There are two ways for sardonic urban types to experience the Minnesota State Fair. You can regard the event as target practice for ironic barbs -- making sport of mocking fatty foods on-a-stick and unfashionable Def Leppard T-shirts. Or, you can derive genuine pleasure from the livestock and educational exhibits, the earnest young political workers staffing the party booths and the idiosyncratic vendors hawking cheeky products. For true fair enthusiasts, the great state get-together inspires fascination with Minnesota's agrarian roots.
In that spirit, we offer this study in contrasts. We start by listing all the trashy diversions and State Fair clichés that are sure to provoke a city slicker's gag reflex. Then we chart the unassailable alternatives -- the Fine Arts exhibition, the encyclopedic beekeepers, the sleepy teenagers patiently tending their steeds. Which of these polar approaches allows for maximum fun? We think you know the answer.
Cliche: Cheese curds
Deep-friend and greasy, cheese curds commit worse sins than clogging arteries. Since they wage war on stomach enzymes, the curds interfere with the fair's biggest thrills: the rickety rides in the Mighty Midway and the scary ones at Adventure Park.
Treasure: Honey and Bee Culture exhibition
Located in the Agriculture Horticulture building, the honey exhibition is easy to spot: Look for the display of glass honey pots arranged in gradient, from light goldens to dark ambers. Here, you can mingle with egg-headed beekeepers and sample dozens of single-source honeys -- we like the melony-sweet basswoods and the molasses-thick buckwheats. Plus, you can purchase tiny jars of artisanal honeys from regional producers like Ames Farms. Tip: Top off your visit with a scoop of honey ice cream, available from the nearest concession stand.
Cliche: Pitchers of macrobrews
Well, at least the fair ditched its worst-ever rule, the one limiting beer sales to 3.2 varieties. Four years later, it's no easier to find decent suds, save for the smattering of Summit taps. So, drink to your fill of watery drafts. Your buzz is still imaginary.
Treasure: Minnesota wines and beers
Granted, Minnesota wines aren't known for their awesomeness. We're nonetheless impressed by the hardy vintners we meet at the Minnesota Wine Country exhibition, also located in the Agriculture Horticulture building, where an oenophile can sample unusual fruit and grape varieties from Morgan Creek Vineyards, WineHaven and others. As for you beer lovers, check out the Ballpark Café (near the Food Building) for a newly expanded selection of craft beers, including pours from Surly and Lift Bridge.
Cliche: Butter princesses
For newcomers, these sculpted hunks of lard are understandably impressive. For repeat visitors, it's too bad the princesses always look exactly the same. Maybe it's the toothy beauty pageant smiles. Probably it's the Princess Kay competition's homogenous pool of pretty farm girls of Scandinavian heritage.
Treasure: Fine Arts competition
Oh, how the cityfolk love to hate the State Fair Fine Arts competition. "It's roulette-style curation," spat one inner-city artist. As the complaint goes, artists from rural Minnesota aren't subjected to the same scrutiny, since the jury engages in a sort of affirmative action. Will the cool kids from Lowertown and northeast Minneapolis peacock before the outstate landscape painters? Decide for yourself by cruising the Fine Arts building to spy the pleasing variety of works.
Cliche: Ye Old Mill
According to the average Minnesotan, the cartoon characters you meet along the world's oldest tunnel of love are "so interesting" and "different." On the upside, at least the 1913 boat ride has a fresh look. Artist Allen Brewer has been busy providing those historic characters with a colorful new backdrop. Who knows, maybe the sentiment will graduate to "real nice."
Treasure: Adventure Park
If you ever mustered the courage (and the $30) to ride the Sling Shot, then you know -- that ride is super fun! As extreme rides go, the Skyscraper is too dizzying for the average adrenaline junkie. As for the Sling Shot, it feels exactly the way a "Star Wars" fan always imagined lightspeed, with stars and cityscapes passing in a blur.
Cliche: Miracle of Birth Center
You don't need a PETA membership to be troubled by this free exhibit. Many a fairgoer has expressed sympathy for the cows, pigs and sheep forced to give birth before a live audience of gawkers. It's gross. It's crowded. And for the animals at least, it's the ultimate indignity.
Treasure: The Horse Barn
A quiet refuge from the gaping crowds, the Horse Barn features stall upon stall of equines, mules and donkeys, not to mention their soft-spoken owners. Yes, horses have a soothing effect on us humans. Kick it with Arabians, Appaloosas, Clydesdales and our favorite, the American Bashkir Curly Horses with their corkscrewed manes. Bonus: check out the impressive Art Deco carvings on the Horse Barn's exterior.
MINNESOTA STATE FAIR
- When: Thu.-Sept. 5
- Where: State Fairgrounds, 1265 N. Snelling Av., Falcon Heights
- Tickets: $12 adult regular admission
- Web: www.mnstatefair.org
- More details