One of the last celebrations of the Minnesota summer and its quick and exorable transformation into fall, and winter, the Minnesota State Fair, also called “the Great Minnesota Get Together,” and I’m sure a lot of other self-aggrandising nicknames. Lindsay and I spent the last Sunday of the venerable Minnesota tradition enjoying its treats and braving the crowds. It was surprising that I had avoided the fair for the last decade or so, and so I really enjoyed getting to rediscover it with a newcomer to our strange state. After moving here, Lindsay found herself enchanted by many aspects of the Fair and attends faithfully each year, and I was eager to experience it again with her. I was definitely not disappointed by my return!
A lot had changed, and a lot had stayed the same, since my last visit. As our local media is dutiful to report, there were a lot of delicious, if not exactly healthy sounding, new culinary innovations being hawked throughout the Fair, some delectable and some, not so much. In any case, we had to track a few of the most promising sounding ones down, and as we explored twisting grounds of the fair, weaving through the throngs, we encountered some of the weird and wonderful quirks that make our state a little bit different. By all accounts, this was the largest attendance ever for the Minnesota State Fair, an event not known for a small turnout.
We started out with some breakfast near the in the Blue Barn in the new West End Market, a welcome transformation of what I found the chintzy old “Heritage Square.” Nothing says breakfast like a cup of beer, so I started off with that, a Caramel Apple Pi beer, which was the closest one could get to drinking a caramel apple pie, along with some fried french toast. The important artifacts remain, the cabin and the windmill, and there’s still plenty of taxidermied animal carcasses to take home (if you must).
Heading over to the livestock, always a popular attraction at the fair, we wandered through the goat and sheep barn, echoing with bleats, munching, and that goaty smell. Even better, Lindsay and I were enchanted by the rows and rows of Lindsay’s favorite creature, rabbits. There were so many, of so many different hues, sizes, fur types, and ear shapes, but all adorable. Some stood up, inspecting their surroundings with concern, if not interest, while others simply took it easy on their furry little bellies. Of course, some were winners and some were losers to the farm kids who raised them to show at the Fair, but they were all great to us city kids. The baby animals of the Miracle of Birth barn, with calves born just hours before and was also an interesting stop.
Hungry for lunch and other refreshments, we walked towards the Agriculture Building, but not before grabbing some fried croissants from the French Meadow and floating through the Old Mill, the oldest surviving attraction at the Fair. The Mill, a rickety contraption that propels brightly dyed water and boats of visitors through a cramped, dark, damp maze, past pastel murals of gnome villages, is what is known as a “tunnel of love.” The place is so old, as you creak through the maze, attempting to find the lips of your loved one in the darkness, you can think of Garrison Keillor doing the same years before. Sorry!
Finding our way to the Agriculture-Horticulture Building, I again subjected Lindsay to a slew of beers courtesy of the Land of 10,000 Beers, the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild exhibit. With a sampler of four different local beers by theme, Lindsay and I picked out a couple, the sweeter beers and the “Cicerone’s Choice.” By the time we were done with them, we were both a little overly indulged. What better time than to tour lovely displays of Christmas trees, rows of precisely arranged jars of honey, and tables covered with dahlias of every color. Of course, the iconic seed art was worth checking out, too.
After drinking a few more State Fair themed beers, I needed something to soak it all up, and Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar definitely had enough. I had never heard of this stand before, but judging by all of the fairgoers dragging around piles of chocolate chip cookies throughout the fair, it was a popular place. I was enticed to get the giant bucket option, a tub overflowing with cookies that we snacked on as we rode the SkyGlider over the busy crowds, marveling at weird agricultural vehicles of Machinery Hill and all of the stuff that somehow ended up on the roofs of the nearby buildings. By the time we escaped from the dangling cable cars, the sun was setting and our feet were burning. It was time to escape the Fair and make our way home. I would definitely recommend taking advantage of one of the bus shuttle services that bring people to the fair (there was one a short walk from our home), as the fair only seems to be getting more crowded and parking more difficult to come by. It was nice not to have to worry about that as we stumbled back and boarded our shuttle to return home, to relax and try to massage our feet back to life.