The Minnesota State Fair has always been about food for me. Every trip starts with a Pronto Pup and ends with a bucket of Sweet Martha’s, and in between I try to cram as much in as I can. I love sampling all of the new foods and getting the old standbys as well. My wife loves the corn on the cob and the honey ice cream, and I have to have the gator and some cheese curds. So when Simple, Good, and Tasty asked me if I would be interested in writing about the fair, I jumped at the opportunity. The only problem was, what was I going to write about? I didn’t want to do the same thing as everyone else and cover all the new foods or make a list of the best foods, and I needed to find a topic I would enjoy. Then it hit me: I write about wild game mostly, so why not write about the wild game options that the fair has to offer?
When I looked through all the vendors at the fair, I saw that there was a good assortment of game options – everything from elk and buffalo to smelt and ostrich. After making my list, I knew that I was never going to be able to eat all of the options the fair had to offer without some help, so I recruited my good friends Rick and Jess Edwards to come and help me sample foods, and Jess’s sister Leah came along as well. Rick and I do a lot of hunting together, and he and Jess are no strangers to wild game.
The first thing we decided to try was the gator at Bayou Bob’s; we ordered the fried gator with hushpuppies and the gator on a stick, which is just a gator sausage on a stick. Alligator has a very distinct texture and can sometimes be a bit chewy, but our order was perfect -- all the gator was tender and delicious. The gator sausage was wonderful, as well; it had a fairly dense consistency and was seasoned perfectly. Dipped in some hot sauce or barbecue sauce, or even eaten plain, the gator is always one of my favorites and always makes me wish we had more access to gator meat here in Minnesota.
After the gator, we hit up the Agriculture Building and sampled one of my other favorite wild foods: honey. Everything you would ever want to know about honey can be learned at the fair. One of the highlights of this year’s fair was the smoked scotch honey sticks that sold for .50 cents. The combination of smoke and honey with the bite of scotch is something that I will be trying to replicate at home.
We then moved on to the Food Building, where we sampled several more wild game foods. The fried smelt and catfish on a stick at the Walleye On a Stick counter were good. The batter on the smelt was a little heavy and overtook the delicate flavors of the smelt; the catfish on the other hand was done to perfection and had a very light breading on it that really allowed the natural sweetness of the catfish to come through. At the Chinatown Minnesota counter, we ordered one of my other favorites of this year’s fair: the Ostrich on a Stick. It was a ground ostrich patty with a teriyaki glaze and was really quite fabulous. But my least favorite thing came out of the Food Building as well: the buffalo kebob from Minnekebob, which bordered on terrible. The buffalo was way overcooked and was dry and chewy; we all agreed that it tasted a lot like canned chow mein.
The best selection of wild game came from Giggles Campfire Grill; we ordered the walleye cakes, walleye roll, walleye fries, and the elk burger (all pictured at top). The walleye cakes took a minute to grow on me, but outside of being breaded a little heavily were very good, and the sauce they were served with was lemony and delicious. The walleye roll was voted best new food at the fair last year, but this year it seemed to be just okay. I had it last year, and I thought the dill really popped, but this year it fell flat. The elk burger was another item that at first seemed underwhelming, but with each bite, it kind of grew on me. It had a very clean, natural flavor that is characteristic of elk; the only thing that would have made it better was if they had dressed the burger up a bit. It came plain with a slice of cheese, and it probably would have been better had they thrown in some lettuce and tomato. The last thing we had was the walleye fries, and it is really hard to find fault with a basket of perfectly fried walleye. The fish was tender and flakey and the breading wasn’t too heavy.
All in all, I was quite pleased with the selection of wild game options the fair had to offer. I have always said that in order to get more people to eat wild game, it needs to be presented in a way they are familiar with, and at the state fair nothing is more familiar than food on a stick.
Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an Rn at the Minneapolis VA hospital. He enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and, of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it is prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures cooking everything from Pickled Venison Heart to Roasted Dove on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him at @youcookitright. He writes the Hunting for Dinner series for SGT; his last post for SGT was Hunting for Ways to Use Zucchini (and a Recipe for Zucchini Relish).