Our Odds On the New 2019 Minnesota State Fair Foods

A decade of experience in Minnesota State Fair food spelunking has given us a perspective—not jaded, we hope, but optimistically skeptical—that is handy for predicting how the next year’s fare will fare.

What follows is your advance, purely speculative guide to the new foods of the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. We’ll share the as-tasted-in-the-field results, underwritten by Save the Boundary Waters, first thing Friday, August 23, but until then this should get the motors running and fuel the imagination.

Duck Drummies // Photo via MN State Fair

Duck Drummies

Maker: Giggles’ Campfire Grill

Odds: 4:1 in favor

If Giggles screws up this incredibly simple and promising concept, we’ll eat a small portion of an appropriately themed hat. Giggles has brought solid new items to the fair for years upon years, and duck drumsticks sound rich, salty, chewy, meaty, and delicious. As close to a slam dunk as we get around here.

Mini Donut Latte // Photo via MN State Fai

Mini Donut Latte

Maker: Anchor Coffee House

Odds: 3:1 in favor

Last year, we were blown away by the overall quality level at Anchor Coffee House. Keeping that in mind, we’re willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to them for their excursion in a coffee-meets-fair favorites drink like the Mini Donut Latte. We’re also reminded of the successful debut of Lift Bridge’s mini donut beer. Maybe it’s something to do with mini donuts?

Boozy Berries and ‘Barb Trifle

Maker: Hideaway Speakeasy

Odds: 3:1 in favor

Let’s put aside the knowledge that Hideaway Speakeasy has quickly become one of the fair’s most reliable sources of tasty food. The whole concept of a trifle—let’s soak cake in delicious things and let it improve with time—is made for a warm weather, mass attendance sort of trial-by-fire. This feels like a dish tailored to the event, and should be a hit.

Halo Cone // Photo via MN State Fair

Halo Cone

Maker: Rainbow Ice Cream

Odds: 3:1 in favor

Ever since last year’s triumphant Rainbow Cloud Roll, we’ve developed an iron-clad faith in Rainbow Ice Cream’s ability to take something that looks like an abrasive blast of colorful sugar and turn it into a surprisingly compelling food experience. Cotton candy plus blue raspberry soft serve? What coule possibly go wrong?!

No Bologna Coney

Maker: Mancini’s al Fresco

Odds: 3:1 in favor

A mortadella sausage made with pistachios and Mancini’s pepper blend in a buttered and toasted split top bun? These things don’t sound like a random jumble or attention-getting stunt; they sound like a pretty damned good idea from a food perspective. Sign. Us. Up.

Turkish Pizza // Photo via MN State Fair

Turkish Pizza

Maker: Blue Moon Dine-In

Odds: 3:1 in favor

Minced beef! Onion! Tomato! Cucumber salad! Garlic! Lemon! All these Mediterranean flavors go beautifully together, and riding on a tender carpet of Turkish flatbread they should absolutely crush. This kind of a classic flavor combination should be a no-brainer.

Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Fries // Photo via MN State Fair

Cheesy Sriracha Funnel Cake Bites  

Maker: Funnel Cakes

Odds: 2:1 in favor

Funnel cakes are garbage because they’re empty vessels for sugar, inferior even to other empty vessels such as sugared doughnuts. But throw a bunch of cheese and Sriracha aioli dipping sauce into the mix, and suddenly your funnel cakes are doing the useful work of diluting big, bad, bold simple flavors. This one should work.

Blueberry Key Lime Pie // Photo via MN State Fair

Blueberry Key Lime Pie

Maker: Farmers Union

Odds: 2:1 in favor

Key lime (and most other cream pies) are custom-made for big events like the fair—you can whip up a massive batch of filling and produce them en masse, and hold them in a chilled environment for days before they really go downhill. The Farmers Union has a strong track record overall, so this seems like a no-brainer.

Thelma’s Handmade Ice Cream Sandwiches

Odds: 2:1 in favor

Handmade ice cream sandwiches seem really good on paper—even mass-made and wrapped in slippery paper, ice cream sandwiches taste pretty good, and once you’ve made and frozen them, all you need to do is hand them out and rake in the ducats.

Cuban Fusion Fajita // Photo via MN State Fair

Cuban Fusion Fajita

Maker: Juanita’s Fajitas

Odds: 2:1 in favor

This mix of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and mustard in a folded flour tortilla could be too salty, too stodgy, or too bland. But barring that, these are pretty simple flavors that have a centuries-long track record of playing well together, and it seems like a rock-solid concept for a dish.

Warm Cheesecake Tart // Photo via MN State Fair

Warm Cheesecake Tart

Makler: Lulu’s Public House

Odds: 2:1 in favor

Here’s the question: will the tart crusts be too thick? Too gluey? Too bland or sweet? If not, and the cheesecake is executed at even a basic level, these little suckers should be crazy delicious.

Stuffed Cabbage Roll

Maker: iPierogi

Odds: 2-1 in favor

Cabbage rolls are festival food—they can be banged out in huge lots, they combine strongly complementary flavors and textures, and they hold really, really well under adverse conditions. iPierogi is a new vendor, but putting the cabbage roll out as an initial offering seems like a good bet.

Lavender Lemonade // Photo via MN State Fair

Lavender Lemonade

Maker: Farmers Union

Odds: 2:1 in favor

Refreshing drinks are the Farmers Union calling card, and while they’re not exactly ploughing fresh turf by combining lavender and lemonade, they are leaning into two great flavors that go great together. We’re looking forward to downing one of these and exclaiming “aaaaaahh” while wiping the sweat from our brows with the backs of our hands.

Deep Fried Dilly Dog // Photo via MN State Fair

Deep Fried Dilly Dog

Maker: Swine and Spuds

Odds: 2:1 in favor

This is a pickle stuffed with bratwurst, dipped in batter, and then deep-fried. As long as the proportions are right, it should be a delightful mix of tang, fat, and carbs.

Blue Ox Burger Bar // Photo via MN State Fair

Blue Ox Burger Bar

Odds: Even odds

Burgers are fraught. They’re “simple,” in that your meat, toppings, and buns all support one another, and everybody understands the theory of the dish. But they’re complex in that one bad component—a garbage quality bun, or an overly large, rubbery meat patty—can sink the whole ship, and not all restaurants are thoughtful enough to make the orchestra of flavors and textures work in harmony. This could easily go either way.

Deep Fried Cookie Dough

Maker: Kora’s Cookie Dough

Odds: Even odds

This will taste like death no matter what, but the operative question is whether it tastes like a gluey, heavy, sad death or a sweet, decadent, delightful death.

Fried Tacos on a Stick // Photo via MN State Fair

Fried Tacos on a Stick

Maker: Taco Cat

Odds: Even odds

The maker (Taco Cat) gives us confidence, but the product (two varieties of tacos deep fried and presented on a stick) does not—getting the filling to exterior ratio is going to be tough, as is proper frying and maintaining structural integrity. With good ingredients (which we’re expecting) and consistent execution (which could well happen) these could be one of the fair’s best bites.

Nordic Waffles Al Pastor

Maker: Nordic Waffles

Odds: Even odds

We’ve gotten to the point in culinary history where foods like carnitas and pork al pastor have begun to become marketing-ready adjectives. On that note, we’re not necessarily expecting anything like a legitimate tacos al pastor experience vis-a-vis this Minnesota State Fair waffle. However: It could, in theory work. Our minds are open.

Funky Grits // Photo via MN State Fair

Shrimp and Grits Fritters

Maker: Funky Grits

Odds: Even odds

We’re Funky Grits fans, but we also appreciate the challenge of pulling these fritters off—you don’t want your breading to fall apart, but you also don’t want it to completely annihilate the subtle flavors and textures of the shrimp and grits within. These could easily go either way.

Hot Hen

Maker: RCs BBQ

Odds: Even odds

Pulled buffalo chicken mixed up with blue cheese fondue, pickled jalapenos, green onions, tomatoes, and BBQ chips is a pretty conservative idea in a State Fair setting, but there’s nothing wrong with doing something that’s safe and delicious. This dish will live and die on its proportions and how tangy its blue cheese is.

Meat, Potato and Cheese Pierogies

Maker: iPierogi

Odds: Even odds

Pierogies, like most folk foods, vary a lot—they can be stodgy and bland, or rich and delightful. And in a festival environment, even the former can work given enough salt or other seasonings.

Feta Bites // Photo via MN State Fair

Feta Bites

Maker: Dino’s Gyros

Odds: Even odds

If these feta-stuffed fried pasta bites live up to their potential, they could be well more than the sum of their parts—the creamy olive tapenade sounds good, and they could be wicked snackable. But as with anything deep fried, the devil’s in the details (and the deep fryer).

Peaches n Cream Nachos// Photo via MN State Fair

Peaches and Cream Nachos

Maker: Bridgeman’s

Odds: Even odds

Bridgeman’s is about as unassuming and classic as brands get around here, but they gamely take a bite at the State Fair apple each year, and it’s hard not to appreciate them for that. This year’s premise is cinnamon sugar pita crisps plus peach topping, peaches and cream ice cream, crushed pecans, and cinnamon sugar. It could work!

Grilled Sota Sandwich // Photo via MN State Fair

Grilled Sota Sandwich

Maker: Brim

Odds: No idea whatsoever

Cinnamon nut butter plus blueberry marmalade plus Irish soda bread = ??? We really have no idea whatsoever how this newcomer’s State Fair play on a classic PBJ is going to come out, but we can’t wait to give it a shot. An utter mystery.

Bada Bing Sandwich

Maker: The Sandwich Shop

Odds: 2:1 against

A good Italian sandwich lives or dies based on its ingredients, and the economics of the State Fair don’t reward careful sourcing and finely cured meats. The picture looks inviting, but will the real deal resemble it, or be a hastily thrown-together mess? Challenging but not impossible to pull this one off.

Pebbles and Bam Bam // Photo via MN State Fair

Nordic Waffles: Pebbles and Bam Bam

Maker: Nordic Waffles

Odds: 2:1 against

The combination of chocolate peanut butter cups and Fruity Pebbles-esque cereal gives us real pause for thought, and it’s not clear that this much sugar, chocolate, and starch is going to be an experience anyone wants to have once, let alone return to. But we’ll see.

Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings // Photo via MN State Fair

Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings

Maker: O’Gara’s

Odds: 2:1 against

O’Gara’s has a proud tradition of decanting foodservice appetizer solutions at the fair, and while we can’t fault them for efficiency, there are certain foods that work better than others. It’s hard to get a great wing without putting in real work (and without a bone), so we’re skeptical—at best—about this concept.

Tipsy Pecan Tart // Photo via MN State Fair

Tipsy Pecan Tart

Maker: Sarah’s Tipsy Pies

Odds: 2:1 against

In past years we’ve seen execution for Sarah’s Tipsy Pies wander considerably, and getting a pecan tart to work takes a deft hand—it’s easy to go too sweet, or mishandle the crust, or lose the essential contrasts (salt vs. sugar, crispy vs. gooey) that can make the dish work. We’re rooting for them, though—a good pecan pie is a pretty great thing.

Snow Cap Mini Waffle Sundae

Maker: Hamline Church Dining Hall

Odds: 2:1 against

The easy charge to lob against State Fair food is that it’s too out there—too silly, too bold, too much novelty for the sake of novelty. But these mini waffles topped with ice cream, whipped cream, and maple syrup seem a bit…well, basic?

Jammin Brisket Grilled Cheese // Photo via MN State Fair

Jammin Brisket Grilled Cheese

Maker: RCs BBQ

Odds: 2:1 against

“You got brisket in my grilled cheese!” “You got grilled cheese in my brisket!” Drat, couldn’t these two classic, perfectly composed dishes just be disentangled and enjoyed on their own? Real brisket doesn’t need these kind of a boost to shine, and the joy of grilled cheese is its pure simplicity. All that griping aside: with the right salt levels and gooey enough cheese, this could be a tasty bite.

Joey Mary // Photo via MN State Fair

Joey Mary

Maker: Brim

Odds: 2:1 against

The concept of an iced coffee slushie topped by assorted gluten-free baked goods is a fresh one. That does not necessarily mean it’ll set the fair on fire. It’s not entirely clear how the two elements relate to each other, and the profusion of baked goods flavors (chocolate, almond, toffee) makes the fit even more difficult.

Carnitas Taco Cone // Photo via MN State Fair

Carnitas Taco Cone

Maker: San Felipe Tacos

Odds: 2:1 against

Put tacos up against a mass Minnesota event like the fair and you typically get absolutely torn to pieces by the need to compromise with bad taste. Will a sesame ginger garlic sauce actually improve real carnitas more than, say, a simple mix of onions and cilantro? Will the carnitas be “real” in the first place? Does the shape of the taco do anything more than evoke one of the world’s favorite three-dimensional geometric shapes? This south-of-the-border-inspired cone could win us over, but it faces an uphill struggle.

Carolina Pit Smoked Brisket // Photo via MN State Fair

Carolina Pit Smoked Brisket Taco

Maker: Shanghaied Henry’s

Odds: 3:1 against

The more adjectives you apply to your brisket, the more skeptical we get—do Minnesota fairgoers really discriminate between Texas and Carolina brisket? Will the unfortunately named Shanghaid Henry’s, which always feels a bit like a culinary salute to cultural appropriation? We’ll find out August 22.

Strawberries-n-Cream

Maker Strawberries-n-Cream

Odds: 4:1 against

Call us bovinophiles if you must, but the idea of presenting a simple dish of strawberries and non-dairy whipped topping at the fair seems minimalist to the point of obstructionist.

Lam T Bone Chops // Photo via MN State Fair

Lamb T-Bone Chops

Maker: Holy Land

Odds: 5:1 against

Pulling off high-quality, high-volume lamb T-bones seems like a massive challenge for just about anyone. And while we’re serious fans of Holy Land’s rotisserie chicken, we otherwise find this big-time Middle Eastern chain to be uneven in some its high-volume renditions of regional favorites. Therefore: huge difficulty factor here, lest diners get stuck with bland / oversalted / tough / fatty / otherwise compromised chops. Hopefully Holy Land will surprise us.