There is still a full week left of Wisconsin State Fair, and just in case you haven’t run out of delicious new foods to try, I thought I’d bring back a list of old favorites.
This combination of sweet and savory picks dates back to 2016, the very first year I reviewed a batch of new foods from the Wisconsin State Fair. And while many things have changed, and plenty of foods have come and gone, these winners are still being served in 2022.
My guess is there’s good reason for that. These picks are listed in no particular order, since they were all worth eating.
For more great (and wild) finds, check out my list of 14 new State Fair Foods for 2022, reviewed and ranked
1. Deep Fried Olives
Where to find them: Fried Fruit on a Stick, Grandstand Avenue between Main Street & Benno’s Micro Alley.
This appetizer-y gem won the day for me in 2016. Briny green olives are stuffed with cream cheese, skewered, breaded, fried and served with a side of ranch dressing. They had great texture and flavor; I loved the brininess against the creamy warm cheese. They were served on a stick, which made it difficult to share. But, maybe that’s OK. After all, you’ll probably want the whole portion for yourself.
Pro tip: These are salty, so be sure to grab a beer to accompany. Miller Lite is a good choice, as the carbonation helps cut the fat and cleanse the saltiness from your palate.
2. Brownie Waffle Sticks
Where to find them: Waffle Chix, South Grandstand Avenue
A brownie wrapped in a waffle? Why not? It’s actually pretty delicious (and it’s good enough to have stuck around the fair for over three years). The waffle batter is soft and waffley. But the inside is where the magic happens. The waffle is filled with a gooey, dark chocolate brownie batter that’s just sweet enough – and just chocolatey enough – to make this treat-on-a-stick pretty darned delicious. It would be plenty good even without the drizzle of chocolate sauce on top.
Pro tip: Let this one cool a bit before eating; it’s easy to burn your mouth on the ooey-gooey chocolate filling. Oh, and do yourself a favor. Grab a glass of milk from the State Fair Milk House on your way over to the stand. You can thank me later.
3. Cheese Curd & Brat Tacos
Where to find them: Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos, Wetley Way (between First Street & Main Street)
These tacos debuted in 2017. They made the top of my list for many reasons, including that they are delightfully deep-fried and oh-so-Wisconsin. Crispy and cheesy, this is one deep-fried food you can definitely put on your list. The flour shell was sheer crispy goodness (think chimi-changa). Meanwhile, the breaded fried cheese curds from Wisconsin's Ellsworth Creamery were on point; they would have been good, even on their own. In fact, my biggest complaint was that the brat pieces -- which were more or less overwhelmed by the cheese -- were few and far between. But, that was no deal-breaker; this cheesy fried treat was a thing of beauty even without a strong meaty presence. Be sure to add lettuce; this gut bomb needs the freshness and crisp texture to keep things balanced. And the optional sauce, which is tangy and spicy, is a delicious no-brainer you shouldn’t pass up.
Where to find them: Pistol Pete’s, Grandstand Avenue (between Second Street & Benno’s Micro Alley)
The joy of sfingi is that they’re not just deep-fried dough. These Italian-style doughnuts are usually filled with cannoli cream, a mixture of strained ricotta, sugar and spices or chocolate chips.
At Pistol Pete’s, which brought out these babies starting in 2019, you can get them how you like: tossed with sugar, cinnamon and sugar, hazelnut glaze or amaretto glaze. We opted for ours to be filled and tossed in cinnamon sugar. And they were delicious.
5. Fried Garlic Cheese Curds
Where to find them: Brad & Harry’s Cheese Curds, Central Avenue (between Second Street & Benno’s Micro Alley on the east side of Central Mall)
Hot fried cheese is a highlight of the Wisconsin State Fair. And that’s the way it should be. In some ways, these curds, which made their debut three years ago, were no exception. They were, indeed, garlicky. They were also salty and maybe a bit too greasy. But they were pretty tasty. After all, it’s tough to mess up fried cheese.
6. Fried Banana Bread Bites
Where to find them: Leadfoots Race Bar & Grill, randstand Avenue (between Second Street & Benno’s Micro Alley)
Banana bread bites. That’s exactly what these are: slightly sweet, bite-sized squares of banana bread, deep fried until ultra-crisp. Based on their appearance alone, I expected them to be hard and dry. But, they weren’t. Nor were they overly greasy.
In fact, these simple little noshes, introduced in 2019, came with a side of icing that I thought might make them overly sweet. It didn’t. Instead, it underscored their banana flavor. Pro tip: Ask for extra frosting for dipping.
7. Mexican Street Corn Nachos
Where to find them: Tropics, Wetley Way (between Center Street & First Street)
Mexican-style street corn is among my favorite seasonal indulgences during the summer months. So, these nachos, introduced in 2019, held quite a bit of appeal. And they really didn’t disappoint.
The chips were light and crisp and topped relatively generously with sweet grilled corn, salty cotija cheese, fresh cilantro, a welcome spritz of cayenne and a creamy queso sauce that brought the "nacho" aspect to the dish.
All in all, this was a fresh take on nachos. Be sure to avail yourself of the lime that comes atop them. The citrus brightens everything and adds needed balance.
8. Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Where to find them: Grandma Brown’s Cinnamon Rolls, Central Avenue (between Fifth Street & Third Street)
If given the choice between sweet or savory, I usually fall pretty solidly in the savory camp. So, it's pretty unusual for a sweet treat to get my top bid for State Fair foods. But the caramel apple cinnamon roll introduced in 2021 was sheer comfort.
The cinnamon roll itself was warm and soft with a chewy interior that was just barely baked. And, while it wasn’t the most cinnamon-forward roll I’ve had, it made up for the deficit with a generous soaking of caramel sauce (it was more than a “drizzle”), tiny bits of tender apple and – on top of everything else – a drizzle of frosting. The frosting is optional, but while you’re spending your calories on this very sweet treat, you might as well just go all the way.
My husband (who I often refer to as my “second stomach” during my State Fair eating escapades) was also a fan. In fact, I probably took two or three bites of this well sized cinnamon roll before he finished it off entirely.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.