For a total State Fair junkie such as myself, being invited to a sneak peek of new Fair foods and activities was an utter dream come true. It wasn’t just the opportunity to get a Fair fix early that was so cool, it was being part of the very first group of bloggers summoned by the Fair to get the word out! Twelve of us assembled this past Monday on the Fairgrounds — 10 days before the Fair opens — in the name of some very tasty research. We also got a walking tour of the brand new West End Market, a space that has been completely transformed from its careworn Heritage Square days. I’ll share pictures of West End Market after I give you my thoughts on the 7 new Fair foods we sampled.
Clockwise, from top right, the foods are:
- PB & J French toast from Robbinsdale OES Dining Hall. Created, we learned, to inject a little more protein into a kiddo’s diet. My own bunch would love the generous amount of pb & j sandwiched between traditional slices of cinnamon-dusted French toast. This would be a great breakfast for multiple kids to split and bulk up on. Located on Underwood St. next to FAN Central.
- Iron Range pierogies from Blue Barn. These mild potato dumplings will be served along with other “fun farm food” at a brand new building in the West End Market, marking the first year at the Fair for the Blue Plate Restaurant Company. Located in West End Market just west of the Skyride.
- Pizza tots from Green Mill. The unexpected flavor and crispness of hashbrowns mixed with the usual meat, cheese and seasonings is really tasty. There’s a generous dusting of parmesan on top and a pizza sauce for dipping on the side. Located west of the Family Fair Stage in Baldwin Park.
- Deep-friend lobster-on-a-stick from LuLu’s Public House. I prefer my lobster non-battered and deep-fried, but this version was still pretty tasty. I especially enjoyed the mildly spiced dipping sauce that came with. Try this dish from the second floor of the new LuLu’s Public House in West End Market overlooking Schilling Amphitheater.
- Jello salad ice cream from Hamline Church Dining Hall. My kids would go nuts for the rich marshmallow flavor, mallow chunks, and cranberry sauce swirl. 2014 will be Hamline Church’s third year of collaborating with Izzy’s Ice Cream of St. Paul on a flavor only available at the State Fair. Located on Dan Patch Ave. near Visitors Plaza.
- Rustic stuffed scone from French Meadow Bakery. Gianna loved the ham-and-cheese filling of this parmesan-encrusted scone, but I plan to stick with one of the vendor’s sweeter offerings — buttermilk scones stuffed with cream and fruit. Located on Carnes Ave. between Underwood St. and Nelson St.
- Caribbean-style lobster roll from Café Caribe. I saved my personal favorite for last! I’m a seafood fan and love me a good lobster roll. The best part was the semi-spicy habanero kick to the dressing, and the perfectly buttered and grilled roll gave it a delicious delivery. Located on Carnes Ave. west of the DNR Park.
Now, let’s make our way across the Fairgrounds to the far west — and newly-christened — main gate at West End Market. You can’t miss the splendid bright blue of the restored streetcar arch that welcomes you. Its rank is a result of the Fair’s main transit hub being routed from congested Como Avenue to a vast space just south of the new Market. It’s estimated that almost half of all Fairgoers arrive using mass transit so the owners of the new Blue Barn eatery and LuLu’s Public House should have no problem attracting customers. That’s the Blue Barn above (excuse the raindrops on the lens) and LuLu’s Public House below, showcasing the sweet “rooftop” patio.
Other new elements in West End Market include a beautiful, well-lit and interactive State Fair History and Heritage Center, space for free entertainment on the much-expanded Schell Stage at the Schilling Amphitheater, and lots of room for the merchants. I came to the tour nostalgic for the old-timey look of Heritage Square, but left truly looking forward to bringing my family back to explore West End Market. In fact, I believe most of us bloggers left the Fairgrounds filled with fresh ideas — and stuffed with Fair food, of course.
This sneak peek was by no means a complete listing of all the new offerings at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair. I’ll be back next week with the sequel to my 10 Ideas For Free Family Fun at the Fair. In the meantime, don’t forget about our ticket giveaway (2 tickets good for any day of the State Fair!) closing Sunday, August 17 at 9pm!