CNE food 2015
Summer’s almost gone and that means one thing — the Canadian National Exhibition has started in Toronto.
All those discount merchandisers and over-the-hill musical acts are fine, but the real draw in Risky Fuel quarters are the many, many, many weird, wild and wonderful food vendors displaying their wares in the Food Building and in the C.N.E.’s midway.
Once again we tackled some of the most peculiar foods the Ex had on offer, experiencing Jamaican beef patties as a hamburger bun substitutes, the combination of chicken and Frosted Flakes and a whole lot more.
Read below to find out what our eating adventures were like…
Round one, August 21
Bub’s Burger’s Bad Boy. This is this year’s alpha stunt food — spicy cheese beef burger patty, honey garlic fried chicken filet, pepperjack cheese, wasabi cucumber, hickory sticks, tomato sriracha mayo and buttermilk coleslaw all between two Jamaican beef patties instead of traditional burger buns. For such an obvious monstrosity it’s actually… not bad. The honey garlic adds a nice tang, the chicken’s done right and the hickory sticks are a fun dining surprise. What’s wrong with the whole package, however, is its complete, utter and total disregard for structural integrity. There’s a reason why there’s a giant spear through the whole burger, after all. And as anyone who’s read my past CNE reports knows, structural integrity is a big deal. Because without it you end up with mess. And mess means my hands get dirty. And when my hands get dirty with food I get a little bit insane. Which happened as I paced through the Ex midway holding both my hands in the air desperate to find a washroom in which to wash them. 7.1/10
Chicken Waffle On A Stick. Dry chicken surrounded by a coating of what seemed similar to the batter used in making fortune cookies. The sauce options — hot sauce, table syrup, and something I can’t remember — were not excellent, so I chose the syrup. I chose wrong. This was an entirely unpleasant food experience. 4.6/10
Deep Fried Red Velvet Oreos. Another of the marquee stunt foods this year, some stall in the Food Building had the smart idea to batter Oreos in a red velvet style and sell less of them (three) for more money than you can buy regular deep fried Oreos (five) at the stands in the midway. Taste-wise they were fine for deep fryer junk food, but I can’t in good conscience recommend them when there’s a virtually identical product with better value available 100 metres away. 6/10
Barq’s Root Beer with Vanilla. I’ve given up on trying to avoid the long tentacles of the Coca-Cola/CNE Industrial Complex and decided to embrace that funky machine they have that creates like a thousand different flavour combinations. I’ve had the root beer + vanilla before. 5/10
Pickle Pete’s Deep Fried Cheesecake. Another of the dazzler new food entries this year, the deep fried cheesecake combined two of my favourite things: 1) cheesecake, and 2) deep fried-ness. The result was something firmly on the tasty side of things, where the result ends up being vaguely cannoli-ish. It’s solidly good and as a midway deep fry vendor Pickle Pete’s is on point. 7.3/10
Pickle Pete’s Deep Fried Green Beans. Green beans are already right up there on the tasty vegetable scale, but batter and deep frying them then serving them with a chipotle mayo concoction bams them up even higher. These were solidly alright and if I was given the option of “deep fried green beans” or “french fries” as my side at a restaurant, I’d very likely take the beans. There was, however, one hitch to eating these: I had them immediately after eating the deep fried cheesecake, which was a very unfair thing to do to my tastebuds. 6.3/10
Round two, August 25
99 Cent Spaghetti. SWERVE! Just when you thought I was only all about the hyper-new stunt foods I go and try the 99 cent spaghetti from the classic 99 Cent Primo Spaghetti booth. It was my first time ever trying the buck-for-pasta deal (thoroughly acceptable for what it was, btw) and what I found most fascinating was the genius way the booth operates. Sure, you can get spaghetti for 99 cents, but Parmesan cheese is an extra 75 cents, meatballs $1.75, and if you don’t want the small cup of ‘getti, upsizing is $1.89. And when you see other people getting those things you want them, too. It’s classic get them through the door, then get them with the extras. I did not upsize, though, because I am, at my core, a frugal person. 5.5/10
Bentley’s Deep Fried Poutine Balls. Now this is a brilliant idea. Encase a cheese curd in a ball of mashed potato, deep fry said potato curd ball, then slather with gravy and more cheese curd. It’s a totally effective twist on what’s already one of the greatest foods in the known universe. 6.8/10
Corrado’s S&M Burger. Another one of the marquee stunt foods this year, this one’s a meatball burger on a toasted garlic bun with spicy Havarti cheese, a deep-fried spaghetti patty, hot peppers and tomato sauce. The novelty to this whole thing is the deep-fried spaghetti patty. Its gimmick is the reason why they can charge $14 for the very coyly named S&M burger, but it’s also the most superfluous, useless item on the sandwich, a tasteless lump of… whatever. Compounding my irritation with the S&M was the messy food adventure I had with this one. See, I *knew* this was going to be a super-messy food, and not wanting to have a repeat of the Bad Boy burger episode, I had the server pre-cut the sandwich in half on top of giving me an empty french fry container and utensils. I figured after unpacking and taking a photo of the S&M I’d just transfer it from its packaging into the fry receptacle and knife ‘n’ fork it. Right at the moment I was about to do this, like a message sent straight from the food gods, a brisk wind promptly blew my fry container (and the utensils I had resting in it) off the table into a puddle-y refuse pile. I was left with no defense from the finger-staining, tectonic instability of this mutant. It was not pleasant. Save yourself the stunt and go for the straight meatball sandwich. 5.9/10
Iron Skillet’s Frosted Flakes Chicken On A Stick. Holy shit was this ever grrrrreeaat. You wouldn’t think a gimmick like a Frosted Flakes batter on chicken pieces, on a stick would work so well, but it did. The Flakes added both a textural crunch and just the right level of sweet and the chicken chunks themselves were juicy and delicious. It was basically like eating a radically bammed up souvlaki skewer where Popeye’s chicken engineers have figure out how to capture Tony the Tiger’s soul. 8/10
Fran’s PB&J Milkshake. Fran’s CNE food game has been tight since they took over a booth at the Ex for the first time last year. The latest in a series of new items for this year is the PB+J milkshake. I had my doubts — PB&J is more of a Sarah thing — but I was a quick convert one sip in. The consistency is right, the flavour is right and the whole package, complete with its whip cream topping and strawberry syrup drizzle, works very well. 7.4/10
Canada Dry Ginger Ale with Lime. Most of the time when we try this machine whatever the main pop is, that’s what it tastes like. So if you order root beer with a splash of vanilla it’s pretty much root beer. And if you get any does of vanilla in there it’s bonus. That’s not how things went when we decided to lime up some ginger ale. You could taste the lime. And if that’s what you were hoping for out of the experience, well, small victory then. 5.3/10
Round three, September 3
* I made an impromptu third visit to the Ex with this friends this day and (full confession) kinda sampled bits of their food as a cheat, including another pass at the still-awesome Fran’s Thanksgiving Turkey Waffle. Here are the new things I tackled:
Swiss Waffle’s & Crepes’ Strawberries and Soft Serve On A Deep Fried Waffle. Yet another of these classic Ex treats, the Swiss Waffle people proudly state they’ve been around since 1968. This, the deep fried waffle-y cruller thing with soft serve vanilla ice cream and strawberries, was simple in its elegance, but also way awesome. At under $5 it also represents a solid value as far as midway treats go. 7/10
Far East Taco’s Smore Bao. Marshmallow, hazelnut, chocolate, Graham cracker crumbs, sweet milk cream. This tastes *exactly* like a Wagon Wheel. 6.1/10
Just Cone It Grilled Chicken Cone. Chicken, red peppers, onions and cheese. This was very similar to the pizza cones of the Mad Italian (do a Risky Fuel search) and indeed it might even be the same people. This specific cone, however, lacked anything… special. No sauce, no seasoning, nothing to elevate it beyond, “Hey, it’s stuff in a doughy cone.” Which is low novelty in a food building full of stunt edibles. 5.5/10
Fran’s Deep Fried Rice Pudding Balls. I stole one of these babies from my friend BlanchBot. Having no interest in rice pudding in general, I had low expectations for what deep frying said pudding might do to improve things. And yet, it did. By ballifying the pudding it adds a welcome new textural layer to the whole experience. Throwing in a lemon custard dip also bams things up a notch. Improbably, this one’s a winner. 6.8/10
Fanta Orange Soda. Because I have nostalgic association with the “Fanta” brand. 5/10
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 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.