For my friends outside Toronto, the CNE (aka The Ex) is an annual event that takes place the last two and a half weeks in August - hence the "bittersweet" part since the start of The Ex signals the end of summer for many Torontonians. There's a midway with carnival games and rides and buildings full of exhibitions and product booths.
And then there's the Food building. In the past, the Food building was a mish-mash of cultural foods, chain staples and a place to find fast eats and snacks - a little repetitive (especially when the same place had four booths in the one building), but it never failed to provide some good eats (typical Toronto tradition - 99 cent spaghetti followed by a dozen Tiny Tom donuts). However, the past couple of years has seen a real focus on re-inventing the Food building, with the introduction of new vendors, lots of new and innovative (if sometimes artery-clogging) food items (like the infamous deep-fried butter that was introduced in 2010) and more involvement from local businesses (there was even a weekend-long Food Truck Frenzy this year!)
For the past two years, Paul and I have been heading to The Ex with his family. The bonus to this is that Paul's brother Mike and his fiancee Alex (the same two that have been helping me try all those Kawartha Dairy ice cream flavours) are generally as excited to try the new foods as we are, which ensures that everyone has a lot of new tastes.
Here are just a couple of the new vendors that we didn't get to try this year:
While Paul, Mike and Alex stood in line at Bacon Nation, I headed over to Dutch Frites (their booth was decorated like a mini food truck - too cute!).
Mike had a Nutella BBBLT ($9.75) from Bacon Nation - 2 pieces of back bacon, 8 strips of bacon, lettuce, tomato and Nutella. It sounds a little odd, but the sweet and salty worked really well together and Mike's already planning on making these for breakfast.
Alex and I both opted for the Deep Fried Beer Battered Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog on a Stick ($7.95) from Bacon Nation. Imagine a corn dog on steroids. This thing was huge! And it was wrapped in bacon. And deep-fried. Wow. It was surprisingly crispy and the bacon and hot dog were so well put together you didn't even really notice that there were two different meats inside.
Paul had a Bacon Explosion ($9.75) from Bacon Nation, which he ate so fast I didn't even manage to get a photo of it! But it's "bacon sausage stuffed with real bacon bits, infused ith Jack Daniel's BBQ sauce, all wrapped in a bacon weave."
We all shared the Frites Indo from Dutch Frites, although mainly Paul and I ate them after various excuses floated around the table ("I don't like mayo", "I hate garlic", etc), but the one thing everyone did agree on was that the frites were amazing! They were thick cut, salty, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Perfectly cooked. And for the record, Paul and I loved the garlic mayo sauce and crispy onion topping these fries came with.
For dessert, I shared the packet of Stroopwafel from Dutch Frites - incredibly thin, soft waffle-cookies that have a layer of cinnamon-caramel sandwiched in the middle. YUM! I regret not buying more Stroopwafel. I really, really regret it.
We also tried a Bacon Wrapped Deep Fried Mars Bar ($7.95) from Bacon Nation. I know many people have already tried some sort of deep-fried chocolate bar, but how about one wrapped in bacon? And then drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce? And THEN topped with fresh bacon bits? Yeah...I know - crazy, huh? It was really good - gooey and chewy and the balance between sweet and salty made the entire thing really good to eat.
After a walk up and down the midway (really, for us, the midway, with its $4 games, is just a chance to walk off calories and kill time before we ate some more), we returned to our beloved Food building.
This time we headed over to Pull'd, which specializes in pulled pork. Mmmm. I was still a little full from Round 1, so I didn't get anything myself, but lucky for me, everyone was great about sharing.
Alex had the JACK'D ($12) - pulled pork layered between three "thick" red velvet pancakes, buttered and covered in Jack Daniels infused syrup. The pulled pork itself was amazing, but the red velvet pancakes were kind of disappointing. They had no taste to themselves and were incredibly thin.
Paul went for the OG'D ($9) - pulled pork on a ciabatta bun (it came with coleslaw and baked beans). This seemed like a classic choice and although I wasn't crazy about the ciabatta bun, the pulled pork was again awesome - juicy, tender and flavourful. I could eat it all day.
Mike headed to Epic Burgers (which first showed up at The Ex last year) and had one of my favourites, the Chicken Waffle burger - crispy fried chicken in a waffle "burger", doused in hot sauce and syrup. We had tried this last year and it's still one of my favourites.
By the time we finished Round 2 (we were actually contemplating getting more Dutch Frites) the Food building was closed - wait, what? The Food building closes? I had never been eating in there so late that I actually witnessed all the vendors close up (at 10 pm).
So, there's our food adventures at the CNE for 2012. I definitely hope that some of these places launch their own food trucks or retail shops soon as I can definitely see myself lining up for their treats year round. (Seriously - Dutch Frites, if you're reading this...I love your frites and I really, really need more Stroopwafel).