Year-Round Treats Inspired by the Great Minnesota Get-Together
Bring up the subject of favorite foods to any Minneapolis-St. Paul resident and it won’t be long before the Minnesota State Fair comes up. The largest state fair in the country by daily attendance, it’s a late-summer celebration unlike any other, with a super-sized selection of local treats to go with it.
It’s also a mere 12 days long, leaving visitors with the rest of the year to try to satisfy their cravings for fare from the fair. But while some items truly are ephemeral—like this year’s Rainbow cloud roll (ice cream in a cotton-candy pillow)—both new dishes and perennial favorites can be found in restaurants throughout the area. Here, Twin Cities restaurateurs discuss the fair’s influence on their menus, as well as the dishes to order when it shuts down for the season.
“The fair is a good spot to R&D,” says Anna Mailliard, a spokesperson for Blue Plate Restaurant Co. The company has nine area venues as well as the Blue Barn, one of the fair’s few permanent restaurant structures. “Our bacon-stuffed tots were such a hit this year that we’re looking at expanding it to our menu at Groveland Tap, our beer-and-burger joint in St. Paul.”
Until then, diners can channel the fair with two popular items available at their restaurants.
“The biggest item that we have crossover with is pierogis,” she adds. “We have Iron Range pierogis at the fair, and we elevate it for the restaurants and serve it as a steak and pierogis.”
Then there’s chicken and waffles, served as a walk-around treat at the fair and a traditional savory/sweet feast at the restaurants. “At the fair, chicken in the waffle is a waffle cone with Cajun fried chicken, sausage gravy and parsley on top, and it has a malted milk ball on the bottom as a little surprise,” Mailliard explains. “We have chicken and waffles in the restaurants, which is a traditional waffle with gravy and fried chicken.”
Mancini’s, an Italian steakhouse in St. Paul since 1948, also has its own restaurant, Mancini’s al Fresco, on the fairgrounds. Its iconic steak sandwich has long been a hit at the fair and can be found at the beloved chop house as well. “It’s top butt prime sirloin on focaccia bread,” explains owner John Mancini. “At the fair, you get onions and peppers and you can get onions and peppers here for an extra cost.”
Chef Beth Fisher of French Meadow Bakery & Café says that while plenty of fair-goers flock to decadent classics like cheese curds and corndogs, she found an unlikely hit this year with a vegan treat.
“The big thing is new food items,” she explains. “This year, we rolled out what we call earth wings—cauliflower dipped in a gluten-free batter, flash fried and served with an organic sesame barbecue.” Earth wings are now on the menu at French Meadow’s Minneapolis and St. Paul locations, ready to give guests a taste of the fair whenever they want it.
Blue Barn Pierogies