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BRUNCH BEAT: Nicollet Diner
By: Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl | Posted: 08/21/2014
I write this to you feeling a little logy and with a new enemy in my life: deep fried breakfast on-a-stick. I might forgive, but I will never forget. You were one breakfast ingredient too many, submerged in pancake batter and deep fried into a sodden grease bomb. (Choose at home with the ultimate wisdom of the armchair quarterback, which of the ingredients was the one too many? Was it the American cheese, the Swiss cheese, the sausage patty, the Canadian bacon, the egg, the pancakes, or the unifying batter? Whichever it was, never before have the joint forces of Canada, Switzerland, and America failed so miserably at a joint endeavor. Personally, I blame the additional pancake batter.)
But I ate far and wide, up and down, new food after new food after new food—and many many drinks! And after trying them all, here's my official judgment. The best new foods of the Minnesota State Fair in this the year of our lord 2014, sez I:
Lot of frozen stuff this year at the fair. I liked the little shaved ribbons of ice cream made by twisting an ice-cream block over a blade that they are serving at the Blue Moon Diner. I wanted to like the new Izzy's Ice Cream Jello Salad flavor—and I insist you all buy a cone from the Hamline Dining Hall because when you do you buy a meal for a needy family—but maybe not the Jello salad flavor. It's crazy sweet. Too sweet for me. Try the other excellent flavors.
The new ice cream I flipped for this year? The very plain, old-fashioned, so old-fashioned and plain it’s almost innocent waffle ice cream sandwich from the new West End Creamery. It's just good. Simple, not too gargantuan, not too thin hot waffles, a slice of vanilla ice cream between them. That's it! Ice cream that hearkens to how ice cream used to be served (that's the legend of how the ice cream cone was invented, anyhow.) Simple, satisfying.
Yes, this is a direct response to the Lift Bridge Mini Donut beer which was the hit of the fair last year. So what? It's such a cute, great idea. It's a melted chocolate and crushed graham cracker rim cup, filled with your choice of Angry Planet Amber Ale or Cygnus X1 Porter from pioneering St. Paul microbrewer Flat Earth Brewing, and after they pour it, in the semi-hidden special craft brew pavilion tucked behind Giggles' Campfire Grill, the barkeep scatters the glass with mini marshmallows. It makes sense: The X1 Porter is my favorite of the two, with the deep chocolatey notes (created without actual chocolate) getting a playful sweet frame from the playful sweet treatment. Bring it on, Minnesota. I may get sick of these gimmicky, adorable beers in the future but right now I am enchanted. What a fun, authentically over the top thing to do to beer! Thumbs way up.
The Blue Barn in the West End is an enormous addition to the Fair, and it features an enormous menu. I liked nearly everything I tried, but my absolute favorite was the little nuggets of well seasoned, tender fried chicken, smothered in a truly spicy (in a good way) rich sausage gravy. This is going to be the top craveable pick for your after-concert wolfing down. I also adore the blueberry lemonade, my pick for the best non-alcoholic drink at the fair. It's intense and truly blueberry, truly lemon flavored. But I liked it even more cut with the house Tea Source black currant iced tea. Best Arnie Palmer at the fair, and possibly the best in the metro year-round. A really good Arnie Palmer, people!
This is important news: Mancini's bought a gelato machine. They bought a gelato machine, they put it in their State Fair building, and now they have an entire homemade gelato section! I tried them all, and you should too. I liked the mini-donut (which is actually more of a spicy traditional Italian gelato cinnamon flavor). I really liked the salted caramel nut roll (shout out to St. Paul's glorious Pearson's Nut Roll, but saltier, and, dare I say, more to my taste. I thought the Summit Oatmeal Stout flavored gelato was good, creamy and pleasantly bitter. But my absolute favorite is the caramel apple, made with a truly winey, tangy apple flavor threaded through with a deeply nutty, almost amaretto-like caramel. In any event, stand there, get the nice kids to give you tastes of all the flavors, and pick your own. Look closely when you're standing at that counter—you can see the kids of the stand making the gelato from scratch 10 feet away. It is fantastic to have homemade gelato at the State Fair.
I flipped for this when I heard about it, and I liked it even more when I tried it in life. Here's how it works. They fill a series of specially engineered, slushie-like machines with a special blueberry beer that gets churned into a creamy, frozen foam. Then they pour it over your choice of beers—a blueberry beer called Blu (too sweet for me, tastes like blueberry soda), or, more to my taste, the Oktoberfest, Grapefruit Radler, or plain old Grain Belt. (Grain Belt is owned and brewed by Schell's.) I thought the blueberry foam on top of the Oktoberfest was phenomenal, it added just a whiff of blueberry scent and flavor, sort of like an orange wheel with a Belgian ale, and a surprising initial silky texture, which vanished as it melted. This is my absolute must taste at the Fair, it's surprising, fresh, tasty, and good.
Some things I thought were totally solid, but wouldn't get into a Twitter war defending (which sadly is my new standard):
Mango on a stick from the Midtown Global Market at the International Bazaar
It was gone for a year, and hence it's really not new, but the mango on a stick is back this year, just a mango with chili seasoning, cut into a flower, and every kind of good.
Lobster roll from Caribe
Fresh, light, spicy—I liked it. If you want a lobster roll at the Fair, this is the one.
Gluten-free bison dog at Chicago Dogs, on a gluten-free bun
If you need gluten-free food and have yearned for a Chicago dog, the new one at Chicago Dogs is a solid, well topped and created option.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.See bio
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