Tag: TORONTO

What I ate at the CNE

The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) has held many memories for me over the years. For some it marks the beginning of the end of the summer. Back to school sales are starting and the days shortening just enough to be noticed by the earlier sunsets. The rides have always been a big draw for the kids, as have the midway games with young suitors trying to win hearts and stuffed animals at the occasionally rigged game booths.

My first experience at the CNE, otherwise known as "The Ex", was when I would spend summers in Toronto from 1985-87 to visit my Dad. He arranged a summer job for us kids with a catering company that catered all of the concerts at the old CNE grandstand. I was working backstage stocking the trailers and hospitality tents with food and drink during the few glorious weeks of shows before, during and after the Ex. As an 11 to 13 year old kid, I thought I had the coolest job in the world. Doing mountains of dishes and feeding the roadies and rock stars seems a bit surreal to me now. My claim to fame during these years was that I personally removed all of the brown M&M’s for Van Halen (it was in the rider, 5 lbs of M&M’s, no brown ones). I experienced and saw more things than I should have for a kid that age but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I wish I could go back in time to fully appreciate all the bands - David Bowie, New Order, Bruce Springsteen, The Cult, Pink Floyd and COREY HART, just to name a few.

One of the biggest draws of the Ex now is the food. Back in the day, I don’t remember it being the spectacle it is now in the food building. It seems like every year the vendors are trying to out do each other with the “frankenfood” creations. This year, sweet and savoury combinations seem to be the rule of thumb, with the old faithful, deep-fried (insert food here) being ever present. Let’s hope that we don’t have a repeat of 2013’s cronut-burger fiasco. I hope Epic Burger and Waffles learned their lesson; refrigerate the condiments! I am sure this year many of you have already read numerous top 10 must try food lists at the CNE. I am going to try to sample some of the best (and worst) and give you a heads up on this years offerings in my first ever blog called WHAT I ATE AT THE CNE.

My girlfriend Cheryl and I did a full circuit of the sweatier than usual Food Building to get our bearings and decide what to eat first. It was packed with all shapes and sizes of people of every persuasion. The Ex is always a people watcher’s paradise. After careful consideration, we zeroed in on our first stop on our culinary adventure.

 

 

1:30pm - Churro Burger ($14 / 1200 calories) - Epic Burgers & Waffles, Food Building

This CNE food building stalwart is only open during the CNE and has a loyal following. The new offering this year was the Churro Burger. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before (large popcorn with extra butter, we went to see Suicide Squad, average at best) so I had quite the appetite. The line up was a bit long but the wait was worth it and the churros were fresh out of the fryer. The burger patty was juicy and the cheese melted perfectly. They asked if I wanted lettuce and tomato and I figured some healthy additions would be a good idea. The crispy and cool lettuce and tomato was a nice contrast to the burn the roof of your mouth-ness of the churro. The sweet, salty, greasy, sugary, savoury mix was a hit. Next year I will go for the donut burger, which looked amazing.

 

 

 

2:00pm - Deep Fried Cookie Dough ($3 / 250 calories) & Deep Fried Reese Peanut Butter Cup ($4 / 350 calories) with Caramel topping – Cookie Dough Me, Food Building

We spotted these balls of deliciousness and were initially going to have them for dessert a bit later in the day. However, we decided that dessert should come early. We let them cool as we walked over to our next destination. SO DANG GOOD. They were heavy though. I think it would have been too much to have any more than one, plus I needed to save some room for stop 3, 4 and 5 and 6. I could eat one of these doughy balls every day for the rest of my life and be a happy man (insert balls joke here).

 

 

 

2:15pm - Philly Steakclair ($14 / 1200 calories) – Philthy Phillies, Food Building

I wonder if every year, the vendors sit around and discuss, “I wonder what we can substitute for a regular bun in a sandwich that these idiots will line up and pay twice the price for? Donuts as buns? What about grilled cheese as buns? Jamaican meat patties as buns? You say it’s all been done before? Ah yes! Chocolate éclairs! Ureka!” And so this is how I ended up eating shaved philly cheese steak in a chocolate éclair with crème and all. The steak was top-notch, the éclair was OK not great. This messy experience was not really worth the $14. The straight-up philly cheese steak sandwiches looked and smelled amazing. The lineup was big, I was the only one to order the novelty sandwich. Lesson learned.

 

 

 

3:00pm – Big Pickle Dog ($9 / 1000 calories) – Pickle Pete’s, Midway

This pickled up version of the carnie classic looks really good on paper. A corn dog where the dog is stuffed into a giant pickle and then battered and fried. This curiosity was at the top of my list this day on my quest for carnival food. Unfortunately, it was kind of flavourless and a bit watery. The pickle was not tart enough, the dough was not salty enough and the wiener was lost in the mix. The big pickle dog contained 100% of my daily allowance of vitamin G (grease) however, so there is that going for it. The deep fried pickles at Hooter’s are 10 times better, which doesn’t say much.

 

 

 

At this point I am sweaty, bloated and on my way to some old good fashioned diabetes. Fortunately we have tickets to the Argos/Eskimos game at BMO Field so I have a chance to digest and have a couple cold beers to wash down my lunch. Sitting down for 3 hours is just what the doctor ordered. On second thought, no doctor in their right mind would condone any of my not so healthy choices today.

 

 

 

7:15pm – Ramen Burger ($12 / 900 calories) – Yatai by Liberty Noodle, Food Building

I love Ramen Noodles. I love Burgers. I only liked this burger. I noticed it last year and had food envy when I saw someone enjoying it. Am I glad I tried it? Yes. Will I order it again? No. The ramen bun was not as big or as grilled as it was the photo. The burger patty was very good, cooked to perfection and seasoned just right. The Durty Fries and J-Pop chicken that everyone else was ordering from this place gave me food envy all over again.

 

 

7:45pm – Tacos Grillos with chili lime crickets ($8 / 600 calories) – Bug Bistro, Food Building

One of the big food items on the lists this year is the hot dog with crickets. I was debating on whether or not to try it and then this taco jumped out at me from the menu Anyone that knows me knows I love tacos. Anyone that doesn’t like tacos has something wrong with them. I’d be willing to bet even Donald Trump likes tacos. After all, they do come from Mexico and his Trump brand suits are made there! So this taco has Tabasco chili lime crickets and sirloin, tomato, onion, cilantro and spicy crema on a corn tortilla. The crickets dusted the top of a really good taco. You could see the legs, wings and bodies sticking out. They were very light and crispy, and they had a kick. The corn tortilla was the only thing that wasn’t great. It wasn’t very fresh and fell apart a little bit. I find it funny that this cricket taco was probably the healthiest thing I had put in my body all day. Up until this point Cheryl had at least a bite of everything I tried. She passed on this one.

 

 

 

 

 

So at this point in the evening it was almost time to go watch the Tragically Hip concert with the rest of the country. This event will be one of the “where were you when” moments for a lot of us Canadians. I will always remember it as the day that I ate cricket tacos. It was nice to sit down again and have one last cold beer on a hot summer evening with an extremely full belly. The concert was being shown at the CNE Bandshell, and with the exception of the technical difficulties (the first 5 songs sounded like they were in an echo chamber) it was a powerful, poignant moment to share with my girl Cheryl and a big crowd of our fellow Canadians.

 

 

 

11:30pm – Bacon and Pulled Pork Cinnamon Rolls ($10 / 1600 calories) – Howie’s Cinnamon Rolls, Midway

 

What better way to finish off the night than with a nice light 1600 calorie dessert. I was looking to try the pulled pork roll on its own but they ran out of regular cinnamon rolls. They offered me the one with pulled pork AND bacon for the same price! SOLD! It was gooey, salty, sweet and soft, all in a good way. The melty icing topping mixed and mingled with the crispy bacon and pork like they were meant to be together, kind of like peanut butter and chocolate.

That was the cherry on top of my incredibly unhealthy day. In NO WAY do I condone this sort of bad choice behaviour, kids!

 

When all was said and done this was another great day out at the Exhibition. For those of you thinking of heading down, see if you can combine in your CNE visit with a concert at the Molson Amphitheatre, a TFC game or an Argos game as your admission to the CNE is free when you are going to one of these events.

 

For those of you not keeping track of cash and calories, here is a quick recap:

 

 

 

Churro Burger $14 / 1200 calories

2 Deep Fried Desserts $7 / 600 calories

Philly Steakclair $14 / 1200 calories

Pickle dog $9 / 1000 calories

Ramen Burger $12 / 900 calories

Tacos Grillo $8 / 600 calories

Pork & Bacon Cinnamon Roll $10 / 1600 calories

 

2 Tall Boy Cans, 1 28oz draft beer: $41

 

Calorie intake with beers: 7600

Cost: $105

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I enjoyed eating the food. See you next year Exhibition!

Hi, I’m Cheryl

It began as far back as I have memories.

I was born in Toronto and until the age of 7, I lived in Toronto. I don’t remember a lot about those days in the city. When I was 7, that’s when my family and I moved to this “small” suburb called Mississauga. I didn’t know the difference between Toronto and Mississauga, just that a new home and a new school were in my future and having to make new friends was going to be involved. We did go to visit the grandparents practically every weekend in Toronto, so I knew we didn’t live far from where we once had lived.

The age of seven. This was about the time when my memories of Toronto began to flourish.

The ride into the city, and for those of you old enough to remember, the Gardiner “bump”. The excitement I would feel knowing I was close to Toronto. The Palace Pier condos were the sign that you were almost there. And then you would see her - that beautiful tall structure named the CN Tower. And if we were lucky enough to be heading east into the city in the evening or night, to see her lit up so lonely in the sky was spectacular for this kid.

I didn’t know much about the tower. My mom always told me that I had only ever been up the tower once, when I was just out of mommy’s belly. And I didn’t really have any desire to go up her now. I was so happy as I admired her from a far. It was not so much what she was, but for what she stood for. That beautiful city of Toronto where I was born.

As I neared the teen years, I would get more and more excited about coming into the city. Being able to see the CN Tower from the highway always meant we were almost there. These years I was coming into the city with my friends who could drive and we would go to the famous Yonge Street to shop. We’d stop at all the head shops and looks for old concert t-shirts and posters. I would personally spend my allowance, and my pay cheques at the record stores. You know them – Sam the Record Man, A&A Records and my favourite, Starsound Records. I would buy as many LPs and EPs as I could afford. I don’t know why, but I thought buying records at Starsound in Toronto was way better than just picking the same ones up at Sam the Record Man at the local mall.

Leaving the city I always waved at my friend, the CN Tower. Wishing I would be back again soon to see her and the wonderful city she so proudly guarded.

Many of our teenage weekends were spent driving up Yonge Street on a Saturday night while stuck in traffic. Kids stopping their cars on the main road to show off their sound systems and their pretty girlfriends. Sitting in the car inching our way up the Yonge Street traffic, I began to memorize all of the Yonge Street cross streets. I would practice them with my mom when I would be home, proud of my memory and how I was ‘getting to know’ Toronto, without knowing Toronto.

Staring at the CN Tower from a car driving around the streets of Toronto, I would always wonder what those streets looked like from high up in the sky.

Fast forward to when I was 18 years old and I was applying for University. I had no dreams of moving far away from home, living on a campus residence, living the college dream. I applied to 3 Universities, but I knew I only wanted to go to the one that would let me be the closest to Toronto. And I got in! Accepted to Ryerson Polytechnic University. Ryerson’s first year as a University and I WAS GOING TO MOVE TO TORONTO! My memorizing of streets would finally pay off! I would be able to see my friend, the CN Tower daily. I couldn’t contain myself as excitement exploded out of me for the few months prior to having to make the move.

I moved into an off-campus residence beside ‘Hooker’s Harvey’s’. For those who know Toronto, you know exactly where I am talking about at the corner of Gerrard & Jarvis Street. I just happened to be living on the 18th floor of my building, high in the sky, with a bay window facing south towards… you guessed it, the CN Tower! I hope I never forget that view. The non-obstructed view from Gerrard Street, of the CN Tower. She became my obsession. At night, I would sit on my bay window seat and relax to the lights of the city. The CN Tower mesmerized me. It held so much meaning for me and I was so drawn to what it was. During thunderstorms I would stare out the window afraid to blink, in case I missed a lightning striking the top of the tower. In white out snowstorms I would try to figure out where the CN Tower was in the skyline that was blurred by the white snow. I would walk down to the tower and stand at the bottom and stare up. I loved my city so much, and the CN Tower was representing everything my city was.

Going to Blue Jays games when there was an open dome at the Skydome (it was still really called that back then) but making sure you were on the right side of the Dome to look up and see the tower. Playing mini golf for double the price because you were at the base of the tower. Feeling proud that we had the tallest standing structure IN THE WORLD. IN MY CITY. (*Note* We held on to that title of tallest free standing building for 35 years!) While in University everyone talks about their school, their campus, making new friends. I would tell everyone that what I was getting as my playground wasn’t a school campus. My school campus was the streets of downtown Toronto.

During my first year of University I met a boy. Who then became my boyfriend. Who had worked the previous year at the 360 restaurant. (This was the fancy schmancy restaurant in the top of the CN Tower and it still is in operation today.) I was enamored with the stories he would tell, taking the fastest elevators to the restaurant. When summer arrived that year, he asked if I wanted to work with him for the summer at the CN Tower. AT THE CN TOWER! Okay, this story could end here. All of my dreams just came true.

I worked as a cocktail waitress in the base of the tower, serving cocktails to tourists, locals, and really tall basketball players in town for the FIBA World Basketball Championships that Toronto was hosting. I worked as a hostess in the observation level lounge and was lucky enough to look at those beautiful views of Toronto regularly and get this, for free! The lucky summer didn’t stop there – I was also able to meet famous people like Henry Thomas during the newly named Toronto International Film Festival, Shaquille O’Neill during the World Basketball Championships and Dave Stewart during his nights off. (To recap, Henry Thomas was Elliott in the movie E.T., Shaq is a famous NBA Player and Dave Stewart was an awesome baseball pitcher (my opinion) for the MLB’s Oakland A’s and then the Toronto Blue Jays.) I met amazing friends working at the CN Tower who I’m still in touch with today. My favourite part of the job though was riding the super fast elevator after my shift at night, until I reached the Sky Pod. Sitting on the floor of the empty Sky Pod room and looking down at the Toronto streets. It was breathtaking. I would trace my fingers along the lights finding of all those streets I had memorized, but from high up in the sky. This was 1994.

Fast forward to 2016. 22 years later and I’m still obsessed. With Toronto, my city, and of course the CN Tower. I have never pictured myself anywhere but in the heart of my favourite city. In fact, my heart beats with Toronto. I’ve travelled the world with my boyfriend Jon while working on cruise ships. One of the best parts of that experience was being able to come home on vacations with him to live in and explore our own city, Toronto. Getting off a plane, jumping in a cab and heading down the Gardiner brought the same excitement as it did when I was just a kid. Now my lover, the CN Tower, is flanked by condos and business buildings galore, but she still stands out, showing her colours, literally. I never tire of looking at her; I never tire of taking photos (some might say I go as far as to stalk her), of walking around exploring my favourite city and finding where she peeks out. Decades of wandering this city’s streets and I still feel like I’m always finding something new around every corner. Toronto still lives up to all of my highest expectations. Toronto surprises me and entices my eyes, ears and taste buds, around every corner.

I live with Jon in the heart of the city and whenever we were home from the ships we would wander the city… trying to… I guess something similar to me memorizing the street names when I was young. Discover the city, inside and out. We always want to learn about each neighbourhood, see what new stores and restaurants and parks are new. Without always realizing it we have constantly compared our Toronto explorations to cities we had been lucky enough to explore while on the ships. And we have come to a whole hearted conclusion. There is no place like home.