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An Illinois native and a Minnesota native visit the Iowa State Fair for the first time — here's how it went

Anna went to college in Missouri, and Lydia went to college in Minnesota. As new Local 5 employees, they give us their fresh, candid thoughts on the Iowa State Fair.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Local 5 and CW Iowa 23 are bringing exciting 2022 Iowa State Fair experiences to you, from live newscasts to an interactive Local 5 Weather Lab experience. Come see us in front of the Administration Building (Grand Concourse) each day between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. 

For Iowans, the state fair is a beloved summer tradition, ingrained in their minds as the best the nation has to offer. But this is the story of two out-of-staters who work on digital content for Local 5 at WeAreIowa.com: Lydia, a St. Olaf College graduate, and Anna, a University of Missouri graduate.

2022 provided the chance to put the Iowa State Fair's finest to the test. 

So, they did just that. Here's how it went. 

Before the fair

Lydia: I would not consider myself a fair expert by any means. But as a Minnesotan, I have found myself as a fierce defendant of the Great Minnesota Get Together. I already know I will be missing Pronto Pups (they are not the same as corn dogs), Tom Thumb Donuts and the Perfect Pickle. Does Iowa even have a Big Fat Bacon booth? I’m mainly anticipating feeling homesick from the lack of Vikings apparel and the “opes”, “uff dahs” and a good “lemme just sneak past ya”. But I am excited to see what the hype is all about. And can fair food ever really be bad?

Anna: When I attended fairs as a kid, it was a two-day affair hosted in a church parking lot — and everyone I'd ever met was also attending. Nothing too thrilling. I've only been in Iowa for about three months, but I'd heard legends of the great Iowa State Fair and all that it's rumored to offer. Fried food, fair games, livestock, concerts and more — it was a whole different ballgame than southern Illinois' county fairs. I went in expecting to love what everyone wanted me to: the sugary sweet treats, the fried foods and the "Iowa Nice" attitude. More than anything, I went in ready to learn what a fair could be.

Friday, Aug. 12: The journey begins

Butter Cow at the Agriculture Building

Lydia: I was told I had to see this and honestly I was really intrigued. The famous butter cow has a long and interesting history. I mean it’s a sculpture made out of butter - of course I have to see that. So Anna and I headed to the Butter Cow, our first stop of the fair. First, I want to apologize to those who we cut in line. Us being the first-timers that we are, didn’t realize there was a line to see the Butter Cow. It was pretty cool, I was surprised it wasn’t more front and center and didn’t look at it for that long. We jumped out of the way once we realized we had cut in line. The Butter Cow is definitely something to see as an Iowa State Fair essential. 9/10

Anna: The Butter cow. Oh, the Butter Cow. What a lovely, Iowan combination of words. I was awestruck when I heard it existed, but slightly let down when I saw that it wasn’t front and center in the agriculture building. I had to look for the butter cow? I couldn’t believe it. On a more serious note, it’s amazing artistry and a cool tradition that I could see myself visiting every year in the future. Also, I think I should start my butter-carving journey now — I’m inspired. 10/10

Honey Lemonade from the Iowa Honey Producers Association

Credit: WOI-TV

Lydia: After rudely blocking people’s views of the Butter Cow, we headed upstairs. We fell into line with other fairgoers, walking past booths of honey, almonds and the 4H display. That’s when we reached our destination, the Honey Lemonade stand. This was something I had found in my research and knew we had to try it. Honey Lemonade sounds like the perfect summer drink and it was. The blend of the sweet honey with the tartness of the lemonade made for a refreshing, revitalizing drink. I could hardly believe there wasn’t a line for it. Can't wait to get it again. 10/10

Anna: This lemonade was my favorite thing at the fair. I can’t believe it either, but it was one of the tastiest drinks I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. There was no line and it was only $3 per cup. Cold, refreshing and made with Iowa honey — could I ask for anything more? No! I miss it already. 10/10

“OMG” Chicken Sandwich by Chicken City

Lydia: Remember when I said fair food can’t be bad? Eating my words in the form of the overly sweet “OMG” Chicken Sandwich. To be fair, it has potential, it just needs a sauce or something spicy to contrast the sweetness of the donut buns. The texture of the frosted flake breading was nice, but the flavor was a sweetness overload. 6/10

Anna: I love sweet things, but that doesn’t really apply to chicken. The donut could’ve really worked if the chicken was breaded in something less saccharine and there was even a hint of sauce on it. I wanted to love it more than I did. 5/10

Posted by Iowa State Fair on Monday, August 15, 2022

RELATED: Iowa State Fair announces 53 new foods for 2022

Corn Dog

Lydia: I don’t know. I like a Pronto Pup. This left me wanting said pronto pup. Sorry, but Minnesota wins this round. 2/10

Anna: I’m not a big corn dog girl, but it tasted like I expected. I don’t think it was heinously expensive, either, so I’d say it’s a good thing to grab if you have picky kids tagging along. I’m a little sad I wasn’t blown away. 5/10

RELATED: Iowa State Fair food: Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options to try and where to find them

Barksdale’s Cookies

Credit: WOI-TV

Lydia: I was skeptical, how can any cookie possibly beat the iconic Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar? The overflowing bucket of chocolatey, gooey, perfectly golden goodness … I mean to even get to the stand it takes fending off a crowd of eager fairgoers. Meanwhile, Barksdale’s cookies are good, rich and warm. But they are not Sweet Martha’s. They are smaller and don’t have that golden touch. 7.5/10 

Anna: The concept of a bucket overflowing with cookies is one I can get behind. Luckily for Barksdale’s, I’m easily pleased as long as there are chocolate chips involved. If I were stronger and could finish more cookies in one sitting, these would’ve been demolished pretty quickly. Instead, the weather and production crew got a treat when we dropped them off at Local 5 booth (which you can find in front of the Admin Building along the Grand Concourse). The cookies are tiny and rich, which is a good combo. More bang for your buck, I guess. 9/10 

  • PSA: Don’t get a bucket if you’re two young women who have eaten four snacks in the last hour. (But if you do get a bucket, you get discounted refills, so you can make that decision for yourself) 

Funnel Cake

Lydia: I have never had funnel cake, but have been told it’s a fair essential. It’s Anna’s favorite fair food so I was pumped. But alas, it was lackluster, sad even. By the time we sat down to dig in, it was already cold. Anna promises me it's not an accurate representation of funnel cakes. 1/10

Anna: I’m so sorry, Lydia. There are better things coming. I promise. (This includes a superior, incredibly decadent funnel cake on Day 2). 2/10

RELATED: McConnell family carries on concessions legacy at Iowa State Fair

Sky Glider

Lydia: I wasn’t stressed at all, I'm not afraid of heights and while I don't like rides, this didn't count as one to me. Until it started to move and shake and swing side to side. I held onto my bag so tightly and tried not to think about the crowds of people below me. I was laughing and crying and the kids going past me were also laughing but not with us, at us. By halfway through the fear had subsided and I enjoyed the view of the fair and the opportunity to sit down for a bit. 10/10

Anna: I wish I could say I was brave and trusted in the engineers who have degrees in ride design and safety and all that jazz. Instead, I was holding the bar like I was hanging on the edge of a cliff and laughing nervously so Lydia didn’t realize how freaked out I was. I wish I was as cool as all the small, unfazed children who looked at us as we passed. On the way back, I took pictures of the fair and finally stopped shaking, so I’d say it was a win. Also: get the round-trip. Don’t be fools and think ‘Oh, it can’t take us that far. It’s cheaper to just go one-way.’ Get the round trip and enjoy the view. 9.5/10 

Credit: WOI-TV

Sunday, Aug. 14: Round 2

Egg-O-Fuego sandwich from Cluck'n Coop

Lydia: We stumbled to the stand, ravenous coming off a four-hour volunteer shift at the Local 5 booth. The scents of fried food and cooking meat mocked us as we pushed through the crowds. We would’ve eaten almost anything, maybe even the alligator corndog, but thankfully we found the Egg-O-Fuego. We finally reached the Cluck’n Coop booth. The warm wrapping sat in my hands, protecting the goods inside from the cool morning wind. We found a bench and ate in total silence. That’s how good it was. 10/10

Anna: This was my oasis in the desert. My light at the end of the tunnel. The chorizo was delectable and paired well with both the avocado and jalapeno jam. Also, a fried egg and a brioche bun? I was on cloud nine. When I tell you this sandwich was the only thing keeping me going for a minute there, I’m not joking. Thank you, Egg-O-Fuego, thank you. 10/10

Stop by the Cluck’n Coop to enjoy the new Egg-O-Fuego or any of the other award-winning items! Located right outside Thrill Ville/Midway.

Posted by Iowa Egg Council on Friday, August 12, 2022

RELATED: Iowa State Fair food: Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options to try and where to find them

Strawberry Lemonade from Brafford's Lemonade

Lydia: I was told all about Brafford’s Lemonade and couldn’t wait to try it. I decided to try their strawberry lemonade, it was yummy and refreshing ... although I still found myself thinking about the honey lemonade. 7/10

Anna: I love strawberries and I love lemonade, so this was a winning combo. I’m not going to compare it to honey lemonade because they both offer different, delicious vibes. I’d say treat yourself and get both throughout your time at the fair - hydration is good anyway. 8/10

Chocolate Strawberry Funnel Cake from The Best Around, Inc. 

Lydia: Okay, so we decided to give funnel cakes another chance. We heard that the best funnel cake was tucked in the “Triangle” at a booth that featured the classic funnel cake with other flavors like red velvet and cheesecake. We decided on chocolate strawberries, and the funnel cake filled the plate. From simply looking at it I could tell it was going to be good. The fried dough pulled apart softly, powdered sugar drifted onto the grass below. I could now understand why this was Anna’s favorite. 8/10

Anna: Funnel cake is the most amazing food in the world. I knew this, and I needed Lydia to know this. Our second attempt at funnel cake was an incredible success. The strawberry-chocolate combination was delicious. The fried dough was warm, and I was satiated. At that moment, sitting on the grass with thousands of other sweaty, hungry people swarmed around us, I knew that funnel cake had been redeemed. It was glorious. 10/10

Credit: WOI-TV

For more state fair coverage: 

Overall thoughts

Lydia: I had a lot of fun exploring the Iowa State Fair. Like the Minnesota State Fair, there’s die-hard fans, people who refuse to miss a year. I admire the passion and dedication to the summer tradition. When I head to the Minnesota State Fair, I know exactly what I want and rarely try new things. My adventure to the Iowa State Fair pushed me to experience a fair in a new way and step outside of my comfort zone. And I will say, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of lines (maybe I was just lucky). However, I am a Minnesota girl through and through and left feeling full of food, nostalgia and homesickness. A solid 6.5/10.

Anna: The scale of the fair was something I couldn’t have imagined — it was huge and full to the brim with food, rides and booths. I loved looking at the vendors and people-watching as I devoured all my fair treats. As someone who grew up going to amusement parks but never went to state fairs, I feel like I’ve learned something about myself: walking, eating and perusing is superior to getting whiplash on the world’s biggest roller coaster. I will be back, Iowa State Fair, and I will do more than ever next year. I'll give it an 8/10

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