Since it’s finally starting to get warm outside, I can’t help but think of what the summer has in store for us, as well as what comes at the end of summer: the Minnesota State Fair. As such, what better way to start off the “Best Of” posts than with a State Fair post?
This originally appeared on August 31, 2006 at http://weblog.xanga.com/ComRus/524803174/minnesota-state-fair-i-had-to-try-this-title-thing.html
Ah, the Minnesota State Fair… my stomach is finally settled. I kid. My stomach actually settled by the morning. I topped myself in the amount of food consumed this year, but it was basically at the expense of beer, so it’s hard to say whether I came out on top.
The day started, of course, with the pronto-pup. The day must start with the pronto-pup. For those who don’t know (i.e. non-Minnesotans), the pronto-pup is basically a corndog but the hotdog is dipped into a wheat-based batter rather than a corn-based batter. It is far and away better than the corndog, although many a riot has been started at the fairgrounds over just this issue. Naturally corn-dog people are wrong, but they just don’t listen to reason. It’s a similar argument as to which stand has the best mini-donuts. Some people say Tiny Tim, and the right people say Tom Thumb.
The Tom Thumb donut. When I was a kid, we would come early in the morning before anything was open except food stands, and the first thing we would do on our walk in would be to head to the Tom Thumb mini-donut stand. My dad would inevitably order approximately 453 bags for the five of us, and we’d go sit in the audience of some long-dead by now Minnesota morning show. Channel five, I think. The donuts were great, nice and hot, and the sugar granules would stick perfectly to the donut. And that’s the main difference between Tom Thumb and Tiny Tim, the sugar granules actually stuck to Tom Thumb donuts while they fell to the bottom of Tiny Tim bags. Oh, I’ve heard arguments that this isn’t so, but through my experience, it definitely is.
Another argument, but definitely involving fewer people than the other two arguments, is which cheese curds are best. I’m of the position that the stand outside the food building on the north side is better than the stand inside, but the only reason I hold this position is because my family says it’s so. So every year, the cheese curds are purchased at the stand outside the food building.
And onto the next food adventure… You see, the State Fair is different things to different people, but to most, a huge part is the food. For me, it’s almost exclusively the food. I see it as a sort of a challenge to hit all my goals: pronto-pups, Italian Fries, Cheese Curds, Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob (dipped in a butter-bath. Such an ingenious invention. How can I register for one for our wedding?), Mini-donuts (and, as previously mentioned, they must be Tom Thumb mini-donuts), and Sweet Martha’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (a bucket, of course. If you’re given the option of purchasing any food product by the bucket, how can you not choose the bucket?).
Many people go to the Fair to check out the local news buildings, the kids’ artwork, the animal barns, the odd items on sale, and the musical acts at the bandshells. But those are secondary to me. The food comes first, and those things are just diversions to let myself digest. They’re basically the same every year, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s bad because it can get tiring seeing the same stuff you saw the previous 15 years, but it’s good because it gives you a sense of familiarity. The State Fair is a right of passage of summer for Minnesotans, and without the repetition, where’s the real tradition?
Oh sure, some things have changed over the years. Sand castles came and went, Machinery Hill (where farm equipment is on display) is no more, and every year features yet another item on-a-stick, but so much is the same. The Ye Olde’ Mill, the Giant Slide, the Haunted Mansion, the Salsa-chopper-thing sold at the Grandstand along with the super sponge/cloths that soak up two-liters of pop with only a square-inch of material, and the various demonstrations.
And the cows. There’s no good reason for it, but we like to look at cows in late August here in Minnesota. No other time of year would we care to pay them any mind, but come late August, people line up to look at the animals. Well, not really line up, but many make a strong effort to get a glance at some. We did, for reasons I’m still not sure of. It’s just a compulsion one has when at the fair.
There is a weird pattern that began a few years ago that has exploded all over the Fair (and everywhere else that draws a crowd, for that matter). Apparently, you cannot buy normal size strollers anymore. In a culture where bigger is better, parents are purchasing strollers the size of SUVs. Strollers that take up three square blocks for a single stroller, and five square blocks for a double. People in crowds already have done ingenious jobs of blocking you from getting anywhere, but these strollers are the work of a madman. When you’re trying to pass two slow walkers, who, because they are meandering, are taking up the space of 10 people, the last thing you need to be coming the other way is a stroller that could bulldoze a house.
Hmm, but that’s bordering on complaining, and as for the MN State Fair, there can be no complaining. It’s all good, darn it. Even when I dropped my Peanut Roll to the ground immediately after purchasing it, I didn’t complain. I picked it up, brushed it off, and dropped it into the plastic bag the Fiancée was holding (so that I could eat it later) which she immediately dropped to the ground because she wasn’t expecting me to drop it in. It’s all good. I took a little of Dan Patch Avenue with me. I opened it up today, and the cursed Roll was still fantastic.
And as we discuss State Fair food, I cannot leave out the Luigi’s Fries (aka Italian Fries). I believe I might just be the only person who really likes these things, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who craves these things. What they are is really basic. They’re warm breadsticks topped off with a lot of melted mozzarella, with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. The “Fries” themselves are quite good, but there’s just something perfect about the marinara that makes them fantastic. Sure, in the end it might be something as simple as Prego (though I highly doubt that it’s actually Prego), but you cannot go wrong with bread, cheese, and a good tomato/marinara sauce.
The “Fries” were the second thing I had at the fair, and if not for my rule that you cannot repeat food (so that you have room for other food), I would have had a second order. I’m still craving them today. In fact, we had breadsticks and cheese in the fridge, and I had a marinara of sorts in the cabinets, so I went ahead and made some. It just wasn’t the same (or even close, for that matter), and I will now crave them until next year. Should have had a second order.
And the Fair day ended as it usually does. The stomach is too full, the legs are too tired, and we still needed to purchase the bucket of cookies. I cannot leave the fair without the bucket of cookies. They serve you the bucket with so many cookies on top that you cannot close the lid until you’ve eaten approximately 25 cookies (for once, this is not an exaggeration). Last year, it’s what killed us. This year, we had a baggie to take the cookies we couldn’t eat. However, we did give it the college try. You have to. The State Fair officials won’t let you leave unless you at least try to finish off the top of the cookie bucket.
Off to the parking lot, and off to the long wait for the park-and-ride shuttle in a parking lot full of gravel, where you stand in a catatonic state and the reality hits you of just how much you ate and how much walking you did. Please, God, MAKE THE BUS COME NOW! It does, eventually, and you drive home and pass-out. Ah, I love the Fair.