FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — One thing a Minnesota State Fair food vendor doesn’t need: ambiance. A fairgoer can be content to find a slab of cement wall and entertain oneself with the parade of Minnesotans munching their way from end to end.
Multiply that by more than 300 acres of fodder.
Mancini’s al Fresco gets extra credit. This spot on Carnes Ave. had a display case filled with mini pistachio cannoli, pretty and mint-green, tall-top tables and a well-dressed crooner singing Sinatra and Elvis as a couple burst into dance in front of him.
They also had our pick for best new food: Italian bomba sandwich.
We recently sampled a mix of the more-than 31 new featured foods at this year’s fair. Here’s what happened.
Note: Some new foods are offered only during breakfast hours — cough, cough, breakfast buddy bowl at Lulu’s Public House — and sometimes good buzz depletes the stock. Both maple cream nitro cold press and sweet corn blueberry eclairs were sold out in the day following big kudos from metro media.
Go. Try them. Report back.
MORE: READ TIPS TO A HEALTHFUL STATE FAIR HERE
TOP PICK: BROWN ALE AND ONION GOUDA TIPSY PIE
• Sara’s Tipsy Pies, $6
• Food Building, south wall
This place is known for its booze-themed pies both sweet and savory — the motto is “made with love and local alcohol.” This year’s unlikely talker is a mix of onions caramelized in brown ale and smooth, smoked gouda packed into a flaky, slightly cinnamon-y crust. Rich, delicious and a reason to pick every sliver of crust free from the tin.
• Veggie Fries, $5
• North side of Dan Patch Ave. between Underwood Street and Cooper Street
This year’s “you-ate-what?!” pick is way more tame than, say, last year’s Spam sushi. Imagine a powdered sugar-dusted mini donut with a self-contained, warm and softened dot of red licorice in the center. It should taste like something that happened accidentally after leaving the road trip snacks in the back window of the car on a hot, hot day.
But it’s not bad.
This place also serves great masses of fresh vegetables that are dumped together into a deep fryer. The result is a single sculpture that smells of hot cauliflower. It must be a metaphor for something.
TOP PICK: DUCK BACON WONTONS
• Giggles’ Campfire Grill, $8.50
• Southeast corner of Lee Ave. and Cooper Street at The North Woods
For every time you’ve opened a to-go order to find a lukewarm wonton with a single, pasty glob of cream cheese in the center, you deserve this. It’s a perfectly crispy half-circle that oozes with a rich mix of cream cheese and small pieces of duck bacon. There is sauce, and it’s a good fruit-vinegar mix, but who needs it.
While you’re ordering at the window, toss in a dill pickle beer, which tastes exactly like you would expect — and want — it to taste: beer+pickle juice ($5).
TOP PICK: ITALIAN BOMBA SANDWICH
• Mancini’s al Fresco, $8.25
• N. Side of Carnes Ave. between Nelson St. and Underwood St.
You can taste this fair-favorite before you bite into it. The Bomba is a beer-braised pork shoulder, tender and well-seasoned, with a veggie relish of peppers, thinly sliced ham, Fontina cheese and a whole green olive that rolled free from the lightly grilled ciabatta the first time I picked it up.
• French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, $6
• North side of Carnes Ave., between Nelson St. and Underwood St.
These little gluten-free dough balls are dusted with powdered sugar and packed with warm marshmallow and Nutella. It’s warm gooey, gooey, goodness.
• Green Mill, $5
• East side of Cooper St. between Randall Ave. and Wright Ave. at Family Fair at Baldwin Park, $5
Is there any better salesman than a 20-something dude, tossing a napkin and offering up to a line of people, “The pizzarito is worth it,” then flashing a thumbs up.
Green Mill’s highly portable creation wraps pepperoni-sausage ‘za in a flour tortilla, then bakes a bit of cheese on the outside. The problem: too much -ito. The rice ruins a decent idea.
SONORAN SAUSAGE: ONE. BAD. DOG.
• Sausage Sister & Me, $7
• Food Building, east wall
The menu newbie, billed as “One. Bad. Dog.,” has a sorta spicy sausage — that might be the pepperjack cheese talking — a bacon wrap and loose corn and peppers that cannot be contained.
“You’re going to want to add the white sauce,” the sausage-maker instructed, indicating the avocado white sauce. “One. Meh. Dog.” would be more accurate.