No event has as many cherished Minnesota traditions as the State Fair — and yet, every year the first thing fairgoers ask is, “What’s new?” The Fair’s website has a complete rundown of what’s on deck this year, but that’s a lot of information to digest, so here are my personal picks for ten can’t-miss new features this year.
COVID-19 vaccination clinic
Let’s start here, shall we? While the Fair will not be carding attendees for entry (or outright requiring face masks), the Fair and public health authorities are strongly urging all Minnesotans age 12 and over to get vaccinated against COVID-19 immediately. If you or someone you know attends the State Fair and hasn’t yet been vaccinated, free shots will be available in the Fair’s North End with no appointment, identification, or insurance necessary.
Destination Healthy Skin
We’ll keep this health theme going for the moment, because fear not, we’re going to get into some less health-conscious recommendations soon enough. After a few hours at the fair you may or may not feel like hopping into a hospital gown and letting someone closely examine literally every inch of your skin…but listen, melanoma is no joke. Plus, the mobile clinic is probably air-conditioned.
S’mores Funnel Cake
Disappointed that fire restrictions have kept you from roasting marshmallows this summer? Drown your sorrows in marshmallow sauce — and yes, that’s a thing. What, exactly, makes a “graham cracker funnel cake”? I can’t tell you, but I’m sure going to find out. (Giggles’ is bringing back the s’more beer as well, but personally, I just can’t with that chocolate sauce rim.)
Ever since Lift Bridge and the Ball Park Cafe brought us the Mini Donut Beer back in 2013, gimmick — er, excuse me, exclusive — beers have become a treasured State Fair tradition. This year is no exception; if names like Outboard Motor Ale (Coronado Brewing Company, at Giggles’) and Sweat Back Together (Bent Brewstillery, at Ball Park) don’t get your glands going, there’s always MN Brew Together Peaches and Cream Milkshake IPA (Modist/Dangerous Man, at Ball Park) and the one that has my sweet tooth most intrigued, Minnesota Maple Mead (Sociable Cider, at LuLu’s).
The big story this year, of course, is several hard seltzers debuting as part of the LaCroixtail boom; there are also a few new non-alcoholic juices and mocktails. Here’s hoping breweries and beverage stands bring some N/A beers, which are getting better and better every year, to State Fair taps as well.
What makes this bacon grilled cheese a “sidecar”? The cognac the bacon’s been infused with, plus the fresh orange slice garnish — which is kind of a sidecar in and of itself, adding a pleasingly meta twist to this savory slab. Among the several delicious-looking new foods at the fair this year, I’m giving this one an extra tip for being served at the Hideaway Speakeasy, which makes superb use of a long-ignored Grandstand landing as a veranda with a view — not to mention a breeze.
Fraser Sensory Building
This is very cool: a new “take-a-break building” for fairgoers with sensory processing challenges. “Sensory support volunteers will help fair guests calm their sensory systems with tools and techniques, so they can rejoin the fun.” In the front of the building there will be “games, giveaways, special guests” — because after all, it’s still the State Fair.
If there’s food the State Fair actually doesn’t have enough of — I’m being totally serious here — it’s corn. Esquites is a Mexican street corn salad, coming to the International Bazaar as part of Los Ocampo’s first State Fair visit since 2013. The irony is that making esquites requires taking the corn off, so to speak, the stick.
Controversial opinion: few comestibles aren’t improved by being consumed straight from a hollowed-out pineapple. It’s just more fun! Fairgoers are used to the sight of people emerging from the Food Building sipping a (non-alcoholic) piña colada from Manny’s Tortas, but maybe you’re looking for something more substantial. The fair’s quirkiest music venue has come through with a chicken dinner stuffed into a halved pineapple — complete with some of the extracted fruit returned to the scene of the crime.
This year’s new clothing vendors include a seller of birthday crowns and a Midsommar Clothing Company (although I imagine if you showed up to the Midsommar gathering rocking a t-shirt with a Swedish flag pattern superimposed over the outline of Minnesota, the giant hammers might come out sooner rather than later). I think my favorite concept, though, comes from Mankato-based Switch Hoods. Have you ever had just the right jacket to wear to a fall event, but the hood lining’s all wrong? They’ve got you.
Minnesota-grown cricket snacks
No, this isn’t yet another European sport blowing up in the Gopher State. I’m talking about literal crickets, as in the insects. Gentleman Forager, making its State Fair debut this year via a lower-level Grandstand booth, is bringing not just Lions Mane Mushroom-Infused Nut Butter and mushroom soap, but also cricket snacks made from locally-grown insects.
“As a superfood, crickets have incredible nutritional value, benefits include high levels of protein including B12, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and prebiotic fiber,” notes the retaier in a press release. “They are gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and soy-free.” Who among us can say as much?