Behind The Counter: New Foods and the People Making Them at the 2018 State Fair

August 22, 2018

From Seattle to New York City, and New Orleans to Chicago, one of the most delightful ways to experience a city’s unique culture and history is to take a “Food Tour.”

The Twin Cities have several food tours that rank right up there with the best in the country. But perhaps there is no better than the Minnesota State Fair.

While there is no official food tour guide at the fair, the amazing array of delectable edibles really is a way to experience the beautiful melting pot that is Minnesota. While this year’s New Food list doesn’t contain anything on a stick and perhaps a little less bacon than in previous years, it does contain all kinds of global taste treats.

From Caribbean to Italian, Greek, Moroccan, Irish, Swedish, Norwegian and good old home-grown Minnesotan, there’s a little something for everyone. So let’s put on our walking shoes and get ready to experience all that the Great Minnesota Get Together has. With more than 300 vendors and over 500 foods and 12 days to enjoy it all, it’s just about time for the party to begin.
The Minnesota State Fair opens Aug. 24 and runs through Sept. 4. The foods are amazing, and the stories and the people behind the food are even more captivating.

French Meadow Bakery and Cafe

Our food tour begins with the French Meadow Bakery and Café, whose history in the Twin Cities metro area goes back a long way. What better place for one of the premier farm-to-table restaurants to be, but at the State Fair.

The French Meadow Bakery and Café, founded by Lynn Gordon, began baking organic, yeast-free bread in 1985. It became the first Certified Organic Bakery in the United States. It has brought the same devotion to fresh, organic and local ingredients, that has long been at the core of its restaurants, to its operations at the State Fair.

Lynn’s daughter, Deborah Gleize, owns the State Fair operation of the café. Debbie loves everything about the fair — the food, the people, the other vendors, her staff, the French fries, the craziness, did I mention the French fries — all of it.

Their operation is a family affair for sure – Debbie’s husband and nieces, and their friends and their friends’ friends. Debbie says she starts getting texts and emails in December from friends and relatives who all want to be part of the action at the fair.

When fair time finally rolls around they will have about 55 people on their roster. She loves how proud her staff are that they actually get to be a part of the French Meadow operation. They love to keep their French Meadow T-shirts and caps from the fair and proudly wear them throughout the year.

They started about 20 years ago at the fair with just a small area, but a number of years later were able to move into a large space with three distinct areas, the Bakery, where they create their amazing scones (think warm and yummy scones cut in half and filled with fresh strawberries or peaches and topped off with sweet cream cheese) the Grille (Grilled cheese sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches and more, all made on gluten-free bread and croissants) and finally the organic expresso bar (not just for coffee lovers, the cucumber lemonade is a must-try).

Last year, their deep-fried gluten free mini sconut with a gooey Nutella and marshmallow center made the new foods list. This year, they did it again with a vegan choice.

The folks at French Meadow Café and Bakery believe that their EarthWings might be the “new fried cheese curd!” Made with fresh cauliflower and a tasty gluten-free batter, the “wings” are deep fried and then smothered in an organic sesame BBQ sauce. Debbie’s mom, Lynn Gordon, came up with both the concept and the name for the earth-friendly wings. We can hardly wait to try them.

Minnesnowii Ice

When you talk to Jason Giandalia or take a look at one of the shaved ice creations from Minnesnowii Ice, it doesn’t take long to figure out that he is passionate about his craft, his home state of Minnesota and even Hawaii, where he first fell in love with “authentic shaved ice.”

If you think shaved ice and snow-cones are synonymous, you’ve totally missed the mark and are in for a huge surprise. Authentic Hawaiian Shaved ice is made with the best block shavers, that shave the ice so fine there is never a crunch from the first bite to the last.

Jason has been in business since 2012. His very popular shaved ice has been dubbed “the best snow of the summer” and has been tasted at all kinds of fairs, parties, picnics and other events around Minnesota.

This will be the fourth year that Minnesnowwii Shaved Ice has been at the Minnesota State Fair. Jason grew up in Minnesota and it was a dream come true to be selected to be a vendor. It is a very competitive process and he is humbled, honored and blessed to be there.

He still remembers where he was when he got the call that he had been selected as a new vendor. Two years ago, his signature taste treat was a Maple Bacon Shaved Ice with real bacon bits, drizzled with maple syrup. Some called it pancakes on ice.

Last year, he brought a taste of fall to the fair with his Pumpkin Spice Shaved Ice — premium pumpkin shaved ice with a whipped cream center, dusted with cinnamon brown sugar. And not to be outdone, this year’s creation, chosen as one of the State Fair’s featured new foods, is a Mangonada Shaved Ice.

His premium mango syrup comes direct from Hawaii. It is served with a chamoy sauce and dusted with a sweet chili powder. If that isn’t exciting enough, Jason tops it off with boba popping pearls (a fruit jelly pearl filled with sweet mango juice) that will explode in your mouth and served with a tamarind candy straw.

While Jason spends a lot of time thinking up new flavor profiles, his creativity shines in his presentation as well. From his novelty flower cups to a rainbow explosion of neon spoons and straws, it’s all about creating a great taste experience for his customers. His primary goal at the fair, as well as any event he caters is to enhance his customers taste experience, to take his flavor profiles “over the top” and to bring a whole lot of fun wherever he goes.

Minnesota Honey Producers

Next stop on the State Fair food tour is the Minnesota Honey Producers Association (MHPA) in the Horticulture Building, where you can taste a sweet refreshing treat – the Honey Cream Soda Float.

This vendor is a little bit different from most in that the MHPA is actually a nonprofit comprised of commercial and hobby beekeepers whose purpose is to educate people about honey, honeybees and raise funds to support research at the Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota.

The Honey Cream Soda is made by one of the MHPA members, Bare Honey and poured over Honey Ice Cream.

Jeff Dankey, who serves as the secretary for MHPA and a honey producer himself, was first introduced to honey and beekeepers more than a decade ago. He was so intrigued by what he learned and experienced at the honey booth that he decided to purchase a couple of hives and for the last 10 years has been operating as Minnetonka Gold Honey.

Jeff is a strong advocate for local honey producers. The MHPA is thrilled that their Honey Cream Soda Float was selected as one of the 2018 Fair Foods. It’s delightfully sweet and refreshing and gives them a “sweet” new way to talk to Minnesotans about the importance of bees to farmers, gardeners and the backyard apple tree.


We hope that those three profiles whetted your appetite for the rest of your food tour at the fair. As in all food tours, make sure you taste not just the food, but total cultural experience of all the Great Minnesota Get Together has to offer.
Here’s what’s new in 2018. Use this guide to make your away across the grounds.


Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl: Ahi tuna, avocado, mango and pico de gallo tossed in a Hawaiian ginger-soy sauce served cold over rice, with a fried wonton. Café Caribe, south side of Carnes Avenue between Chambers and Nelson Streets.

Firecracker Shrimp Stuffed Avocado: Gulf white shrimp tossed with lime, onion, black beans, tomato and fire-roasted corn in a garlic aioli, drizzled with cilantro-infused olive oil, stuffed in avocado halves and served open-face with flatbread. The Hideaway Speakeasy, in the Veranda, Grandstand upper level, northwest section.

Shrimp Ceviche: Fresh shrimp, cucumbers, jalapeños, onions, tomatoes and cilantro tossed with a citrus lime juice and served cold with tortilla chips. At Shrimp Shack, on the southwest corner of Carnes Avenue and Underwood Street.


Bananas Foster French Toast: Cinnamon-swirl French toast topped with slices of fresh bananas in an orange-rum-flavored caramel sauce and finished with a dollop of whipped cream. Hamline Church Dining Hall, north side of Dan Patch Avenue between Underwood and Cooper Streets.

Nordic Waffles: Fresh-made waffle wraps in seven varieties: All-Day Breakfast (egg, bacon and cheddar); Berries & Cream (raspberry and strawberry mixture with vanilla cream); Cinna-Sugar Butter (cinnamon, sugar and butter); Slammin’ Salmon On-A- Stick (Norwegian smoked salmon with cream cheese & green onions); S’More (marshmallow crème, crumbled graham crackers and Nutella); Turkey Chipotle Club (turkey, bacon and mixed greens with Sriracha mayo sauce); and Vegetarian Viking (black bean veggie burger, cheddar cheese, mixed greens and chipotle sauce). Also serving lemonade with blueberry or lingonberry saft. Nordic Waffles at West End Market, southwest section.


Blueberry Rhubarb Cobbler: A blend of organic blueberries and rhubarb topped with a cornmeal biscuit and whipped cream. Farmers Union Coffee Shop, north side of Dan Patch Avenue between Cooper and Cosgrove streets.

Honey Cream Soda Float: Honey cream soda made without sugar and poured over Minnesota Grown honey ice cream. Minnesota Honey Producers Association, Agriculture Horticulture Building, north side.

Mangonada Shave Ice: Mango-flavored shave ice drizzled with Mexican chamoy sauce, dusted with tajin chili powder, topped with popping mango boba pearls and served with a tamarind candy straw. Minnesnowii Shave Ice, West End Market, south section.

Rainbow Cloud Roll: Three scoops of ice cream sprinkled with fruity cereal and wrapped in a pillow of cotton candy. Hand-rolled on-site. Ice cream choices include Superman, vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. Rainbow Ice Cream, in the Grandstand, upper level, east section near the elevator.

Sweetie Cakes: Choice of black forest cake, birthday cake or chocolate peanut butter cake, baked in a cup packed with Sassy Pecan toffee bits and served warm, topped with real whipping cream and more toffee bits. Sweetie Cakes, Food Building, south wall.

Triple Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake: Dense chocolate cake with chocolate chips and fudge icing and smothered with strawberries and whipped cream. The Strawberry Patch, west side of Liggett Street between Carnes and Judson avenues.

Smoked Soft Serve Ice Cream: Cold-smoked cream made on-site. Available in two flavors: Cold Brew Coffee infused with cold-smoked Arabica beans, topped with chocolate espresso dust, toasted marshmallow and a chocolate cookie on the side or Muscovado Sugar Vanilla, vanilla bean and cold-smoked molasses-rich cane sugar served with toasted marshmallow and bacon candy round, and optional sides of bourbon-soaked cherries or hot chocolate. Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, northeast corner of Carnes Avenue and Chambers Street.

Sweet Greek Cheese Puffs: Flaky phyllo dough filled with feta and ricotta cheese, deep-fried, drizzled with honey and topped with powdered sugar. At Dino’s Gyros, north side of Carnes Avenue between Nelson and Underwood streets.


Earth Wings®: Fresh cauliflower pieces dipped in a seasoned batter, deep-fried and smothered in organic sesame barbecue sauce. Vegan and gluten-free. French Meadow Bakery and Cafe, north side of Carnes Avenue between Nelson and Underwood streets.

Wood-Grilled Elote: Corn on-the-cob grilled over an oak wood fire, brushed with chile-spiced mayo and sprinkled with queso Cotija and fresh lime juice. Tejas Express, in The Garden, north wall.


General Tso Chicken Taco: Battered and deep-fried chicken tossed in a sauce of ginger, garlic, soy sauce and Asian spices, with seasoned cream cheese and topped with wonton crisps and green onion, served on a flour tortilla. Taco Cat, Taste of the Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar, east wall (available Aug. 23 to 28 only).

Irish Tater Kegs: Jumbo deep-fried tater tots made with a blend of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, sour cream and potatoes drizzled with house-made Thousand Island dressing and nestled on a bed of sauerkraut. O’Gara’s at the Fair, southwest corner of Dan Patch Avenue and Cosgrove Street.

Messy Giuseppe: A blend of seasoned ground beef and Italian pork sausage smothered in marinara, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and served on crusty Italian bread. Mancini’s al Fresco, north side of Carnes Avenue between Nelson and Underwood streets.

Moroccan Sausage Bowl: Coarse-ground beef and lamb sausage seasoned with herbs, sweet spices and a hint of red pepper, cooked with carrots, turnips and chickpeas, and topped with sautéed onions and a green olive. Sausage by Cynthia, north side of Judson Avenue between Nelson and Underwood streets.

Pepperoni Chips with Roasted Red Pepper Queso: Thinly sliced fried pepperoni chips served with a warm roasted-red-pepper cheese sauce. LuLu’s Public House at West End Market, south of Schilling Amphitheater.

Swedish Meatball Smörgås: Meatball sandwich with three traditional Swedish pork and beef meatballs topped with white gravy, lingonberry sauce and dill pickles. The Blue Barn,West End Market, south of the History and Heritage Center.

Za-Waffle Sticks: Waffles blended with pepperoni and mozzarella, topped with a parmesan herb blend and served with pepperoni- infused maple syrup or marinara sauce. Green Mill, on the east side of Cooper Street between Randall and Wright avenues, at Family Fair at Baldwin Park.


Slider Flights: Flights of three slider sandwiches, each with a variety of toppings. Choose among three varieties: brisket (one slider topped with coleslaw, one with pickles and onions, one with crispy fried onions), burger (one topped with candied bacon and cheddar cheese, another with smoked gouda and a third with barbecue sauce, cheese and crispy fried onions) or pulled pork (coleslaw, pickle and onions and crispy fried onions). The Hangar, northeast corner of Murphy Avenue and Underwood Street.

BBQ Split: Scoops of barbecue pulled pork, mac and cheese, and coleslaw served side by side with a pickle spear. Mama D’s, Taste of Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar, east wall (available Aug. 29-Sept. 3 only).


Turducken Sausage Sandwich: A blended sausage of turkey, duck and chicken served on a fennel bun and accompanied by a side of Giggles’ sweet and saucy relish. Gluten-free; no nitrates added. Giggles’ Campfire Grill, southeast corner of Lee Avenue and Cooper Street at The North Woods.

Up North Puff Pasty: Porketta sausage, cheese curds, coarse-grain mustard and chopped dill pickle baked in a puffy crust sprinkled with pepper and sea salt. Sausage Sister and Me, in the Food Building, east wall.

Zesty PB&J Sausage: Peanut butter, cherry jelly and a hint of cayenne pepper and cilantro blended into a quarter-pound sausage. Gass Station Grill, west side of Cooper Street between Dan Patch and Judson avenues, outside southeast corner of the Food Building.


In addition to the 27 new foods, there are also 5 new food vendors:

The Anchor Coffee House: Serving cold-brew coffees (including nitro cold brew, vanilla cream, caramel cream and chocolate cream), lattes (vanilla, caramel, mocha & chai tea), fresh-brewed drip coffee and banana chocolate-chip gluten-free muffins. West side of Underwood St. between Carnes and Judson avenues outside Ramberg Music Cafe.

The Hangar: Serving breakfast items, Slider Flights (Brisket, Burger and Pulled Pork), smoked turkey legs, smoked brisket sandwiches, jumbo burgers, bacon-wrapped pork belly, kids meals (hot dog, chicken nuggets, burger with fries or fruit), and chicken-and-waffle ice cream split topped with candied bacon. Also serving fresh-squeezed lemonade, soda and craft beer. Located on the northeast corner of Murphy Avenue and Underwood

Midtown Global Market’s Mama D’s: Serving mac and cheese, gluten-free mac & cheese, pulled-pork sandwiches, the BBQ Split (barbecued pulled pork, mac and cheese and coleslaw served side by side with a pickle spear), and sweet tea. Taste of the Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar, east wall (Aug. 29 to Sept. 3 only).

Midtown Global Market’s Taco Cat: Smokey Black Bean Tacos, General Tso Chicken Tacos (deep-fried chicken tossed in ginger, soy sauce, Asian spices), Nacho Fries (breaded fries, black beans, cheese sauce, pickled jalapeños and cilantro with optional chorizo), cold-press coffee and horchata. Taste of the Midtown Global Market booth at the International Bazaar, east wall (Aug. 23 to 28 only).

Nordic Waffles: Fresh-made waffle wraps in seven varieties: All-Day Breakfast, Berries and Cream, Cinna-Sugar Butter, Slammin’ Salmon On-A- Stick, S’More, Turkey Chipotle Club and Vegetarian Viking black bean burger. Also serving lemonade with blueberry or lingonberry saft. West End Market, southwest section.


By Nancy Iglesias

SouthernMinn Scene | |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057