The Bite: If I Can Eat a Cricket-Covered Caramel Apple, Anyone Can
I tried a dozen PNE Fair foods, and yes, I am very proud of myself, thank you very much.
August 23, 2018
Food-wise, I’m generally not a very adventurous person. I tend to try a dish at a restaurant, like it, and then faithfully order it every time until it’s taken off the menu, the restaurant closes, or I die (that’s called loyalty).
But when I got the chance to go on a dozen-course food tour of some of the wackiest foods the PNE has to offer, I said “Yes.” And at the beginning of the tour, when some guy commented that I didn’t look like I could handle the 12 frozen, boozy and deep-fried snacks coming at me, I said “You’re on.” And later, when 85% of the people who viewed my Instagram story voted I would throw up before the tour was over, I said “Maybe, but I could really use your support right now.”
Spoilers: I didn’t throw up. But I would definitely recommend splitting up these interesting eats throughout the day, or perhaps getting 10 of your closest friends to tackle them with you. Anyway, here is my review of 12 of the 2018 PNE’s proudest creations. If this wimpy, hesitant, picks-the-mushrooms-off-her-pizza gal can eat them, you can too. On a related note, if anyone has an antacid, hit me up.
Tacos from Street Tacos
Lucky for me, this tour wasn’t a straight-up bellyflop into the world of bug-covered fruit–it was more of a casual tiptoe into the street-food neighbourhood. The tacos from Street Tacos come in pulled pork, chicken, and beef, with your choice of mild, medium, or hot salsa verde. The juicy meat makes a happy home snuggled in with beans, cheese and cilantro, and a double-corn tortilla ensures optimal mouth accuracy with minimal pavement drip. Price: 2 for $10
Charcoal Ice Cream from Marchant Concessions
This is a novelty treat I’ve been wanting to try ever since it popped up on my Facebook under “Finally, Ice Cream That Matches Your Soul.” I was pleasantly surprised to find that charcoal ice cream doesn’t taste like a campfire at all. The soft-serve is actually made with activated charcoal from coconut ash, and it has a delightfully light, coconutty flavour. Activated charcoal also has claims to improve kidney health and whiten teeth, so it’s basically healthy. Price: $8
Slush Drinks from S’luscious
If you need a little bit of liquid courage to brave the Hellavator this year, you’re in luck—the PNE is full-service this season, and S’luscious is serving up some boozy slushes to beat the afternoon heat. Fairgoers can pick their poison (vodka, tequila, or dark rum) as well as their slush flavour (they vary, but on the day I went they offered peach, lime, pina colada, strawberry, frosé, and dark ‘n’ stormy). Because my tour took place before the fair opened, I can also say from experience that the pina colada with dark rum is an excellent beverage to enjoy at the crack of 9am. Price: $6
Southern Comfort Dog from Diggity Dogs ($9.50)
Diggity Dogs takes hot dogs to a whole new level with crazy creations like the Macho Nacho, Canadian Pizza, and Korean BBQ Dog. I sampled the Southern Comfort Dog, a beef hot dog dressed in pulled pork, chipotle slaw, BBQ aioli and crispy onions. This one really knocked it out of the (dog)park for me. There were a ton of complex flavours and textures present, but none of them got lost or were too overpowering, and the crunchy fried onions were a major plus. If I were to compare this dog to a real-life mixed breed, I’d have to call it a cockapoo – it’s got that poodle-ish air of sophistication, but retains a classic spaniel charm. Price: $9.50
Wat-A-Melon from Drink a Fruit from A Fruit
This fruity snack is Japanese-inspired and a very refreshing (and somewhat healthy!) PNE treat. The watermelon ice cream sandwiched between two fresh-cut watermelon slices has a very mild watermelon flavour; it tastes like an actual watermelon instead of a watermelon-flavoured laboratory creation. In my book, the wat-a-melon also get bonus points for elegant presentation and a ridiculously clever name. I wouldn’t be surprised if young watermelons dream about one day being sliced in half and filled with the creamy remnants of their liquidized peers. Price: $12
Bacon-Wrapped Peanut Butter Cup from Pickle Pete’s
As I was approaching Pickle Pete’s massive trailer, I thought, “I’m here for this.” Peanut butter cups are my all-time favourite candy, and bacon is my all-time favourite flesh from the belly of a pig. These peanut butter cups were lovingly wrapped in bacon, gently dipped into a secret batter bath, deep-fried and then sprinkled with icing sugar. The flavour combination was awesome- a bit more salty than sweet, as the peanut butter and bacon gang up on the chocolate. I definitely would recommend getting this treat to share – they come in pairs, and one was more than enough for my sweet tooth. Price: $10
Kit Kat Fries from Steve-O’s
Autocorrect keeps trying to change “deep fried” to “deep friend,” and I think on some level, I would consider the Kit Kat Fries I had yesterday to be my deep friends. This treat was a bit of a scientific masterpiece – the chocolate in the Kit Kat was perfectly melted, but the structural integrity of the wafer cookie remained. Like its bacon-wrapped neighbour, there’s enough pieces in one serving to share. Price: $10
Deep Fried Burger from Tin Lizzy Concessions
When I pictured a deep fried burger, I basically thought of a regular hamburger, bun and all, getting dipped in batter and fried in hot oil – and I was absolutely wrong. This deep fried burger consists of a beef patty, cheese and condiments enveloped in a pizza-ish oregano-spiced dough. The result is an almost calzone-like treat, and it’s not so greasy and doughy that I couldn’t polish one off all by myself. The juicy burger, melty cheese and crunchy crust were an A-plus combo. Price: $12
Milkshake Burger from BB Food on the Go
This was actually the only food that I really had to psyche myself up for. I used self-motivating thoughts like “you won a spelling bee in sixth grade, you can totally eat a burger with a scoop of ice cream in it” and “this guy made this burger with his own two hands and he’s watching you so you better just do it.” The Milkshake Burger I sampled was a hamburger with a scoop of garlic-vanilla ice cream between the bun and lettuce. I braced myself for the first bite, but it ended up being surprisingly palatable – the creator equated it to taking a bite of a burger and a sip of a milkshake at the same time. The coldness of the scoop was a great contrast with the burger’s heat, and the ice cream used is high-quality, so it doesn’t melt quickly. If you can trick your mind into forgetting the blasphemy of this combo, your taste buds might just thank you. Price: $14.50
Cricket Caramel Apple from Next Gen Concessions
After the Milkshake Burger, I was ready for anything. This buggy take on the caramel apple is new to the fair this year. It’s rolled in salty, oven-roasted Entomo Farm crickets, which are apparently super high in protein (as if any fair food eaters actually care about nutritional value whatsoever). Taste-wise, I found the crickets pretty lacking in flavour, although their crunch was a welcome texture in the salty-sweet mix. My unrefined palate related their taste to the way I imagine dry grass might taste. If you’re in it for the novelty, there’s definitely nothing to be lost on this crazy fare – but taste-wise, I think I’ll stick to peanuts. Price: $9
Fair-Sized Meatball from Next Gen Concessions
At this point in the tour, I was about ready to tap out. But those scheming PNE tour planners really knew what they were doing: once I had a bite of this meatball, I was sold. The 1-lb. meatball is covered in Nonna’s tomato sauce (a true Italian recipe!) and wrapped around a good chunk of mozzarella. After ten other PNE treats, this juicy cue-ball sized meatball almost did me in – and honestly, I could have died eating that meatball and felt as though I’d lived out my life’s true purpose. Price: $8.50
Mini Donuts from Those Little Donuts
We ended the tour with the PNE’s most notorious treat–Those Little Donuts. A little history lesson: the mini-donut machines were first made for Disney’s release of Thumbelina, and would have been trashed after the red-carpet premier if a donut savvy-Canadian hadn’t saved them. The machines at the Fair have been running since 1968, and will be pumping out their one hundred millionth donut this summer. I thought the better of tempting fate and decided to take a bag for the road–I’ve eaten mini donuts so many times, it wasn’t worth being sick today. But I did sneak one as I was waiting to get out of the parking lot. And another at Renfrew and E 1st. And five on the Knight Street Bridge. Okay fine the bag was empty by the time I got home and yes, I absolutely felt nauseous. And yes, it was absolutely worth it. Price: $7
The Bite is a monthly column that sees writer Alyssa Hirose sampling the city’s weirdest, coolest and most tantalizing plates. For more food news, subscribe to our newsletter!