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Things I Ate At The C.N.E. In 2019

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2019.

After a year off from the Canadian National Exhibition I got back on the bullshit again, making the most out of one well-targeted weekday trip and a couple delivered care packages to help bump up my food explorations. It’s interesting the perspective you get when you step back for a year from a near-compulsion. One of the big things I realized this year was that most of the “stunt” food has become wildly, insultingly overpriced when one considers each item’s ingredients and the comparable non-stunt versions of similar items which are also available at the fair. It’s a psychological barrier that’s real and takes a certain amount of “when am I ever going to try this again?” to motivate a person to eat this crap. That said, nobody with a still-flickering life force goes to the Ex to eat a plain cheese slice at Pizza Nova when there’s, wait for it, pickle pizza available to try (I didn’t try the pickle pizza… that’s not stunt enough).

The new craft beer & food truck & axe-throwing boutique area near what was once an activation wasteland by the Princes’ Gates was a wonderful addition to the Ex. Likewise, the Canadian Ninja Warrior set-up that has replaced the parkour show (parkour!) with the always-entertaining MC Abdominal was a great opportunity to watch physically perfect people fail like chumps. The SuperDogs show was fun, too (Pro tip: go to the first scheduled ‘Dog event of the day. It’s the only one that isn’t psycho-rammed with exasperated parents who don’t know how to navigate crowds.)

The biggest surprise of the year? A food-based redemption arc. If I didn’t experience it with my very own mouth hole I wouldn’t have believed it could happen. On to the food…

Here’s what I ate at the CNE in 2019:

Gnocchi Poutine. Gnocchi that was deep fried and covered in gravy with a smattering of cheese. The amount of cheese here left something to be desired (more cheese = good poutine, less cheese = cheap fucker bullshit hope-you-go-out-of-business “poutine”), but this was entirely acceptable. 7/10

 

Pineapple Dole Whip. I’ve got a friend who fiends for this stuff rather obsessively so when I encountered it for the first time I had to try it. And it’s… really refined pineapple slurpee? 6.9/10

 

Tokyo Street Dog. This was a tempura-battered hot dog wiener wrapped in seaweed and slathered in non-traditional (read: totally traditional if many parts of the world) condiments. It’s basically a normal hot dog with slightly left field condiments and it cost three times more than it should have. 5.6/10

 

Black Halo Bubblegum Ice Cream. It looks great with its bright blue ice cream in goth black sugar cone. There wasn’t actually much flavour to this bubblegum, though. Also, the aftermath of eating these 7% food colouring cones is two days of BRIGHT green dookies. 6/10

 

Black Halo Purple Haze Ice Cream. This was the grape ice cream version and it had much more of a flavour. 6.4/10

 

Fran’s Sriracha Peanut Butter Balls. You people really don’t need to put sriracha in everything. A rare slip-up from the usually-great Fran’s booth. 4.9/10

 

FUDGE BREAK!

My late, great grandmother used to make the most 10 out of 10-est fudge in the history of fudge and I’ve been fitfully chasing that high ever since. Would these compare? No, of course they wouldn’t. But there were still some good mouth times…

Milk Chocolate Fudge. The boringest of the CNE fudges and least able to keep up against the grandma scale. Still fudge. 7.1/10

 

Maple Fudge. Maple is a natural neighbour to Vanilla, the best fudge, but it’s also just a little bit… less. 7.7/10

 

Cookies ‘n’ Cream Fudge. They did not short on the “cookie” in this fudge, which is admirable in its way, but it also made for a fudge that was just structurally weird. Like a food with a bunch of speed bumps, which isn’t really what you want in a fudge. 7.3/10

 

Chocolate Maple Fudge. Two different textures and slightly incongruent vibes made for a fudge that was a little meh. Still fudge, though. 7.2/10

 

Skor Fudge. The Skor bits were pretty subtle. I think there might have been slivers of ginger in there making things slightly weird. If not the best, it was certainly the boldest. 7.5/10

BOOZE BREAK!

So yeah, we’re all for the new craft beer corner of the Ex that allows you to sit down for a drink in a spot that isn’t a) meant for gambling, b) has terrible country music, or c) features a whoooaaa Québécois Styx cover band.

Shiny Apple Cider and Pinot Noir. The wine jolt adds a pleasant little something to make this more than just a regular cider. Because this is booze… 10/10

 

Pommies Original Cider slushie. Remember life before the cider revolution? Neither do I, but it must have sucked. Anyway, it was hot as balls on the day we were here so the ability to hide out in a shaded corner and drink an alcoholic slushie was chef’s kiss. 10/10

 

Pommies Original Cider with Sangria. I’m not suddenly one of these all-in for cider + wine people, but this one was better than the other one. 10/10

FREE STUFF!

It used to be that the Ex was a glorious place for cheap eats and free samples. Then for a long time it wasn’t. It appears that a few companies have figured out freebies are a good thing, though.

Takis Fuego Extreme. It’s been a second since people have been marketing “Extreme” shit and it warmed my soul in the exact same way seeing a retro Maple Leafs jacket makes you go, “Oh neat… but I’d never wear that bullshit.” This was free, so I appreciated it, but after trying it I’d never pay money for it. 5.7/10

 

Maple Lodge Spicy Ultimate Chicken Frankfurter. Of all the weird things I was expecting in my food adventure, a redemption story was not one of them. Back in 2012 I tried what was unquestionably the worst county fair stunt food ever made — The Maple Lodge Chocolate Eclair Hot Dog. It’s exactly what it sounds like and it’s profoundly stupid. A couple years later Maple Lodge gave up their spot in the Food Building, seemingly disappearing under the weight of their shame, which I blame entirely on that idea. But this year they were back with a fancy outdoor grill barbecue setup and were offering free samples of their various jumbo dogs… and they were exactly the kind of thing you’d want to grill up at a barbecue. 7/10

THE DARING, AUDACIOUS, DELICIOUS AND DISGUSTING

Carla’s Cookie Box Salted Caramel Butter Tart. Look, I’ve been on butter tarts (no raisin, fuck that) since long before there were festivals and pop-up shops and other bullshit foodies hopping on the tartwagon. Getting off my high horse for a second, though, some of these new soldiers in the butter tart zeitgeist are making awesome shit. Like this. 8/10

 

Carla’s Cookie Box Nutella Butter Tart. This looks like it got hit by a hammer ’cause it suffered a bit while in transportation, but holy shit was this delicious. My mouth is watering from just looking at this stupid picture and remembering how perfect this thing was. 8.9.10

 

Super Fries K-Pop Fries. There’s a certain amount of low-r “stunt” food that isn’t really stunt food at all so much as it’s just “food from a different culture.” These kimchi fries would probably qualify. Sarah and I have been chasing after the perfect kimchi fries ever since our beloved Korean Cowboy restaurant closed a couple years back to make way for condos. These were fine but they weren’t special. The quest continues. 6/10

 

Snickle Dog.  And in the exact opposite of a redemption arc, we’ve got the fooled-me-twice of the Snickle Dog. Technically, I haven’t been fooled twice by the Snickle Dog, a hot dog and pickle wrapped in a deep-fried tortilla and covered, for some reason, with chocolate syrup. But I have tried its very close cousin, the Canadian Bacon Pickle Ball (2017), which is a piece of lukewarm garbage corn dog perverted to include a chunk of pickle. I was tricked by the idea of deep fried tortilla-fication but let my folly be a lessen to others — do not Snickle Dog. 4/10

 

Cheesecake Factory General Custard Sundae. Cheesecake Factory has taken over the Wild Child Kitchen fresh juice spot in the Food Building, which means I no longer have access to concoctions that make me shit beet juice within 30 minutes of drinking them. This, however, has turned out to be a bit of a blessing because the Factory created my favourite thing of the year, the General Custard Sundae. Made up of a Portuguese tart, vanilla soft serve ice cream, hot caramel sauce and whipped cream, this is an incredible collision of complimentary flavours. Vanilla ice cream (and vanilla, in general) gets a bad rap because white people ruin everything, but it’s amazing. And when you mash it up with a Portuguese tart and a gooey pile of hot caramel it creates something cosmic from something that seems so simple and obvious. 9/10

Additional reading:

Things I didn’t eat at the CNE in 2018 because I boycotted to support unionized workers who were fighting The Man.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2017. Including Deep Fried Chicken Foot and Savory Fried Spaghetti Donut Ball.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2016. Including Bug Dog with Roasted Crickets and Deep Fried Butter Tarts.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2015. Including Corrado’s S&M Burger and Iron Skillet’s Frosted Flakes Chicken On A Stick.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2014. Including Fran’s Thanksgiving Turkey Waffle and Coco’s Fried Chicken Cocoa Chicken.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2013. Including Nutella Jalapeno Poppers and the S’more Dog.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2012. Including the Chocolate Eclair Dog and Bacon Nation Nutella BBBLT.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2011. Including the Krispy Kreme Hamburger and Deep Fried Twix.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2010. Including Deep Fried Butter and Taco In A Bag.

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Things I Ate At The C.N.E. In 2012

Butter Rob Ford

Rob Ford in his natural element – butter. I didn’t eat this.

Each year I go down to the Canadian National Exhibition and try out an assortment of the bizarre and gimmicky foods they have there. In 2010 it was stuff like Deep Fried Butter and Taco In A Bag, and in 2011 it was things like Deep Fried Pickle and a hamburger made using Krispy Kreme doughnuts as buns.

Once again, this year yielded some fascinating and gruesome taste sensations — including the worst thing I’ve encounter in the three years of tracking this stuff.

Scroll down to see what I consumed:

The first stop was to the Coke booth to purchase a refillable cup and then partake of the magic flavour fountain pop selector machine they have. Basically, it’s like when you’re a kid and you try mixing a million flavours of pop together all at once. First you pick your drink base (choices seen below), then you’re sent to another screen where you can add flavour shots like vanilla, cherry and peach, then the machine fills your cup with the chosen concoction.

Pop Fountain

The magic flavour spooger Coke product machine.

Vanilla & Cherry Coke

This would be our first concoction, Vanilla & Cherry Coke. I was a big fan of the now-disappeared Vanilla Coke so this was a happy return of sorts. Better than normal Coke, but still fountain pop. 6.6/10.

Mandoo Beef Dumplings

We were going to hit the crazy train early and start with Kimchi fries from Far East Taco, but because the Food Building was just opening they weren’t exactly on their game yet. The Mandoo Beef Dumplings were ready though, so we had those. Solid, simple dumplings, they didn’t suck — because dumplings rarely do — but they weren’t exactly a mouthsterpiece either. 7/10.

From here it was on to the big trendy food booth for this year — Bacon Nation — where everything they serve was wrapped in bacon. I decided to go big with one of the ridiculous signature sandwiches on the menu, the Nutella BBBLT. This sandwich is comprised of back bacon, the L&T, bacon, more bacon, and Nutella, all spread over toast. Or at least it was supposed to…

Bacon Nation Nutella BBBLT

The Bacon Nation Nutella BBBLT. As a BLT it solidly does its job. 7.5/10.

Notella BBBLT

Unfortunately, what I got was the Bacon Nation No-tella BBBLT. There was no Nutella. So I basically paid $12 for a novelty sandwich that didn’t have the key component of its novelty. This means this sandwich was actually a complete failure. 0/10.

Fried Egg Sandwich

Sarah then ordered a classic grilled cheese from the Mac ‘N’ Cheesery (sic?) with a fried egg in it. I think she liked it. I had some of her chips — Miss Vickie’s regular (5.5/10) and pickle chunk (5.6/10).

By this time we were had pretty much finished our first wave of the Food Building, which we topped off with another round of pop.

Barq's Vanilla Rootbeer

Pop round two was Barq’s Vanilla Root Beer. This was a totally acceptable choice, though the vanilla flavour was a little on the subtle side. 6.4./10.

From there we wandered around the Ex shopping area. I bought a cowboy hat and almost bought some Russian military hats, then it was on to more food.
Rasberry Coke

Rasberry Coke. This was not a good idea. 3/10.

Greek Cheese Pie

This here is the Greek Cheese Pie from one of those independent booths that only lasts one year. It was basically a baked pita with olive oil on it and wee chunks of cheese. Underwhelming, if that’s a word. 5/10

Sesame Zaatar With Cheese Pie

Sesame Zaatar With Cheese Pie. This was Sarah’s. She liked it, but there appeared to be none of the cheese we asked for. I tried it too. I thought it tasted like birdseed. 4.8/10.

From there we went and checked out the Farm building, mostly to get a photo of the Mayor Rob Ford butter sculpture (shown above). It’s pretty brilliant — him in his natural state and all. The Creature From The Black Lagoon sculpture was technically better, though.
Creature From The Black Lagoon

Creature From The Black Lagoon, sculpted out of butter.

We also went to the Arts & Crafts Building — a horrible, horrible exercise in dodging doddering olds, rubbernecking rubes, parents with mega strollers and those generally incapable of navigating crowds — to stock up on fudge.
Vanilla Fudge

Vanilla Fudge. Vanilla totally gets a bad rap just because it’s associated with white people. This shiz is tasty. 8.1/10.

M&M Fudge

M&M Fudge. This is one of Sarah’s favourites. 7.8/10.

Oh My Gosh Fudge

Oh My Gosh Fudge. I’m still trying to figure out what this is made of exactly, but I think it’s got marshmallows and caramel in it. Tasty, though. 8/10.

Red Velvet Fudge

Red Velvet Fudge. I’m still not entirely sold on this whole red velvet food colouring trend, but this was just under the straight vanilla for tastiness. 7.9/10.

Peach Sprite

Another round of pop. Peach Sprite. This was like licking the bottom of a fruit stand clean. The worst. 2/10.

Beer break! (And frozen margarita break. That was some strong tequila.)

Frozen Margarita and Creemore beer

Frozen Margarita and Creemore beer. They’ve got booze in ’em, right? Right. 10/10.

Our finite food limits were starting to be reached so we began planning our last eats. First up — something with actual vegetables in it.
Veggie Loaded Potato

This was a giant Veggie Loaded Potato from Baked ‘n’ Loaded, or Loaded and Baked, or Loaded Potatoface or whatever it was called. It was huge and featured broccoli, green beans, carrots and cheese jammed in the middle of a sea salt crusted baked potato. This was a welcome change from our non-stop sugar consumption and it was alright as far as vegetable slurry goes, too. 7.5/10.

Before we enter into the closing eats phase, I should probably cop to two of my great food pet peeves — food with poor structural integrity, and food that makes your hands messy. It’s my belief that if my food falls apart at any point, this represents a fundamental failure on the part of the person designing it. Likewise, if my hands get dirty eating something it’s the same thing. In a world were we can make watermelons that are square-shaped, we can make it so food doesn’t fall apart all over us, right? Or can we?
Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream On A Stick With Sprinkles

Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream On A Stick With Sprinkles. In theory, this should have been a tasty treat, but the hot chocolate dip make the ice cream melt too quickly and the result was a drippy, deteriorating mess made worse by the chunks of chocolate sprinkle randomly falling to the ground. And being the cheapskate I am, each chunk that fell I was going “That’s 72 cents… That’s 12 cents… That’s 23 cents…” What should have been gold, wasn’t. 6/10.

And then, the finale. I had seen this first thing in the morning and had been plagued with the thought of it all day — the Chocolate Eclair Hot Dog. I did not want to eat this. I knew it was going to be bad. But in the same way a fight gets declared in a schoolyard for after school I knew this was an inevitable tangle I was going to have to face. So just before we wrapped up our Ex visit for the day, I did…
Maple Lodge Chocolate Eclair Hot Dog

The Maple Lodge Chocolate Eclair Hot Dog was one of the worst things I have ever eaten. Things did not get off to a good start when the group of college bros in line before me ordered one, got their order and proceeded to conduct an elaborate photo shoot before attempting to eat it — they were doing it as a dare. It didn’t get any better after I ordered and the first thing the server did was hand me a half-dozen napkins. So I got my Eclair and quickly rushed out of the Food Building to near BMO Field where there’d be less people to see me eat this…
Exactly like the title suggests, this is a chocolate eclair with a hot dog in the middle. On their own they’re both fine foodstuff, but the combination of chicken wiener and whipped cream was not a good one. Worse though, was the mess. Falling, dripping globs of cream landed at your feet, soaked through the napkins onto your hands and generally created the tactile sensation that you were being covered in sticky-sweet hot dog water. With Sarah’s help we wolfed this down (she was actually turning away from people walking in the nearby thoroughfare because she didn’t want anyone seeing her attempting to eat this). It was, truly, a heroically awful food experience. 1.1/10.

Additional reading:

Things I ate at the CNE in 2016. Bug Bistro’s Bug Dog and Fran’s Blueberry Milkshake with a slice of real blueberry pie.

Things I ate at the CNE in 2015. Including Frosted Flakes Chicken On A Stick and The S&M Burger.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2014. Including Cocoa Chicken and the Thanksgiving Turkey Waffle.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2013. Including Nutella Jalapeno Poppers and the S’more Dog.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2011. Including the Krispy Kreme Hamburger and Deep Fried Twix.

Things I ate at the C.N.E. in 2010. Including Deep Fried Butter and Taco In A Bag

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