Food adventures at the CNE

Paz, Hockey Circus Show

The Canadian National Exhibition hosted a preview event last week for media before the annual festivities kicked off on August 15, and while the dancers, rides, performers, games, concerts, and everything else at Exhibition Place are a lot of fun, it’s hard to beat the Food Building’s lineup.

Saving the best for last, media got a tour of the grounds that included a wide range of what’s happening this year at the CNE. Before the event kicked off there were churros and coffee from I Love Churros, which were delicious, followed by a demonstration of some of the dancers who are on the President’s Choice Financial International Stage. Dancers included the Mexicans Folk Ballet, Ijo Vudu African Dance Company, and Samba Heat.

After that, the hard-to-top Flying Wallendas performed on the highwire in what I can only call fairly intense winds, which didn’t seem to bother them at all.

The Flying Wallendas
The Flying Wallendas

Media then had a tour of the CNE’s new Northern Comfort Saloon, which offers a new country vibe that includes concerts and line-dancing, not to mention a mechanical bull, and it’s all housed under a giant tented space near the casino on the western side of the grounds.

And finally, before checking out the samples from the Food Building, performer Paz showed off a bit of his Hockey Circus Show by entertaining the crowd before he juggled flaming hockey sticks on top of a hockey net. It’s the kind of show you have to see to believe, and on top of being funny, he was a fantastic performer.

Let’s talk about the food though, because as much as the entertainment at The Ex is always excellent, the Food Building offers some of the best entertainment with their wonderful and often weirdly perfect food combinations.

The foodies at Eative are offering nitrogen sorbets this year, which are essentially fruit juices that had been frozen down using blenders and nitrogen. Coco’s Fried Chicken is offering deep-fried chocolate chicken that’s served with a chocolate ketchup that has a fantastic little sweet kick that is delicious–the combination of cocoa and juicy chicken is actually more perfect than most people might realize and the ketchup adds the right flavour to the mix.

Then there’s the Chunky Cheese Cafe which has a tangy, sweet and salty grilled cheese called The Chunky Elvis which mixes together bread, cheddar cheese, bacon, peanut butter and bananas. Elvis’ genius never seemed apparent to me until I tried this grilled cheese–the combination honestly sounded a bit weird to me–but biting into it offered a wonderful mix of flavours that is definitely worth sampling.

Hula Girl Espresso was also on hand to offer samples of their butter coffee and their Crowbar pastries, which are essentially croissants filled with chocolate bar pieces–Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Mars Bar, Kit Kat, or Caramilk. All of the combinations work perfectly, and for a sweet treat, they all pair very well with the sweet but mildly caramely butter coffee.

Coco’s Fried Chicken
Coco’s Fried Chicken

However, the most interesting restaurant offerings at the CNE would have to be Fran’s Restaurant, which makes their debut at the exhibition with a stellar, but simple, home-cooked, stylish menu. The highlight is their Thanksgiving Waffle, which is a waffle made out of stuffing, topped with cranberry sauce, turkey, and gravy. It’s simple, but delicious, and as Fran’s Restaurant chef Zaki Choudhary said when I spoke to him at the event, it’s a simple recipe that you can make at home, but it tastes especially great as Fran’s has prepared it.

Fran’s is also serving up spicy peanut butter Sriracha bites, and a cheesecake milkshake (they also have an apple pie milkshake). The milkshake goes perfectly with the Thanksgiving Waffle, and it’s about as fantastic as the name suggests–yes, cheesecake in a milkshake goes together perfectly.

Check out the gallery of photos from the media preview, and watch for more coverage of the CNE right up until Labour Day.

W. Andrew Powell lives, sleeps, eats, and breaths movies and entertainment. Since launching The GATE in 1999 Andrew has enjoyed being a pest to any publicist who would return his calls. In his "spare time," Andrew is also an avid photographer, and writes about leisure travel and hotels around the world.