At this point in time, where everything feels like a circus—from politics to the smoldering rubble once known as Game of Thrones—it makes bizarre sense that Valleyfair would also aim to ratchet up their summer food offerings to a degree beyond all reason.
But when the park invited us out for a peek at chef Dave Whitmer’s new offerings for the 2019 season, the first issue at hand was defining a rubric with which to judge the fare... well, fairly.
It’s true that Momma’s Little Julia Child may find herself enraptured with the new Lobster Mac n Cheese dog. But the majority of kids will eternally gravitate toward Pronto Pups, funnel cakes, and Dippin’ Dots, because Valleyfair is one of only a handful of places on the planet where they exist.
Picky eaters of all ages can find respite at Subway and Panda Express, which maintain outposts in the park to this day. For the rest of the “grown-ups,” though? This food—and alcohol—is aimed at us, yet will be (largely) assembled by youth for whom this is a summer job, perhaps their first.
To rank these on a true Scarf-to-Barf scale would be cruel and unhelpful on all sides given that a chef’s intentions only go so far given the scale and ingredients with which they're working. Besides, the degree to which they stay in one’s stomach is based more on genetic predisposition to vertigo mixed with an unquantifiable threshold for how much joy one derives from repeatedly inducing oneself to whiplash.
In the end, we opted to let our roller coaster sampling experience serve as a Fast Pass to the most thrilling and terrifying new snacks on offer. Whether that entails losing your lunch on the Renegade or floating off a food coma in Ripple Rapids is your call.
All photos by Andy Bothwell.
Three new tacos arrived at Valleyfair this year, including al pastor and fire-roasted chicken offerings. Smothered in chunky pico containing ingredients unknown to our young servers and a salty cheese that couldn’t possibly have been cotija, both were egregiously skippable. The “MN Taco” (a classic hard-shell filled with spiced ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheddar, and tomatoes), however, was 11/10 delicious, a timeless piece of Americana befitting suburban summer. When you see that yellow shell, treat it like a yellow traffic light: Instead of slowing down, speed up. $5.99 for 3, El Taco Mercado
Birthday Cake and Grape Sizzle Cotton Candy
There’s only so much that can be done with spun sugar, yet multiple new flavors are available this year. The first we tried was a cloud-white “Birthday Cake,” replete with rainbow sprinkles and an LED cone. Another—a pale purple hue, peppered with Pop Rocks—we believe was called “Dream” based on intel from our teenage dealer. Though they tasted only slightly different from each other and no in-mouth candy-snapping was detectable from the latter, all were hoovered in their entirety, befitting the inner-four-year-olds we’d long neglected. Do we recommend these because they’re “Birthday Cake” and “Dream” flavored or because they’re cotton candy? The world will never know. $7.99, Games Cotton Candy
Gluten-free Hashbrown Burger Basket
Of all things that sound like they’d be horrible to eat at an amusement park, a bunless breakfast burger is right up there. But this was resoundingly the best item from the morning. Thick-fried hashbrowns serve as the burger’s “bun,” which held up nicely against a patty, bacon, and cheese cascading from the interior. The salt and crunch hit perfectly. Let’s hope they’re served by the dozen. $12.59, Coasters
Chicken & Waffle Cone
This was almost a truly great idea, except it failed so spectacularly, in so many directions, that we wondered if it wasn’t (maybe?) made by a bot. Frozen chicken tenders aren't exactly swappable for fried chicken. A bland gravy drizzle supplanted syrup’s rightful position in the layering. Smooth, powdered mashed potatoes somehow found their way in, lending an uncanny Thanksgiving-y flair to the concoction. The best thing about it was the pre-fab sugar cone atop which all of this was inexplicably perched—because, to be clear, a sugar cone is not a waffle cone. No follow-up information was provided about this doozy
Non-meat-eaters: Aside from a mostaccioli that shouldn’t be eaten by adults, this is the only new savory offering consumable by you. (Yes, even the Italian Chop Salad has pepperoni in it.) The corn itself was crisp, and served by the half-ear, on a stick. With not too much mayo, a thick crust of granulated cotija, and a dusting of what was likely paprika in place of chili powder, the elote is a great way to sneak a vegetable into the day. $4.99, Corn Cart
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Deep Fried Pickle on a Stick
This is a pickle on a stick coated in neon orange breading, with nary a trace of Flamin’ Hot anything, let alone Cheetos, to be found. That said: If you like pickles on a stick, you’ll probably like this. If you like Cheetos, buy Cheetos. $4.99, Wild Thing Pronto Pup
Usually when a tamale’s done badly, it has to do with a surplus of masa; at Valleyfair, the tamale should be avoided for the exact opposite reason. Unwrapping the corn husk revealed a dearth of masa in favor of nothing but a pebble of moist pork in one’s palm, about the size and color of an owl pellet. To be fair, the meat’s flavor was good, but the overall experience was off-putting—especially if one is expecting to consume anything resembling a tamale. No follow-up information was provided
Lobster Mac n Cheese Dog
We don’t need you to think as hard as we did about how one arrives at a point of saying, “You know what Valleyfair is missing? Lobster! But on a hot dog… and in cheesy noodles!” because that’s what we’re here for. However, we are delighted to report that the Lobster Mac & Cheese Hot Dog is downright tasty, against all odds. Could it use a little Old Bay for garnish? Of course—but then again, what couldn’t. This just may be how children learn about shellfish. What a world! $8.99, Route 76 Refreshments
Valleyfair Rum Punch with Tattersall Barrel Select Rum
Nine out of ten times, a red punch will end up tasting like WOP no matter the quantity and/or quality of booze added. This, delightfully, is that rare occasion when neither the Kool-aid nor Hawaiian Punch cartoon characters come to mind at first sip. It’s tart and light rather than sweet and syrupy -- dare we say it’s the perfect wave pool refreshment, even if it was the first menu item anyone burped (after a ride on the Wild Thing). $10.99 for 16oz, Depot Refreshment, Breakers Bay Bar
After sampling the above (and even more new foods that fell in the middle of “fine”-ness), we went on a quest to find a behemoth of a treat mentioned by Matt Anderson, Valleyfair’s director of Food and Beverage, while he made the rounds with a 16-inch dessert pizza piled high with chocolate and whipped cream.
“We have a 4,700-calorie, 42-ounce milkshake with everything sweet in the park in it: funnel cakes, mini-donuts, candy from the candy shop… It’s at Cool and Creamy,” he’d said, eyes twinkling.
A mere $20 seemed a steal for such potential! Except we found the snack stand in question closed. And, just like that, Colonel Ompahpah’s Shake became summer’s most epic white whale.
We’ll be back for you, Ompahpah.
(Also: We see what you did there, Anderson.)