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From best to worst, 56 new foods at the Minnesota State Fair — and where to find them

August 23, 2018

When Minnesota State Fair historians look back on 2017, the year will surely be remembered for its bounty of memorable new foods. From beautiful baked goods and stunning ice creams to imaginative breakfast, lunch and dinner items, a handful of savvy operators set out to impress, and succeeded; the highs tower as tall as the new selfie-bait Ferris wheel.

Of course, the Great Minnesota Pig-Out wouldnt be the same without flaunting some amusing but ill-advised attempts at social media fame and fortune. There are plenty of ho-hum additions to the deep-fried pantheon that probably wont generate even a flicker of buzz. (Memo to fair officials: Why not focus on new foods quality rather than quantity?) Prices continue to creep up no surprise there but its refreshing to witness the emergence of a few genuine bargains.

As for Thursdays by-the-numbers data, it took this critic 11 hours, 19,000 steps and $463 (almost entirely in cash, although credit card acceptance is on the rise) to assess 56 new food items at 44 stands on the fairs opening day. Here they are ranked, starting with the four star winners.

★★★★ out of four (Exceptional)

Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale

A must. Chef Mark Haugen smothers a fresh corn tamale in a complex mole, succulent pork thats braised in its own fat and a lively roasted-corn/black-bean salsa with cool pops of pineapple. One word: Wow. $10.Location: Tejas Express Map it

Smore Fun Ice Cream

An inspired (and obviously labor-intensive) riff on the marshmallow/graham-cracker/chocolate campfire ritual, one that subtly captures that sigh-inducing roasted marshmallow flavor. Way to go, Izzys. $5-$7.Location: Hamline Church Dining Hall Map it

Wild Bills Breakfast Bake

Chef Bill Kauffmans filling and shareable way to say good morning is a small-town egg bake meets chilaquiles, with tortillas layered with roasted pulled chicken, scrambled eggs, a lively charred tomato salsa, pickled onions and cotija cheese. So smart. Served all day. $8.75.Location: The Blue Barn Map it

Sweet Corn Blueberry clair

A fair food role model, this delicate, ultra-seasonal beauty hails from the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis and taps Minnesota farmers and mills for its Kernza grain, its luscious sweet corn pastry cream filling and its jaunty blueberry glaze. $6.50, and worth every messy crumb.Location: Farmers Union Coffee Shop Map it

Hill Country Beef Pocket

This well-seasoned homage to the pasty (and the Hot Pocket) suggests beef stroganoff in a major way, enveloped in a perfectly fried puff pastry-like shell. A winner. $8.75.Location: The Blue Barn Map it

Duck Bacon Wontons

Crisp, golden, moon-shaped wontons, filled with applewood-smoked duck bacon (a Boundary Waters version of turkey bacon), cream cheese and grilled sweet corn, with a just right apricot/red wine sauce. $8.50.Location: Giggles Campfire Grill Map it

★★★andfrac12;

Brown Ale and Onion-Gouda Tipsy Pie

With their light, flaky crusts and well-balanced fillings, Sara Haydens handmade pies are a welcome addition to the fair, including this spot-on blend of sweetly caramelized onions and a sturdy smoked Gouda. The glaze makes the most of a toasty brown ale from Stillwaters Lift Bridge Brewing Co. $5, a deal.Location: Saras Tipsy Pies Map it

Deviation Stout Steak Taco Naan

A dark chocolate- and cinnamon-infused stout (from Modist Brewing Co. in Minneapolis) is a key marinade for tender steak, the results jazzed with bright lime and cilantro accents. Instead of a tortilla, its warm, chewy naan. Terrific. $10.Location: San Felipe Tacos Map it

Unlimited Junior-Size Pops

A great fair goody just got better. Ten bucks buys all-you-can-eat status for these refreshing, fruit-packed, made-in-Minnesota frozen treats. Five tempting varieties. $10.Location: JonnyPops Map it

★★★ (Highly recommended)

Bacon-Maple Doughnut

Another locavore delight from the Birchwood Cafe, this cake-style doughnut (fashioned from flour milled by Bakers Field in Minneapolis) shines with a feisty chile-maple glaze and is dotted with generous hunks of smoky, Minnesota-made bacon. $6.50, a bit much.Location: Farmers Union Coffee Shop Map it

Big Bopper Bar

Dip an orange Creamsicle in chocolate, roll it in flaky coconut, and life is worth living. But really, $6?Location: West End Creamery Map it

Breakfast Buddy Bowl

A kitchen-sink wake-up call, with a waffle bowl filled with hash browns, cheesy eggs, bacon and a biscuit smothered in pork sausage gravy. $8.Location: LuLus Public House Map it

Chocolate Popover with Peanut Butter Spread

Yes, a popover, that holy-of-holies among Minnesota comfort foods, has finally hit the fair. Its sweetened with chocolate, served with a peanut butter-ish flourish. A little overbaked (and overpriced), but a treat. $6.Location: LuLus Public House Map it

Espresso Malt

A shot of espresso blended into sweet-cream ice cream (from St. Pauls Grand Ole Creamery). Heaven, with a straw. $7.50-$9.Location: Java Jive Map it

Honey Vanilla Bean Swirl Ice Cream

Three new flavors (basic, raspberry, peanut butter) all showcase Hinckley, Minn.-harvested honey, nicely. $4-$8.Location: Minnesota Honey Producers Map it

Italian Bomba Sandwich

Think Cubano, with an Italian accent. Tender, beer-braised pork shoulder layered with ham, Fontina cheese, crunchy (and vinegar-laced) veggies and a garlic-infused aioli, all stacked inside grilled ciabatta. $8.50.Location: Mancinis al Fresco Map it

Maple Cream Nitro Cold Press Coffee

Think Frappuccino, minus the crushed ice. Not inexpensive, though. $6.50 and $8.Location: Farmers Union Coffee Shop Map it

Maple Pecan Marble Sundae

A lovely, old-fashioned, sweet-and-salty treat, starring salted pecans, vanilla ice cream and syrup from northern Wisconsin maples. $8.Location: Bridgemans Ice Cream Map it

Pecan Cinnies

How to improve great cinnamon rolls? Add pecans, of course. $7.Location: Cinnie Smiths Map it

Pien the Sky Sundaes and Malts

Who knew that those crispy spice cookies served on airlines would make for such a terrific sundae (and malt) garnish. Delta and Sun Country, are you paying attention? $5-$6.Location: Dairy Goodness Bar Map it

Sonoran Sausage: One. Bad. Dog.

Theres a lot going on here, including a snappy green chile-filled pork sausage, a first-rate poblano-sweet corn salsa and an avocado-boosted sour cream. Oh, and bacon. But somehow it all adds up. $7.Location: Sausage Sister Me Map it

Sweet Corn Chocolates

Honey fans should splurge on these delicacies from Susan Brown of St. Pauls Mademoiselle Miel that meld chocolate, sweet corn, smoked salt and mellow, fragrant honey. $7.Location: Minnesota Honey Producers Map it

Triple Truffle Trotters

A shareable, crowd-pleasing pile of seasoned waffle fries garnished with thick chunk bacon, peppers and a truffled (in a big way) aioli. $7.50.Location: The Blue Barn Map it

★★andfrac12;

Bowl ODough

Cookie dough is on trend, like crazy, and this innovative stand does it right, serving three flavors in a flight. But this safe-to-eat dough ultimately lacks the rich, buttery appeal of digging into a batch of, say, Toll House cookies. $8.Location: Blue Moon Dine-In Theater Map it

Cranberry Wild Rice Meatballs

Just like Moms stick-to-your-ribs recipe, culled from her well-worn church cookbook. $9.75-$11.95.Location: Hamline Church Dining Hall Map it

Itty Bitty Skewer

Finally, Peeps make their fair debut, cruelly (and hilariously) skewered between three sanely sized marshmallow/cold-cereal (Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies) treats. Kids will adore; dentists will abhor. $6.50.Location: Rice Kristie Bars Map it

Pizzarito

A crisped tortilla makes for a less bready pepperoni-sausage calzone, and the risotto is a clever burrito-esque touch. Its big, filling, cheap. $5.Location: Green Mill Map it

Smoresas!

Why not marry crispy, deep-fried samosas with smores? Two thumbs up on the chai dipping sauce. Available through Aug. 29. $6.Location: Hot Indian Foods Map it

Thai Rolled Ice Cream

So trendy it appeared in the Twin Cities a week ago, literally. Half the fun is watching the show. Five tempting flavors. $7.50.Location: Rainbow Ice Cream Map it

★★ (Recommended)

Blazin Olives

Jalapeandntilde;o- and cream cheese-stuffed green olives, skewered, breaded, deep-fried. Hot, and salty. $8.Location: Fried Fruit/Fried Olives Map it

Bubble Tea

Remember when bubble tea was the it beverage? In 2001? So, of course, it debuts at the fair in 2017. And its fine, available in mango and strawberry flavors. $5.Location: Que Viet Map it

Cheesy Nacho Corn on the Cob

Dipped in mayo, rolled in crushed Doritos and drizzled in cheese glop. Yes, a stoners idea of roasted corn, and a guilty pleasure. $6.Location: Texas Steak Out Map it

Chicken Strips

Basic (and plentiful), and nothing wrong with that. $8.Location: Smokeys Charbroiler Map it

Cold-Brewed Vietnamese Iced Coffee

This delectable cold brew, enriched with sweetened condensed milk, is as good as it sounds. $5.Location: Que Viet Map it

Flavored Cheese Curds

A sampler bucket garlic, jalapeandntilde;o and (flavorless) ranch demonstrates that original is best. $15.Location: Millers Flavored Cheese Curds Map it

Garlic Cream Cheese Wontons

One bite, and youll be transported to a Leeann Chin outlet, circa 1986, and theres nothing wrong with that. The hint of garlic gives it personality; ditto the (required) sweet-and-sour sauce. $6.Location: Que Viet Map it

Marinated Steak

Grilled to order, juiced-up with teriyaki sauce, big portion, not bad. $12.Location: Chans Chicken on a Stick Map it

Polish Corn Dog

A zesty Polish sausage in a (fabulous) corn dog coating. As advertised. $7.Location: Hand-Dipped Corn Dogs Map it

Sticky Doohickey

Add toffee and pecans to Rice Krispies Treats, then pile on more flavor profiles (yes, pineapple upside-down cake), cut into squares, serve on a stick. Super-sugary, but fun. $5.Location: Sassy Pecan Map it

Sweetys Churros

Cant help thinking theyd be better without sweet potatoes. $5.Location: Potato Man Sweety Map it

Swing-Dancer Sandwich

Tons of supple smoked salmon with all the right add-ons piled into sturdy pumpernickel. Nicely done. $12.Location: Hideway Speakeasy Map it

Turkey Ribs

Huge portion of tasty, fall-off-the-bone meat. Less sauce would be an improvement. $7.75.Location: Turkey to Go Map it

★andfrac12;

Bacon Up Pup

Essentially a souped-up waffle on a stick, with bacon bits. Meh. $7.Location: Grannys Kitchen Fudge Puppies Map it

Cherry Bombs

Turns out deep-frying red licorice isnt really all that appealing. $5.Location: Vegie Fries Map it

Cinnamon-Caramel Apple Mini-Donut Sundae

What deep-fried excess looks like when googled. $7.

Location: The Donut Family Map it

Double Dose of Pork Belly

The answer to How much is too much bacon? $7.Location: RCs BBQ Map it

Mini Sconuts

Deep-frying balls of buttermilk- powered scone dough is a rare misstep from the fairs best bakery. Even calling upon a smores-like Nutella-and-marshmallow filling doesnt save the day. $5.Location: French Meadow Bakery CafŽ Map it

★ (Satisfactory)

Bacon Fluffernator

An amusing-on-paper breakfast sandwich. Real life? Ish. $9.Location: Sandwich Stop Map it

Capones Crostini

A drab veggie appetizer that makes no State Fair sense whatsoever. $9.Location: Hideway Speakeasy Map it

Deep-Fried Avocado

Can we blame this culinary travesty on millennials? Hefty portion. $8.Location: OGaras at the Fair Map it

Giant Eggrolls on a Stick

Super-greasy, supersized Gut Bombs on a Stick. Skippable. $6.Location: Que Viet Map it

Honey Puffs (Loukamades)

Fried dough, in a sticky honey glaze. Yawn. And, seriously, $6?Location: Dinos Gyros Map it

Memphis Totchos

Tater Tots, bananas, bacon, peanut sauce. Please, make it stop. $9.Location: Snack House Map it

Mobsters Caviar

A (fishy) crab-cream cheese spread on dreary baguette. Nope. $11.Location: Hideway Speakeasy Map it

Spicy Thai Noodles

A not-shy red curry sauce doesnt make up for watery rice noodles and gristly chicken. The $9 price? Please.Location: Oodles of Noodles Map it

Swine Spuds

The answer to the question of How much is too much bacon? part 2. A lament for the tragically overcooked pork belly. $8.Location: Swine Spuds

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