FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — I come to you from the bottom of a bucket of Sweet Martha's chocolate chip cookies. It's unclear how many were in there two days ago, when a masked cookie pusher with smiling eyes passed them through the window of the Duluth News Tribune's Jeep.
I can tell you a truth about Minnesota's favorite cookie: They're best served warm. I can tell you another truth about this state fair staple: They're good enough at room temperature the next day and the next that some fans of the cult classic cookie loaded up — buckets upon buckets — during the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade.
According to the parade menu, there is a limit of six buckets per car ($102 in cookies).
According to the masked cookie pusher, some were driving away with more than that.
In the absence of a fair-fair — because frequent single-day attendance records and pandemics don't mix — this year's fair-like event is the Minnesota State Fair Food Parade. Cars file two-by-two through a 1.5-mile route along the fairgrounds past a presumably empty grandstand, a quiet Giant Slide and a Sky Ride stripped of gondolas, with frequent stops for state fair favorites from 16 different vendors. Every car gets a couple menus so paraders can be prepared at the stops.
The food parade continues Aug. 27-30 and Sept. 3-7, but it's sold out. You can, of course, find tickets online at a place where people crank up prices and resell them.
It takes nearly 2 hours to tour the route, a mix of festive (consider the case of the brass band on the street corner, Lizzo from speakers), sad (I see your closed shop, French Meadow) and surreal (I used an outhouse that was clean, had ample toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and there was no line).
Speaking of lines: Aside from the ones we were all in, cruising at walkable speeds, there was no waiting. You want a turkey leg ($10), you get a turkey leg faster than you can even decide how you'll split a turkey leg with Samantha Erkkila, the multimedia reporter riding shotgun.
Answer: You won't. You'll both quietly wish you had instead ordered Turkey To Go's Giant Juicy turkey sandwich. But the lure of a steering wheel in one hand, turkey leg in the other, had been hard to resist, especially while literally driving a car down Judson Avenue. It seems like utter lawlessness.
What we ate
Among the fan favorites at the Minnesota State Fair are Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, a tightly run ship that always has a line long enough to form the shape of letters. It's the third stop on the Food Parade, with its signature no-muss, no-fuss transaction. Boom.
Now you have an overflowing bucket of cheese curds ($17) in your passenger seat. These curds are deep-fried, without a thick coat of breading. It's just you and the hot wad of curd. Plus, it passes the squeak test and is stable enough for continued snacking throughout the route and, honestly, back home. All other cheese curds will forever be inferior.
From the annals of on-a-stick: Que Viet's Giant Egg Roll on a Stick ($8) is oversized and all crunch and pork. And on this day, the Pronto Pup ($5) was the top corn dog with its cakey outside (and a dip of mustard) with a thin tube of meat inside. We opted for the Butcher Boys Pitchfork Sausage ($8) for a change of vessel, but it was for naught.
This hot sausage, wrapped in foil, was too hot to touch when it was passed through the window. Inside was a charred piece of meat with onions. It ultimately tasted better, a nice amount of spice, than it looked. We didn't find the fork — a red plastic novelty item — until we cleaned out the car.
Speaking of sticks: Does it count if it's on a bone? West Indies Soul Food's Jerk Chicken Drummies ($7) were seasoned nicely and offered up a spicy and not-so dipping sauce. These were a Jeep favorite.
The duck bacon wontons ($9.50) were pretty and crisp little half-moons and the insides are oh-so rich — a messy blend of cheese and bacon and corn that dripped on the steering wheel. It was a lot of heaviness for such a food-filled day.
The second-to-last stop, before the Sweet Martha finale, was The Hangar for an order of fried Oreos ($7). To the uninitiated, when fried, the outside of the Oreo gets soft and chocolate-y, in a way that it isn't when eaten from the pack, by the row. This variation adds a donut-like exterior, with powdered sugar and drizzled chocolate.
When Erkkila dipped her Oreo into a chocolate shake from Dairy Goodness Bar, she was declared a hero.
When on the fairgrounds, do the fair stuff
Part of the fun of this was the proximity to people, whose voices aren't just part of a din. You can hear the words "corn dogs" repeatedly from the car next to you and you can see what your neighbors are eating. We were offered a bite of a stranger's Tater Twister, but declined.
"This is the best drive-thru ever!" a woman said to us when we rolled past.
There is this thing that attendees do during normal years, when you walk along Judson Avenue and rent a rug for some thrilling dips on the Giant Slide. Many people wear T-shirts that might connect with other fair-goers: college swag, a favorite craft brewery or local business. This happens, too, when you are driving a Jeep with the words "Duluth News Tribune" on the side.
Erkkila, ordering a chocolate malt from the Dairy Goodness Bar, by ADA of the Midwest, was recognized.
"Are you Lefebvre?" a woman called, using her maiden name, toward the truck. She knew her dad.
A masked man claiming to be Giggles of Giggles' Campfire Grill sat on a bench talking to people as they drove past. Asked why his name is "Giggles," he suggested it would take a few beers to tell that story.
But the sweetest was a man traveling parallel who told us that his grandfather had worked for the Duluth News Tribune. He had started at the Hastings, Minn., newspaper, moved to Duluth and had maybe covered politics, then finished his career back in Hastings. We exchanged excited nods and "cools" and then he closed his window and disappeared into the highly organized crowd.