My favorite twelve days of summer are almost here. I've loved the MN State Fair since I was a child, but that was just for the food and rides. I've matured in my old age and appreciate even more about the fair now. Of course, the food is still a big part of that.
Which is why I love getting invited to the blogger preview event at the fair! I participated last year and had so much fun (you can read my food preview here and my post on family-friendly activities here--the information is still applicable!) that I knew I needed to do it again.
This year we got to try a few of the new food items being offered and learn about all the shopping available at the fair, including the different "neighborhoods" that are set up for your shopping convenience. Read on for some highlights!
First, the best news of all--Tot Boss is coming to the fair! You may know Tot Boss as an AWESOME food truck, and lucky for us they are parking their truck at the fair! We tried the Loaded Tots--tots covered with cheddar cheese sauce and bacon crumbles and topped with sour cream and chives. It was one of my favorites--not for its uniqueness but for its just plain goodness. It's loaded tots. What's not to like?
Another favorite of mine, this time FOR it's uniqueness, was the Minnesota Corn Dog that is served at the Gass Station Grill. I know, I know...how unique can a corn dog be? How about a custom ground sausage-on-a-stick made with blueberries, apples, wild rice, maple syrup and cayenne dipped in a homemade corn dog batter and deep friend? So, yes, VERY unique!
Back to an old favorite made better: the grilled cheese bites at O'Gara's at the Fair were SO GOOD. White cheddar cheese blended with beer batter, cubed and deep fried and served with a bloody mary mix marinara. You should totally try this--especially while watching my husband's band play there (on August 29th AND September 4th).
Then there was the Cheesy French Onion Monkey Bread served at the Blue Moon Dine-In Theater. This is a savory, pull-apart artisan bread loaf filled with caramelized onions, cheese, and beef broth, then baked in a wood-fired oven. It's incredibly savory--a perfect alternative to all the sweet yumminess you can find at the fair.
The Rustic Beef Pastry from French Meadow Bakery & Cafe was a surprise for me! This Moroccan-spiced flavorful dish has grass-fed beef and baby spinach topped with a creamy goat cheese and nestled in a flaky butter crust. It amazing how the different flavors work so well together and I really enjoyed it.
Finally, the biggest surprise of all for me was the Minnesnowii Shave Ice. They offer several flavors at the fair and I was lucky enough to try three of them: Strawberry, Orange, and the Fair exclusive flavor: Maple Bacon. So listen. You might think shaved ice can't be THAT interesting. Well, you'd be wrong. Minnesnowii makes their's with 100% sweetened condensed milk drizzled over your choice of flavor for a creamy, sweet twist. And it's no joke. I know for a FACT that I will be bringing my kids here for a treat. But I'm not sharing my Maple Bacon. That's all for mommy.
Besides eating (and rides if you're my kids), what's the next best thing the fair has to offer? All the shopping. I love shopping at the fair because I always find unique items--even for the toughest people in my family to buy gifts for. There really is something for everyone at the fair.
One of the coolest things I learned at the fair preview event this year was how the fair organizes the grounds into "neighborhoods" for shopping. They have ten neighborhoods to explore:
- Creative Activities Annex: This is a little area between the Education and the Creative Arts buildings where you can find the latest in gourmet cooking and baking, along with many other boutique-style vendors.
Dairy Building: The dairy building is more than just malts and butter sculptures, it's also home improvement merchandise and services, farm supplies, and outdoor products such as fishing gear, apparel, kayaks, and tools.
Fan Central: All sports teams, one location!
- Grandstand--TWO floors! What can't you find here? I'm not kidding when I say--everything is here. From any and all home needs to home services. Plus there are tons of places to shop for accessories, clothing, shoes, hunting and camping gear, and so much more.
- Home Improvement Building: This building offers ideas and products for fairgoers planning to update or remodel their homes.
- International Bazaar: Take a trip around the world and find the finest in international goods.
- Merchandise Mart: Filled with lots of variety, you'll find everything from little gadgets, knickknacks and kids costumes to jewelry, lawn and garden accessories...and even more.
- Pet Center: Find any and everything you could possibly need for your pet here!
- Warner Coliseum: Here you can find rodeo and western inspired goods and clothing, unique jewelry, and so much more.
- West End Market: This is the fairgrounds' newest shopping destination featuring fine handmade goods and the latest in up-cycled products.
At the blogger preview event, there were five shops that we were able to learn a little more about. There were two new shops to the fair: Wish Boutique and The Holly House Boutique, and returning favorites: i like you, Machine Age Lamps, and Birchberry Native Arts and Food.
I love the shop i like you. They have the cutest things from t-shirts and jewelry to magnets and decor. I love all the Minnesota-themed apparel they sell and especially appreciate that everything they sell is locally made by Minnesota artists and crafters. They are in the perfect location, the West Market. Plus they have a great deal in the Blue Ribbon Bargain book!
I've been to Wish Boutique before (they have a store location in Rosemount, MN) and was happy to see them added to the list of vendors at the fair. They have a wide variety of fun graphic Minnesota designs and saying t-shirts, awesome mixed-material reversible skirts and custom-designed jewelry. They can be found in the Grandstand, on the upper level.
This preview event was my first exposure to Birchberry Native Arts and Food and I fell in love. Heidi Grika runs this booth and she is a member of the White Earth Community. One of her most popular items, the organic wild rice, is picked by members of this community and money earned by the sale goes right back to the members. She also makes beautiful coats, mittens, blankets, and the cutest baby moccasins! Plus, along with the organic wild rice, she also has wild rice pancake mix, wild rice soup mix, Native American herbal tea and so much more. She can be found in the International Bazaar.
The Holly House Boutique is a seasonal boutique showcasing local artisans' handmade designs, pillows, slippers, bird feeders, soaps, signs, pottery, bags and more. There are some VERY unique, fun items like: hockey puck bottle openers, solid birdseed sculptures to feed the birds with while looking adorable, and barn wood signs. So many cute gift ideas here--especially for those who are hard to buy for. Check them out in the Grandstand, on the upper level.
Finally, we weren't able to see the vendor Machine Age Lamps in person, but we did get to talk to him via conference call and see pictures of some of his creations. Shawn Carling is the artist behind this booth and he makes industrial tables and steampunk art light fixtures (designed from salvaged early American factory parts and are all one-of-a-kind works of art). This business started for him after he built a lamp for his father and then everyone wanted one. He has sold over 1000 lights and tables in four years! You can find him in the West End Market AND don't worry if you find a BIG piece you need to have--he'll get it to you one way or the other, either by using a dolly and getting it to your car or shipping it to you, free of charge.
With all these options, you can easily spend at least one entire day at the fair. Or, you can be like me, and go several times. Remember: I'm the girl that used to take her vacation from her full-time job over the fair so I could WORK the fair.