Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Super-Spectacular" Vomit Inducer, aka "Tango"

New to the Midway roster in 2011, Tango looks like the perfect option for those of you who like thrill rides. Full disclaimer here: I don't. I don't mind a little whirl, but anything that brings me upside down is an automatic no-go. I get a headache just watching this ride. In other words, do not take this post as an actual review.

That said, this is one of the few rides on the Midway that caused our small group to stop and gawk for nearly the duration of the entire ride. My son, in particular, was VERY impressed. You'll have to see it in action for yourself to get the full picture (or better yet, try it out), but the gist of it is that the riders are strapped into open seats on three arms. The arms revolve, while at the same time the individual three gondolas (each holding eight people) simultaneously spin around on their own axes.

For those who like numbers, Tango weighs 26 tons, approximately 75 1/2 feet in height, and can be assembled in four to five hours by three people. It was designed and constructed by KMG, a Netherlands-based company specializing in what they describe as  "fun fair attractions." While riding Tango does not admittedly look like MY idea of fun, I had fun watching those with stronger stomachs try it out. And those of you who do enjoy such rides should make the trek down towards the far end of the Midway to try it out for yourself.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Day of Fair Food

It's been a busy week, and I will catch up with lots and lots of Fair posts in the coming days (and weeks, and months... the State Fair has no shortage of things worthy of comment!), but in the meantime, here's a quick run-down of our first day's Fair food:

  • Mini donuts -- the family favorite. Jack liked them just as much this  year as he did when he was one. And, if possible, I think he made an even bigger mess eating them this year than in years past. Good thing I came prepared with wipes!
  • Roasted corn
  • Falafel on a stick (hint: there's a coupon for these in the coupon book; you can get them at Falafel King in the Food Building)
  • Root beer float
  • Chocolate milk shake
  • Birch beer
  • Root beer
  • Cotton candy
  • One glass all-you-can-drink milk
On our next visit we'll fill in the gaps. French fries, some more mini donuts, a pickle on a stick; am also considering getting some Sweet Martha's cookies, because -- not sure how I missed this! -- I've never actually had them before at the Fair. It seems like a major oversight,.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's TIME!!

That's right -- the Minnesota State Fair is now officially open for business, and has been for several hours. I have my tickets in hand, and will heading over there in about fifteen minutes. On the agenda for today: 
  • Ye Old Mill (with my son, Jack, for the first time!)
  • Mini-donuts
  • Stop at the Dairy building to check out the Princess Kay butter blocks in their mostly "before" state (and, I hope, catch a glimpse of some carving in process)
  • Pigs, sheep, and cows
  • Something on a stick -- a pickle, perhaps? 
  • Little Farm Hands with Jack
And who knows what else? That's the beauty of the fair -- there's SO much to see, and part of the fun is just wandering around and seeing what looks good at any given time. I have a lot of "must-sees" to pack in, but we're not trying to fit in all into one day.

See you at the fair!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Are you heading to any of the Grandstand shows this year? I'm not, unfortunately, but if I had the money I'd be there for the Def Leppard and Heart show on August 26. If you think about it (and do some selective mental editing) Def Leppard is the PERFECT Fair soundtrack accompaniment. Think about it:

"Take a bottle, shake it up.... pour some sugar on me... c'mon, fire me up,  oh I can't get enough..."

I mean, really, they're talking about mini-donuts, right?


"I'm hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet...."

Well, we've all been there. It can get HOT at the fair, and part of the fun is the inevitable coating of grease, sugar, salt, and sweat.


"You've got the peaches, I've got the cream, sweet to taste, saccharine."

Good sharing of the fair food, guys.

Tickets for Def Leppard and Heart are still on sale, but going fast. (The perfect gift for, say, anyone celebrating the big 3-3 in the near future...) The rest of the 2011 Grandstand lineup, along with ticket information, can be found on the Minnesota State Fair's website.

Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Fair Food 2011: Northwoods Salad on a Stick

Looking for something relatively healthy, yet also screams "Minnesota" and "State Fair"? If so, get yourself over to Giggles' Campfire Grill (Cooper and Lee, in the log cabin near the water tower) and order up their brand-new 2011 offering: Northwoods Salad on a Stick. It's essentially a vaguely Minnesota-style kebab, with the "stick" loaded down with grape tomatoes and mozzarella, served over a bed of wild rice. It's not fried, but the chicken fried bacon (described by the owner himself as a "heart attack-on-a-stick") or the foot-long walleye sandwich also offered on the menu will help you up your calorie count.

Giggles' Campfire Grill doesn't have a non-Minnesota State Fair location, so eat up while you can.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alligators Spotted at Minnesota State Fair

The rumors have been confirmed: yes, indeed, there are alligators on the state fair grounds. No, it's not a result of global climbing or yet another worrisome invasive species. These alligators are fully Minnesotan in form: in other words, dead and served on a stick. You can find alligator and a host of other Cajun-themed food options, at Bayou Bob's, located on the southeast corner of Nelson and Dan Patch.  For those not into the whole on-a-stick thing, the basket of fried alligator comes in a basket accompanied by -- what else? -- alligator-shaped fries. And while I doubt most people seek out fried food for its health value, Bayou Bob's reports that, at only 217 calories per serving, its fried alligator  is one of the lower-calorie options at the Fair. 

For those of you who like to know where your food comes from, Bayou Bob's uses alligator meat from Parker Island Gator Farm, a family-owned farm and processing plant in Lake Placid, Florida.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Room With a View

Want one of the best views the Fair has to offer? Want it free? You'll want to check out the DNR's fire tower exhibit. I haven't had a chance to visit this place yet -- it was closed to the public for all of my youth, and in years since I have been at the fair with a young child in tow (children under six are not allowed up) -- but by all accounts this sounds like it's worth a visit. Approximately 300 people are allowed up daily, 25 at a time, and enjoy panoramic views of the Fair in all its glory. Assuming this year's rules are the same as years past, visitors must be physically able to walk up 84 steps, must leave their food and drink outside (the DNR thinks its tough to climb the stairs while holding a pronto pup in one hand and a souvenir cup of soda in the other), and need to be flexible about the time of their ascent: assigned time tickets are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.

For a bit of context, the DNR's fire tower was built in 1966 specifically for the purpose of being a State Fair educational exhibit. It was closed to the public in 1978 due to safety concerns, but reopened in 2006 following an extensive renovation.

If you want the fire tower experience without the steps or the tickets, the DNR will once again be offering its popular fire tower webcam during the run of the Fair.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Get Ready for Greased Lightning at Andy's Grille

While poking around at the fairgrounds last week, Bob Andrus of Andy's Grille invited me to step inside and check out what Andy's looks like in the quiet, pre-fair days. Take a good look, because come August 25 this space, along with its neighboring restaurants and bars, is going to be overflowing with hungry and thirsty customers, along with a roster of dancing staff members. That's right -- Andy's is known for their on-the-hour dancing, or, more specifically, for their rendition of Greased Lightning. Stop by and see for yourself, or get the preview courtesy of the wonders of YouTube.

If you do stop in to visit Andy's, make sure to wish them a happy anniversary -- this year they're celebrating their 25th year at the Fair. For those who are counting, they've only been Andy's Grille since 1998; before that the restaurant was known as Andy's Diner, and were located closer to the Grandstand. You can find Andy's now at their newer, much larger space on Carnes Avenue just west of the DNR building.

An interview with the extended family, as well as a glimpse into what it might be like to have been raised truly growing up "at the Fair," see Julie Pfitzinger's 2009 profile of the family-run business.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Canine Carny Cowboys Coming Your Way in 2011

Like dogs? Like old-fashioned, western-themed vaudeville acts? Like to see dogs from rescue shelters get the chance to strut their stuff? If so, then you'll want to check out a new addition to the Minnesota State Fair's entertainment line-up: "Doggies of the Wild West," complete with a "Pooches of the Prairie" canine comedy act.

The show, run by Gary Noel and Giovanna Cardella, has the makings of a made-for-TV doggy rags-to-riches story. Down on their luck, stuck in a shelter, along comes dog trainer Gary Noel,  and -- voila! -- suddenly (well, presumably after many, many  hours of hard work and a lot of dog biscuits) these eight dogs are now canine celebrities, traveling the country with their now-expanded human and dog carny family. See them in person at the Minnesota State Fair at noon, 3:00, and 6:00, just east of Heritage Square, north of the Skyride.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hamline Dining Hall's State Fair Ham Loaf

Church-sponsored dining halls have long been a familiar sight at the fair, and are part of the yearly tradition for many. The fair's oldest operating church dining hall is Hamline United Methodist Church, which has had a presence at the fair since 1897. Yes, you read that correctly -- since 1897. That means they've had lots of time to finesse their recipes and work out all the kinks, and have fine-tuned their offerings to fair-time perfection. While nothing can fully replace the total package experience of enjoying a meal served up by volunteers at the fair itself, there's no reason to limit your dining hall experience to a measly 12 days of the year. If you can't wait another 11 days to enjoy it in person at the fairgrounds, here's the recipe for their famous "State Fair Ham Loaf." Don't forget to wash it down with your own cup of bottomless coffee!

Hamline Church Dining Hall's State Fair Ham Loaf
1 1/2 lbs ground ham
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
3 cups dry bread crumbs
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp allspice
2 cups milk
3 eggs, slightly beaten

2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cups vinegar
1/4 cup prepared mustard

Combine all ingredients except sauce. Pack mixture into a 9x5x3 inch pan. Combine sauce ingredients and spoon half  of sauce over loaf. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Pour a little sauce over ham loaf when serving if you wish.

SOURCE: Hamline UCM's website, as published in the Hamline Cookbook

To learn more about Hamline Church or its dining hall, or to learn more about Hamline volunteer activities, check out their website.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Fair Food 2011: Minneapple Pie

Fair eaters seem to be divided into two categories: those who like their favorites (and who have little room to add new options to the roster -- there's only so much one can eat in one visit!), and those who are always looking for the new and exotic, or, well, at least new. Those looking for new but with a familiar twist, or something as American as apple pie, can check out one of the new options for 2011: Minneapple Pie. "The Original Minneapple Pie" is exactly what one expects out of a fair-time apple pie: an individual apple pie battered and fried. The pies have been around for a few years now, and are currently making the rounds at smaller county fairs (and the recent Uptown Art Fair) before heading to the big leagues at their new space on the south side of Judson between Nelson and Underwood. And speaking of big leagues, you can also get a preview (or a post-fair fix) at the State Fair Classics stand at Target Field. You can also make a visit to Rogers, Minnesota, where the Minneapple Pie is just one of many tasty options cooked up by Minne's Diner. And, like any good business these days, you can also find them on Facebook.

Oh, and if you like the logo (and all related Minneapple Pie/Minne's Diner designs), thank local design experts Sussner Design Company.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Harness the Bear Within

You know the drill. There's a bear, his name is Smokey, and he's out to spread the word. Only YOU can prevent forest fires. Want to help do your part? One of the neatest Minnesota State Fair volunteer opportunities has got to be with the DNR. They're looking for both bears and "voices" -- the people who speak for Smokey, since we know bears can't talk, especially bears wearing heavy fake fur suits -- to work the crowds at the DNR building. You, too, could be Smokey (at least for a shift) if you meet the following requirements:

  • Are 17 or older
  • Are 5'7" or taller
  • Have a chest or waist no bigger than 46"
  • Must be able to handle the heat!
If you're short, wide, or don't like the idea of sweating under all that fur, you can apply to be Smokey's voice; you'll lead him around, answer questions from bystanders, and help Smokey and the good folks at the DNR remind Minnesotans of the importance of fire prevention safety.

In addition to fleeting fame and bragging rights on Facebook, volunteers also get free admission to the fair on their day of volunteering. To learn more about Smokey, as well as other DNR volunteer activities, check out their website. And bear with me here, as I throw in one last reminder: only YOU can prevent forest fires.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Princess Kay of the Milky Way: Butter Beauties, aka "Goodwill Ambassadors"

This group looks straight out of the stereotypical all-Minnesotan casting department, doesn't it? Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise, given that these young women are the 2011 Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists. Princess Kay herself will be crowned later this month, but all 12 finalists get the fun of having their bust carved out of butter during the fair itself. I LOVE the Princess Kay competition -- what could be better than combining elements of pageants, the state fair, and butter, all in one package? How much more Minnesotan could one get? And how cool would it be to be able to bring your head home on a platter -- figuratively speaking, of course -- to share with friends and family at a big homecoming corn roast or pancake dinner? Watching the butter carving is a must-stop of any Minnesota State Fair visit, and I'm sure these lucky women will remember this summer for the rest of their lives.

Think you have what it takes to be a dairy princess? Check out the rules at the Midwest Dairy Association's website. My ship has sailed -- I'm too old, married, have a kid, and don't work in the dairy industry (or have parents who do) -- but there are plenty of other potential princesses out there, all ready and willing for their turn in the revolving butter case.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Minnesota Beer Hits the State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is about all things Minnesotan, so it's about time that our Minnesota beer options at the fair have expanded. According to City Pages' Hot Dish, this year's fair will have vastly expanded beer options, including plenty of brewed-in-Minnesota options. Visit the Ball Park Cafe to get local and national beers on tap, including a Minnesota sampler. While I admit that I don't drink beer at the fair, you can't go wrong with Stillwater brewery Lift Bridge's Farm Girl -- what could be more appropriate for the state fair than that? If you don't want to wait until fair time, or, if you're like me and prefer to drink your beer at home (and save your fair calories for things fried or on a stick) you can find Farm Girl at restaurants, bars, and liquor stores across the state. Find the details at Lift Bridge Beer Company's website: http://www.liftbridgebrewery.com.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Do You Remember Your First Mini-Donut?

The Minnesota State Fair is home to a LOT of delicious sugar and/or fat-laden treats, but my favorite has always been a bag of fresh, hot mini-donuts. I generally try to keep the sugary stuff away from my son, but everything goes out the window at fair time. Here's 13-month old Jack eating his very first ever mini-donut, at the 2008 fair. They were a hit; he licked the sugar off his sticky fingers, wiped the rest on his stroller, and reached out for another.

FUN FACT: Around 338,000 bags of mini-donuts are sold each year at the Minnesota State Fair!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hey, What Happened to Minneapolis Day? (Six Days in 1910)

We're all familiar with the State Fair's "Promotional Days" -- Thrifty Thursdays, Seniors Days, Read and Ride Day, and so forth. While the specific offerings change over time, the basic concept has long roots. Take a glance, for example, at the six promotional days for the Minnesota State Fair of 1910:
  • Labor Day and President Taft Day
  • St. Paul Day and Roosevelt Day
  • Derby Day and G.A.R. Day
  • Territorial Day and Conservation Day
  • Minneapolis Day
  • Automobile Day
"President Taft Day" was no long-distance nod to the sitting president; the president himself addressed the crowds. He was accompanied by Teddy Roosevelt, who had delivered his famous "speak softly and carry a big stick" speech at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901.