day in front of you. Also watch for coupon books. Most vendors have signs posted, but if you forget, I found that most will give you your money back if you present them with the coupon shortly after your purchase. 

6) Avoid Deals

First decide if you want it, then look for a coupon. A lot of the time the fair’s best foods don’t have deals: cheese curds, Sweet Martha’s, Pronto Pups, etc. Don’t order something just because you have a coupon or because it is a bonus buy. I made that mistake several times and should have stuck with the original vendor and not the vendor with the coupon.   

7) Consider if it is available outside the fair

After eating everything on-a-stick it was always a disappointment to be served something that I can get some where else for half the price. Think: is this pre-packaged? Can I get it once the fair is over? (Lollipops, cotton candy, regular popcorn, regular kabobs, popsicles, Icee, etc.) Is this food unique or different?

General…


1) Don’t pay for parking.

You are a fool if you pay to park. There are tons of ways to get to the fair FOR FREE: bike, bus, walk, run, or drive and find street parking. You are going to be walking around all day at the fair, is $20 to park a couple blocks closer really worth saving those extra steps. Don’t be silly.  Yes, time is money, but taking a shuttle into the new transit hub will add 20 extra minutes to your day. 

2) Say hello and don’t be afraid to go alone.

People love to talk. Everyone wants to be acknowledged: vendors, kids, volunteers, etc. Saying hello opens up the door to so many conversations. Even if you don’t want to talk, a simple smile will let the person know you appreciate their work. It’s easy and leaves them in a better mood for the next person they encounter.  You can have a completely different fair experience if you just say hello. Trust me, going alone forces you to be friendly, and all the laughs outweighed all the awkward moments.

3) Have a plan ahead of time so you are don’t have to wander back and fourth all day. 

When you visit in a group, have a plan. Find out what everyone wants to do and strategize. If you don’t discuss what you want to do ahead of time, you could end up walking miles more than you meant to. 

4) Take out money before you arrive. 

This is an easy one, but everyone always forgets. Almost all vendors are cash only and money goes quickly. Take out more than you need and disperse it evenly (a little in your pocket, some to your husband, some in your purse). You will be covered if you drop something. 

5) Wear real shoes. 

Sure your sandals are cute and your heels go better with your dress, but walking in the barns with open toed shoes is gross and dropping ketchup on your toes is grosser yet. Be practical, wear sneakers and avoid a painful recovery.

6) Visit the buildings early. 

By noon, all the buildings are muggy and gross. If you want to see them all head to the Grandstand first and go from there. They get packed and it gets so hot ,everyone seems on edge.  

August 30 – Day 8, Food Recap

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I only have a few items left on my list and I knew the hardest one would be the jawbreaker. I got to the iCandy Shoppe just outside the Granstand at 8 am and grabbed one: “The World’s Largest Jawbreaker On-A-Stick.”

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I knew the only way I would be able to eat it would be to smash it in a million pieces. So I did….

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I met with WCCO and they wanted to cover my story (awesome!) so I spoke with them for a bit and we headed out to three stops.

First up was Hansen’s Breakfast Sausage On-A-Stick. I thought it tasted just like you would expect and actually made a nice breakfast. There are a lot of breakfast options near the barns and my personal suggestion would be the Deep Fried Breakfast or the Scotch Eggs. If you wanted something a little simpler these corn dogs had a good classic flavor. 

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We headed to Chan’s Chicken for a Teriyaki Chicken On-A-Stick. They cover the skewers in teriyaki and I thought the sauce was a bit sweeter than most teriyaki sauces. The chicken was perfectly cooked, but the sauce was a little strong. Overall, it was pretty good. The portion size was generous too. 

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My last stop with WCCO was for Luigi’s Hot Dago. The Hot Dago was essentially breadstick and meatballs covered in a melted cheese accompanied by a dipping sauce. The sauce and meatballs were very good but the breadsticks seemed a little bland. I know they have other foods there and I think next time I will try something else. It was served very hot and I liked the sauce so I would imagine it would be just as tasty on their other options. 

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My last stop of the morning was for a Double Bacon Corn Dog. I have heard about this a lot this year and I was expecting a little more. I didn’t get much of a bacon flavor (despite there being double bacon) and I also thought that it was dry. It comes with a maple syrup sauce which was a nice addition, but it just didn’t make my “must have” list for next year. 

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I very slowly plugged away at the jawbreaker and I did finish it. With every new portion I ate, I was reminded why it is called a jawbreaker. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CHEW. 

Tomorrow I wrap up my The Great State Fair Food Challenge. I am meeting my family bright and early in the morning and want to celebrate my last food item (Big Dog Corn Dog) with them by my side. They love me and my strange goals and I can’t think of a better way to finish this thing. 

Top 10 Best and Worst Foods On-A-Stick

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I got to thinking: What good is a top 10 list once the fair is over? I only have 1 item left and I have already eaten it before. I know where it falls so…here are the good and the bad of the 2014 fair.

Top 10 Best Foods

1) Deep Fried Snickers, Deep Fried Candy Bar Booth

These are just so over the top and indulgent. You would never eat these outside of the fair and they have the perfect texture.

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2) Super Stick, Spaghetti Eddie’s

Prepared to order, pepperoni with mozzarella cheese inside wrapped in a buttery crust. By far the best pizza-type food I came across.

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3) Cheese On-A-Stick

You have to visit the booth by the Giant Yellow Slide. These are always melty good and a must have every year.

Cheese on a stick

4) Handmade Nut Roll

I love nut rolls and these are served still warm. They are very sugary and sweet. I would get one to take home.

Nut Roll

5) Pronto Pup/Big Dog Corn Dog/Poncho Dog

Choose whichever one you like best but they all make the list and are fabulous. Try them all like I do.

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6) Breakfast On-A-Stick, The Sandwich Stop

This is a fun, unique item that had great flavor that I haven’t found elsewhere. A must-try fair food. Fried Breakfast

7) Chocolate Covered Cheesecake, Granny’s Cheesecake

Frozen cheesecake, fresh dipped in chocolate. They are better than any popsicle and a wonderful dessert.

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8) Tater Twister, Texas Tater

This was really fun to eat. Although it was a bit greasy it was a “single serving” size and I loved that I could peel it apart as I ate it. Softer than chips, crunchier than french fries.

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9) Deep Fried Baklava, Dino’s Gyros

This is as flaky as flaky can be. A very sweet treat and tastes like traditional Baklava, but with added layers of crust.

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10) Mocha On-A-Stick, MN Farmers Union

While I thought it was a bit over-priced ($5.75), it was creamy and had a great coffee flavor. image

I had Mickey’s Beef Kabobs as my number ten favorite but with such terrible pork and chicken I was having a hard time determining if the beef was the rule or the exception. You will have to determine this one on your own.


 

Top 10 Worst Foods

1) Wine Crusted Deep Fried Brie On-A-Stick, Minnesota Wine Country

This was awful. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

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2) Chicken Nachos On-A-Stick, Tejas

The meat was terribly fatty and it wasn’t actually on a stick, just the chicken was. It had pumped nacho cheese and cheap tortilla chips.

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3) Deep Fried Cookie Dough, Sonny’s

This was very undercooked and had zero texture.

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4) Gummy & Jaw Breaker – World’s Largest On-A-Stick, iCandy

I think the lesson here is to not buy anything that is prepackaged. There are so many freshly made snacks, that buying something that you purchase year round isn’t the route I would take. There are a million other options to get your sweets fix.

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5) Pizza On-A-Stick, Tino’s

This was very blah. It wasn’t hot, it didn’t have a lot flavor, it just took up space in my stomach.

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6) Puff Daddy, Sausage Sister’s and Me

This tasted like it had been under the heat lamps too long. Get their Twisted Sister instead, much better.

7) Buffalo Kabobs, Minnekabobs

The flavor of this was bland and the price was outrageous. I don’t think it counts as a healthy option either since it sits in a marinade once it is grilled.

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8) Alligator Sausage, Bayou Bob’s Gator Stand

This sausage was too fatty. It tasted great while I was eating it, but left me feeling very blah when it was gone.

9) Fried Fruit, Fried Fruit Stand

The is a bad combination and the fruit tastes like it came out of a freezer or can. The warmth of the fruit and the greasiness of the batter were a terrible texture. These guys sell Deep Fried Olives…go that route instead.

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Fried Olives with cream cheese

10) Pickle On-A-Stick, Fried Pickles

These pickles are just too big. They have lots of seeds in the middle and are very soft. I love pickles, but these ones are too large.  Try the pickles from Pickle Dog instead. They are smaller and crunchier.

Pickle on a stick

 

Please keep in mind that this is MY OWN opinion. Most of the vendors on the worst food list have other options available, some of which have now become my favorites.

August 27 – Day 7, Food Recap

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Today was the shortest day yet. Here is what I grabbed in less than 2 hours.

I saw pictures of the Texas Steak Dinner from Texas Taters (the ones that also have the cool spiral potatoes) and I thought it was going to be a bigger challenge. The pictures have four these…

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And when I asked if it was one serving, she said yes. Thankfully, when it got handed to me it was actually only one.

This was nothing special. It was a essentially a beef kabob that they were selling as steak. The meat was tough and the bun was a Village Hearth bun fresh out of the package. I made some mini bbq sandwiches with it and moved on. It was definitely something that you can make at home.

As it turns out, Green Mill doesn’t have Pizza Kabobs, so that was one less thing on my list.

I still had Pork and Chicken On-A-Stick left on my list so I walked back to Mickey’s. I figured with such fantastic beef kabobs their pork and chicken would be in line, but it was far from that. Both of the meats were very fatty and the pork was very tough. They were, again, served with a soft taco shell so after the initial taste test, I slathered them with BBQ and finished them. If you go to Mickey’s for a kabob, stick with the beef.

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Strawberries and chocolate, who wouldn’t love this combo. These strawberries were fresh and very tasty. They weren’t fresh dipped like the bananas that Granny’s Cheesecake is serving, but in this case it worked. You can find these right next to the Big Green Pepper down by the barns at Caribbean Smoothies.  The fruit kabobs came right out of the fridge and the chocolate was crunchy. Fresh and sweet, I would get it again. 

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My last stop was for a Gyro On-A-Stick from Holy Land Deli. This was really just lamb served with a side of tzatziki sauce. It was far from a sandwich and unless you are really in the mood for a plain slab of lamb, I would order something else. 

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I won’t be visiting the fair tomorrow because my body needs a little recovery. I will be posting the Top State Fair Tips that I have learned over the years.

There are 6 items left on my list.

SIX - ستة - seks - шест - шесть - șase - seis - έξι -sei - SIX

 

 

August 26 – Day 6, Food Recap

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Day 6!!! Typically, Tuesday is the lowest attended day of the fair, and I appreciated an easy day of navigating. 

I worked in the morning so I didn’t get to the fair until 2:30 pm. I hadn’t eaten anything yet so I decided to start with the Fried Veggies from Vegie Fries. I had never tried these before because I don’t come to the fair to eat vegetables. Once I started eating them I realized they are really just french fries and onion rings with a deceptive name. These had a slightly fluffier batter to them; less crunch than fries or onion rings. I would order them again. They were a good product with a bad name. 

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I needed a main course for lunch so I stopped by Mancini’s for a Sausage On-A-Stick. My first thought was: great another stinking  hotdog, but after the first bite I was surprised how different it tasted. It was pretty spicy and covered in a marinara sauce. It was also accompanied by some great bread. I didn’t have to eat the bread but I did because it was a nice pairing! If you like a little spice, try this one. 

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I walked over to Mickey’s across the street from the food building to grab a Beef Kabob. I had never tried any of their food before because it reminded me of every other fair vendor. To my surprise, these guys had great food! The beef was extremely tender and fell right off the stick. It came with a tortilla which seemed like an odd pairing, but they had lots of condiments to choose from and you could easily have made yourself a taco. Best kabob I have had so far. 

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On my way to my next stop I stumbled across these two. So cute! I told them I was going to post them on my blog and they looked a bit confused. None the less….

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Pretzel House serves up awesome pretzels so I was pretty pumped to try the Pretzel Dog. Unfortunately mine was not hot, not even warm. It could have been awesome, but it just wasn’t.

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For dessert I had a Deep Fried Twinkie. I am glad I tried it! It was very light and fluffy and I can see why people like them. I imagine they taste similar coming out of the factory oven. The Twinkie was hot and gooey with just a little more breading than an original Twinkie. It was a glorified Twinkie but a fun treat. 

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I knew I would have to tackle the Gummy eventually so I went for it. I thought it would taste like a gummy bear but I couldn’t even bite into it. I was a sticky mess trying to eat this mustache. Thankfully I sat next to a hilarious man for 45 minutes who told me all about his adventurous day at the fair. Do not get this, it wasn’t good. 

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You can’t go wrong with a fresh dipped Chocolate Covered Banana. Granny’s Cheesecakes does it right and this is a nice treat on a hot day. 

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I had a Paul Bunyan Bar from West End Creamery on my list, but I came to find out they only had Blue Bunny Orange Dreamsicles. Talk about disappointment. I paid $4.00 for something I can get at the grocery store year round for a fraction of the cost. They have so many other options, don’t waste your money on this. 

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I headed back to Peterson’s Grill to grab their Grilled Chicken Breast. It has the same seasoning as their pork chop, which is delicious, but I thought it seemed a little saltier on the chicken. Overall it was a bit salty, but grilled perfectly. 

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My last stop of the day was for Stuffed Jalapeños On-A-Stick. These were not on-a-stick and had been under the lamps way too long. I am pretty sure these don’t count as officially being on-a-stick which means I ate them for “fun.” Truth is, it wasn’t very fun, and they weren’t very good. 

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My girlfriends came out tonight so I had some company. They stopped at O’Gara’s and grabbed the Pretzel Curds and had rave reviews. I didn’t try one because well…it didn’t have a stick but they looked fabulous. 

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I have 11 items left on my list. I checked about 50 vendors today to confirm I didn’t miss anything and still have about 100 more vendors to go before I can officially say:

I ATE ALL THE ITEMS ON-A-STICK AT THE MINNESOTA STATE FAIR.

August 25 – Day 5, Food Recap

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It was a beautiful day for the fair! Perfect weather and lots of fun people were in attendance. Unfortunately, I had some of the worst food so far today. Read on to learn what to avoid!

Round 1


My morning started around 8:15 and I stopped into the Gass Station on the southeast corner of the food building for their Pancake Battered Sausage. I thought the sausage was a bit sweet but the outside breading was great. The women at the booth mentioned it was Jimmy Dean’s sausage, but it just tasted a little off compared to the dough. I also grabbed their Corn Dog Bites. I didn’t realize these were on-a-stick until they told me. These were great. I would highly suggest going with these if you are with a group and everyone wants a little bit of everything. This is one order (SIX!) and it has probably been one of the best “bang for your buck” foods I have found. It was $5.00. 

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Just inside the food building I grabbed Sonny’s Deep Fried Cookie Dough. These came out a year or two ago and were talked about quite a bit, but I hadn’t ever tried them until this morning. I went back to the booth because I didn’t think they were cooked enough, but the gentleman assured me they were (and even if they weren’t he said there wasn’t any egg in the batter). Either way, I thought they were very, very undercooked. They were very mushy and runny and the combo of outside breading and cookie dough center reminded me of an undercooked cake. It was terrible and I would not advise getting these. 

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And this is how I felt after the last bite.

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I wasn’t sure I had much more in me so I wondered around for a bit and grabbed a lollipop. I knew I was going to have to smash this thing to pieces in order to get it done, so I did just that. I had it gone in less than 5 minutes. 

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My breakfast dessert was Chai on-a-stick from the Farmers Union Booth. I thought the mocha was a better choice and had a more distinct flavor. 

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Round 2


I came back to the fair for dinner and grabbed an Italian Meatball on-a-stick from Spaghetti Eddies (they have 5 different things on-a-stick, good thing they are nice!). This wasn’t as good as the Pepperoni Super Stick but it was a close second. These guys have got those pizza sticks down. If you are in the mood for a pizza type food this is going to be your best bet.

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I headed up machinery hill to grab some Texas Steak Out foods. I started with the Texas Tater Dog and then grabbed a Texas Tater. They were both very good but a bit greasy. The Texas Tater was great because I am always eyeing up those huge baskets of spiral potatoes that tastes like chips but never buy one because I don’t want to eat the whole thing. The Texas Tater tastes very similar and is served in a single person serving (kind of). 

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Next stop: Deep Fried Olives. I love olives and I thought these had a great crust to them. The olives are filled with cream cheese and then breaded and fried. They had a nice sauce that came with them as well. If you like olives, these are worth trying. 

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I headed back to The Shrimp Shack for a Shrimp Dog. This is essentially a corn dog with a mayo/shrimp mixture in place of the hot dog. I thought it had pretty good flavor but the texture was off. I am a big texture person and there wasn’t really anything to chew; it was all very soft. I wouldn’t go back for the Shrimp Dog, but when I was there I saw those grilled shrimp again and wished I could have had seconds of those. 

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Still feeling pretty good I headed to MN Wine Country for their Wine Crusted Deep Fried Brie on-a-stick. I thought this would be perfect. I love cheese and I like wine, so it should be a good combo. WRONG. VERY WRONG. It had a very distinct alcohol flavor to it and as I swallowed it I thought I was taking a shot of liquor. After the shot went down I had to follow it up with a molten cheese chaser.

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I cannot stress how horrible this was to eat. I felt defeated as I sat and stared at the last two gigantic cheese puffs left in the tray. Just then my husband, who is on vacation in another country, called. I told him I was thinking about quitting and that I wasn’t going to be able to finish. For some crazy reason, he convinced me I had it in  me and we talked about strategy to get it done. With his words of encouragement I waited for everything to cool down, breathed though me mouth and accomplished the impossible (okay maybe I am exaggerating a little, but it was a stomach turner).

That basically did me in and the thought of food became very horrible but… as I walked towards the gate I saw Deep Fried Shortcake so I just had to grab it. It wasn’t anything special. They covered the crispy shortcake with a watery syrup mix which kind of ruined the whole thing. It tasted like a plain ol’ shortcake and I didn’t think it was anything you couldn’t put together yourself. 

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I have finished 70 foods so far and am still ahead of schedule. I have a bigger day planned for tomorrow and think I will be nearing the end sooner than I anticipated.

I think I can see the finish line.

August 24 – Day 4, Food Recap

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Day 4 started off quick and fast. My strategy today was to move quickly before the heat and the rain came through. I was also trying to beat the Sunday rush. 

I have been dreading/a little excited for the Scotch Eggs next to the barns. I love all the ingredients in these but I just wasn’t sure about the combo. The line was surprisingly long for 8 am and I took that as a good sign. It is a hard boiled egg with sausage wrapped around it then breaded and fried. They were VERY good. I thought it was a great breakfast and topped one half with maple syrup and the other with horseradish (per the vendors recommendation). I thought they were both very tasty and I would eat this again. The only thought was that the breading was a little dry – but for me that just meant more condiments. 

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I was still in the mood for breakfast type foods so I thought a Gluten Free Beer Battered Brat might fit the bill. This tasted surprisingly similar to a corn dog and I thought it was well done. If you are looking for a GF option I would suggest Sonny’s. They also have the ingredients posted right on the counter so you can see what you are getting. I love that!

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I have never had catfish before but the Walleye On-A-Stick booth was a great first impression. I actually liked the catfish better than the walleye that I had yesterday. I don’t think they tasted too different but the catfish was $1.00 cheaper and seemed a little more moist. Both the brat and the catfish are inside the food building.

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I felt like I was on a roll with the fish so I decided The Shrimp Shack was a good next stop. I tried the grill shrimp first followed by the bacon wrapped jumbo shrimp. The grilled shrimp come in cajun or garlic butter, so I opted for the cajun. I thought they were well done and they had just enough spice. I also thought if you were looking for a lighter, healthier option this would be a good choice. The bacon wrapped shrimp was very good but I feel like there should have been one more. They give you three but for $7.00 the portion was a bit small, especially compared to the grilled shrimp.

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I knew I had to keep moving so I stopped off in the International Bazaar at Henri’s. Henri’s has a good beer selection and they have really nice service. The bacon wrapped turkey tenderloin was very flavorful. I thought the meat was juicy and the bacon gave it a good flare. It was a little heavy so having someone to share it with would have been nice. It was meat, on meat and that is extremely filling. 

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As you can tell in my eyes above I was getting pretty full. I needed something fresh and sweet and knew just where to get it. Midtown Global Market inside the bazaar has whole mangos on-a-stick. These were fabulous. They were perfectly ripe, scored so they were easier to eat in sections and the best part is that it was just plain mango; nothing fried, added or buttered. It was so nice to have something fresh. This is THE spot to get your fresh fruit. It was awesome and I wish I could have had another one. (My love for this could have been from days of greasy food, but I really did think it was perfect.)

Mango

I was still craving sweet things so I stopped in and got a carmel apple and some cotton candy. These are fair food classics and you can’t go wrong. They reminded me of my childhood and I loved every bite. The apple was served on a pop top! And the gentleman that made my cotton candy said he was on the news yesterday and felt famous….so I HAD to take a pic with him. (Who would pass up a chance to take a picture with a famous person?!)

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While I was down by the GrandStand I popped in and grabbed a Cow Pop and a dark chocolate covered marshmallow (chocolate covered s’more) from Ultimate Confections. They were both smooth and surprisingly cheap! The marshmallow was only .50 cents. I would recommend either one if you are in the mood for a small bite of something sweet and don’t want to be over whelmed with too much of a good thing. 

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My sweet tooth was strong this morning so I decided a chocolate dipped cheesecake was in the cards. Granny’s Cheesecakes did not let me down. This was very good. It’s frozen cheesecake and then fresh dipped in white or milk chocolate. If you like cheesecake this is a tasty snack. It was like a cheesecake popsicle. You can find them just east of the yellow slide towards the butterfly tent. 

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I finished my morning off with coffee on-a-stick from the Minnesota Farmers Union. They had a live band so I sat and enjoyed some music while I finished off my day. The flavor was perfect and the texture was very creamy – it wasn’t icy like a popsicle. I also liked this stop because there were lots of older folks hanging out and as you know, I love hearing their stories. It was a fun ending to a fun morning. 

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Can you believe I did all that in 3.5 hours and all before 11:30 am? This puts me at 59 items in 4 days. 

The rest of the day brings the gym and some real life activities outside of the fair.

See you tomorrow!