Classic State Fair food

RICK NELSON , | Updated 8/21/2013

These returning food favorites are still in the don’t-miss category.

Fried Great Lakes smelt at Walleye on a Stick.

Let other, more ordinary fairgoers sip their liquid refreshment through a cup. You’ll enjoy yours in a far flashier vessel — a hollowed-out pineapple, “Gilligan’s Island”-style — courtesy of Manny’s Tortas. Co-owners (and siblings) Manny and Vicky Gonzalez blend fresh pineapple juice, coconut juice and ice into a piña colada-style libation ($7) that’s utterly refreshing. You’ll never notice (OK, hardly ever) that it’s rum-free. (Food Building.)

Giggles’ Campfire Grill, the fair’s leading food purveyor, has a menu chock-a-block with must-eat items. At the top is chef Alex Sadowsky’s walleye cakes, a hand-pattied combination of salmon and house-smoked walleye blended with Minnesota-harvested wild rice and 17 herbs and spices, coated in panko and fried to golden, crisply delicate perfection. They’re served with a side of zesty honey-mustard sauce. (Cooper St. and Lee Av.)

There’s plenty of delicious ice cream to be found on the fairgrounds, but one frozen excursion into dairyland that really shines comes thanks to the Minnesota Farmers Union, who tapped two St. Paul icons — Bean Factory and Grand Ole Creamery — to hand-craft Frozen Mocha on a Stick ($5.75), an ultra-creamy Fudgsicle boosted with espresso nuances and pressed into Dixie cup-shaped contours. (Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.)

One of the fair’s great food finds is just $1. It’s the frozen cider pop at Minnesota Apples, and it’s the definition of simplicity, just a plastic push-up tube filled with icy, humidity-busting apple cider. (Agriculture Horticulture, west hall.)

Sausage Sister and Me siblings Cherie Peterson and Merry Barry spear a snappy-skinned, oregano-packed porketta sausage of their own recipe, then spiral-wrap it in a breadstick dough that’s coated with Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese. It’s baked, not fried, an on-a-stick rarity, and it tastes as good as it looks, and even better when dunked in the sisters’ lively marinara sauce. “It’s still our best seller,” said Peterson. “A big part of that is because porketta, hailing from the Iron Range, is just so kind of Minnesota, you know?” (Food Building.)

At Danielson & Daughters, a low-profile/high-quality deep-fried destination run by three sisters, a hardworking team sweats their way through the fair’s 12 days by ripping through 3 tons of freshly sliced yellow onions. With 56 years of experience, it’s a highly efficient process: A quick dip in a light, pancake-like batter, a brief eagle-eyed spin through a bubbling vat of oil and voilà: a basket ($5) of guilty pleasure that hits every note up and down the sweet, crispy, salty and hot scales. (Food Building, south exterior.)

For an astonishingly effective thirst-quencher, nonalcoholic division, turn to the slushy, minty, brightly sweet-tart lemonade ($4) at Holy Land Deli. “I love lemonade so much, and I don’t want to criticize the lemonade at the fair, but to me it just doesn’t have that lemonade taste,” said owner Majdi Wadi. “I wanted to try to bring the real deal to the fair, the way it tastes in the Middle East, the way my mother makes it at home.” Mission accomplished. (International Bazaar.)

While it might not exude the exoticism of the midway’s fire eaters and sword swallowers, the show at the Cream Puffs stand is still pretty entertaining. Owner George Tom gives customers a peek into the kitchen, where his crew never seems to stop mixing, baking, splitting and filling golden, delicate pâté a choux. The encore? Watching customers trying to eat these overstuffed behemoths ($4) without getting a kisser full of whipped cream. (Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St.)

Six years ago, Walleye on a Stick co-owner Bill Davis introduced fried Great Lakes smelt to his menu. It took a while to find an audience. “For those who didn’t grow up with smelt, the idea of popping a little fish in your mouth takes some courage,” he said. Still, this gustatory leap of faith has a definite payoff (and, not to worry: the finger-sized fish are served gutted, with their heads removed), with a dozen or so lightly breaded, gently flavored fish stacked in a basket and served with pimiento-pocked tartar sauce. For true smelt aficionados, Davis also supplies a splash of malt vinegar.