5 best classic Minnesota State Fair foods

This is the stuff that you crave before you even enter the gate.
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This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

If you want to see Minnesotans get truly wild-eyed, ask them which foods are a definitive part of a State Fair visit. Forget the annual “new food” lists, few things will ever beat old faves and classics. Not even “bowls o’ dough” or cheesy nacho corn on the cob. 

To prove that every list is personal and particular, ours does not include cheese curds or Sweet Martha’s Cookies, and we’re prepared to do battle on that front. 

Your list is yours alone, but in case you’re open to even the tiniest bit of suggestion, here's my top 5 classic State Fair dishes, in no particular order. 

Corn Roast (SE corner of Dan Patch Ave. & Nelson St.)

After not too much thought at all, I’ve deemed sweet corn to be most iconic food of the great state of Minnesota. It’s the thing we do better than possibly anyone else, anywhere. Add the fact that corn is at its seasonal peak for basically the same amount of time the fair is in full swing. (You need hot days and cool nights for the ideal cob.)

Thus, the Ribar family's Corn Roast is the most can’t-miss-it food stop at the fair. Because they dunk it in a vat of liquid butter, and because they salt it heavily. On the curbs nearby, everyone's doing the corn hunch, teeth typewriter-ing back and forth, and it’s all completely normal, and somehow completely dignified.

Plus, they compost the cobs for energy to fuel more fair fun. Perfection. 

Dairy Goodness Bar's Malts and Sundaes (Dairy Building, South Wall)

The Minnesota Dairy Association claims that their milk takes only 48 hours from cow to grocery store shelf. Pretty impressive. The association is the one responsible for the ultra-refreshing malts and sundaes at the Dairy Goodness Bar. 

The dairy treats here are an essential treat, not least of all because the line takes you past the Princess Kay of the Milky Way Butter Sculpture, one of the fair’s most precious bits of enduring kitsch. 

Also, the strawberries and apples that find their way into the ice cream are soured locally out of White Bear Lake, and its a freshness you can clearly taste. 

Bonus: The Dairy Association puts on an annual flavor contest that has resulted in Salted Caramel Puff, incorporating Old Dutch Puffcorn, as well as one of our picks for a 2017 new fair food that actually sounds feasible, the Pie in the Sky malt and sundae (pictured above). 

Tom Thumb Donuts (SW corner of Carnes Ave. & Underwood St.; West side of Cooper St. between Wright & Dan Patch avenues)

Professional fair goers know mini donuts' sourcing matters. Not to throw shade at any other donut makers, but Tom Thumb is truly the only way to go, with its multiple vending stations, each one churning out irresistible rings of doughy heaven at the rate of about one per second. 

The very mechanics of it are pure zen to watch. Add the ambrosial aroma of hot batter sizzling in fat, then flopped into cinnamon and sugar, and you basically have your brain on drugs. 

Pro tip: Get two bags, one to snarf now, and another that sits at the bottom of your bag and basically becomes a hot ball of squish. You’ll want it on the walk to the parking lot. It’s a maneuver that says, “I don’t want the fun to ever end.” 

Fresh French Fries (North side of Judson Ave. between Nelson & Underwood streets; East side of Liggett St. between West Dan Patch Ave. and Carnes Ave.)

One of my favorite images from the State Fair is spying the youthful employees of the French Fry stand. Picture one of them hot, exhausted (and possibly hungover) passed out on a sack of Russets at the back of the stand, conserving energy for the next leg of their shift. That image is everything that is great about the fair. Overkill, heat, hard work, and consumption to the point of collapse and debilitation, starch, and grease. 

Of course French Fries need no endorsement from us, but these hand-cut, golden-fried beauties are an obvious choice for perambulating through the fair. Bucket sizes come in reasonable to ridiculous, and a ketchup-pumping station allows you to apply your own, so there’s none of this doling out condiments by the packet or portion cup.

All You Can Drink Milk (Northeast corner of Judson Ave. & Clough St.) 

In the spirit of “all you can” in a world that attempts to shrink our opportunities to do just that at every bend, we must include this truly classic fair experience. 

Also, it's here in the spirit of the fact that ice-cold milk is a truly refreshing thing, and quaffing a bunch of it makes more sense than, say, mowing hot-from-the-oven cookies on a 90-degree day. But you know what makes even more sense? Hefting that bucket of cookies over, grabbing a spot, and, well, you know what to do. 

Even though the cost of the milk recently doubled from $1 to $2 (after originally costing a dime in 1955) it’s still a worthwhile endeavor for the gluttonous pleasure – even on something as wholesome as milk – of not leaving until you’re good, ready, and 100 percent satiated.

Mecca Bos is a Twin Cities-based food writer. She has an upcoming podcast called Snax Everywhere. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

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