- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

Sure, there are always deep-fried Twinkies, foot-longs, funnel cakes, shave ice, turkey legs and the other assorted culinary delights of the typical state fair this time of year.

But wait. The Minnesota State Fair may have scooped them.

Minnesota’s grand get-together offers spaghetti and meatballs on a stick, barbecued yak, walleye fries, grilled chocolate sandwiches, sweet-potato sundaes, elk burgers, goulash and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds.

There’s also a health fair for those who fear they might expire just outside the victuals tent. Concerned fairgoers can have their retinas scanned, receive a pneumonia shot or donate an organ.

But back to the fair fare, which includes more than 450 different edibles at this week’s festivities in St. Paul.

“I have to admit, the spaghetti on a stick and the chocolate sandwich are pretty mysterious. I’m not exactly sure how they’re made,” spokeswoman Danyl Zamber said.

“The vendors themselves come up with these dishes, and they are always creative — and funny,” Miss Zamber said. “The only requirement is that they stay within their own realm. The lady who does the sweet-potato sundae also sells baked potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes, for example.”

The sundae is probably the least sinful of the bunch — just sweet potatoes topped with marshmallow cream and cherries, not unlike the Thanksgiving side dish of a similar persuasion.

Of course, other state fairs have their specialties, so much so that roving food critics Jane and Michael Stern have named the top 10 fairs from a gustatory standpoint.

“Whether you are licking a frozen custard cone while strolling along the midway or sitting at a picnic table forking into chicken and dumplings in a church-sponsored dining pavilion, the celebratory nature of these events makes everything taste good,” the pair note.

The Sterns indeed lauded the Minnesota State Fair, but for butter sculpting rather than elk burgers.

The Ohio State Fair won accolades for butter sculpture and “every edible thing that can be put on a stick and gnawed while walking.” The Iowa State Fair made the list by virtue of inch-thick, 1-pound pork chops, while the California State Fair placed because of “naughty” deep-fried cheesecake.

The Vermont State Fair showcases maple cotton candy, the New Mexico State Fair serves up the American Indian taco — a plate-sized piece of Indian fry bread with taco trimmings. In Massachusetts, the Eastern States Exposition big “must-eat” is the Big E Creampuff, while the State Fair of Virginia features soybean doughnuts and Brunswick stew.

There are Cajun meat pies at Alabama’s Greater Gulf State Fair, while the State Fair of Texas presents its ultimate culinary highlight: the Corny Dog.

“Not only does it taste swell, it has great historical significance,” the Sterns wrote. “The corn dog was invented here, in 1942, by Texan Neil Fletcher.”

The Sterns’ complete review can be read at www.epicurious.com.

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