Having looked at the schedule online ahead of time I didn’t really have high hopes for the CNE this year. The vendor list also seemed really short. I pinned all my hopes on food. No mardi gras parade. No aerial acrobatics/ice show. What was going on? Was it just not updated. I held out hope until the day we arrived and got day-of schedules. No luck. On the plus side, we wouldn’t have to rush lunch and we could go to the 4:30pm Super Dogs show instead (as opposed to the 6pm one which was always really busy with the after 5 crowd).
I had a heck of a list of food items to look out for. I had more than I could eat. More than I could eat even with the help of whoever I could rope into it. But every year there are things I can’t find so it makes sense to have a long list.
The day started off relaxed. I stopped in at the Food Building for a red licorice donut from Tim Hortons (every year I leave Timmie’s for alter and every year it is too damn busy). This was actually my first time getting a wacky Timmie’s CNE donut. I tried to order a box of the pink lemonade Timbits but the lady said they only sold them in packs of 20- we had a long day of eating ahead of us and that was way too many Timbits). I passed through the Arts & Crafts building in search of my beloved coffee. It’s ironic, the name of the place is the Wandering Bean yet they are the most stable thing for me at the CNE, they have always been in the same spot.
I cannot believe how hot it was in the little rooms in the Kids Zone. All they had going was a small fan mounted on the wall, no air-conditioning. It was stifling in there. I lasted maybe 10 minutes before I had to get out of there, Camilla Adrian & Alexis would catch up to us later. Plus it was time to go meet my mom and sister by the fountain (the usual). The CNE sign had been moved to the Prince’s Gates and in it’s place, the fountain was surrounded by 12 raccoon sculptures, further cementing Toronto as a raccoon-obsessed city. I was actually glad to not see the ostriches in the Farm Building- they always seem kind of sad in their high-fence pen. The llamas delivered hilarity as per usual. As we finished up, Alexis went to get a pizza from the Food Building, everyone chowed down outside- except me. I was holding out for the Food Building’s more wacky offerings. I was a bit worried that I’d be eating alone.
We worked up an appetite in the Arts & Crafts building, being able to dedicate more time to to it as we were not rushing for the aerial & acrobatics show this year. We hemmed and hawed over at the seafood spread stand, eventually settling on coming back for it at the end of the night so it wouldn’t go bad during the day (plus it would be less to carry). We also visited my favourite CNE vendor, Carmicheal for my yearly purchase of summer sausage. The guy claimed to remember me and that just made me like them even more. They also got shunted to end-of-the-night-purchases, it would be too much to carry.
FINALLY. It was lunch time, my time to shine. I settled on the pho fries for lunch because it seemed like the easiest to share and least wacky of all the items on my list. I was saving the wackier stuff for later when Brent would be joining us. The premise of pho fries was that it was pho, but instead of noodles it was fries with beef and green onions and bean sprouts. It was good. Except towards the end I was getting tired of eating fries so I just ate the rest of the toppings, leaving behind some sad fries. For dessert: deep-fried Ferrero Rocher. It had not been on my list, I just happened across it when I was looking for deep-fried avocado (which got bumped for this).
Satiated and overheated, we piled onto the tram and went over to the At Home and International Pavilions. We had about 2-2.5 hours before it was time for the dog show. Of course we all went for the plant vendor, like moths to a flame. Air plants are so pretty, and every year I swear that THIS is the year. This is the year when I won’t end up killing all my airplants. I also wanted to get some bamboo shoots, but they weren’t even selling them. So instead I got a little cactus to replace the one I had over-watered.
The At Home Pavilion was very underwhelming, way less vendors. It was even worse in the International Pavilion. Pretty much none of our usual go-to’s were there, no Sri Lankan tea, no Polish amber jewelry. The warehouse section was cut in half and there was no Bluenotes or kitchen supply stores. I had my heart set on those two. We finished up in no time. We went to the Colombian coffee place and sat outside on the reduced-size midway and moped. So far this was one of our most disappointing CNE years. After the dog show at 4:30 we would have very little left to do. Camilla left and we lined up for the dogs, except even that was not so busy. We got amazing seats without having to wait for very long so I guess that was a plus? The dog show turned things around, how could it not?
We spent some more time going through the makeup warehouse and the International Pavilion as we waited for Brent. Once he found us we headed over to the Silk Lantern display. On the way we found another plant shop, kind of hidden within the At Home Pavilion. They had bamboo!! I also ended up getting a money tree with the hopes of not killing it. We took a mini detour to look at prize-winning house plants in the horticultural section and it put me to shame. The size and voluminousness of the plant put me to shame.
The lanterns were awesome, as was to be expected, given they were awesome last year as well. We had a pit stop at the Food Building. Lucy was after her traditional corn dog. Brent and I had other plans. After a few failed attempts at finding food (read: every time I asked at the info desk where the vendor was I was told somewhere in the midway) we eventually settled on veal tacos from SanFrancesco. What is a veal taco you may ask? A taco that has for it’s shell a breaded veal cutlet. A+ for creativity BUT it was hard to eat, despite how delicious it was. We also jumped on the bandwagon and had a “beyond meat burger” from Bubs Burgers. For a non-meat burger it was actually pretty good and it was the closest to a real burger we had ever tasted (as opposed to: portobello mushroom, black beans, tofu). From there we slowly made our very tired way over to the Arts & Crafts building for our end of day purchases. Except it wasn’t end of day for Brent and I. We backtracked to the Farm Building so he could see all the animals.
And then it was time to eat again! This time we divvied up the midway stands. Brent stood in line waiting for our deep-fried Kit Kats, I went off in search of R&Js pizza for a slice of dill pickle pizza (it has ranch instead of tomato sauce). Somehow we missed each other on the midway and I had to backtrack to our meeting spot: the bar with the Muskoka chairs (something beach.*). They had a secret menu item: frozen sangria slush. I was all about that! Alas, it was all sold out. I had to settle for a berry vodka slush which was still god. And necessary, between the Kit Kats and the pizza I needed a drink. The pizza was surprisingly good and possibly the best item of the 2019 CNE. The Kit Kat was also pretty damn good. It had thankfully been broken up into the four parts as opposed to being served as a whole.
We ventured further into the midway in search of a Tokyo street dog, and if I couldn’t find that, then a hot Cheetos encrusted corn dog. A guy from a wacky hotdog vendor offered us a sample but as I realized it was not the right place, I asked him if he knew where Street Dogs was. He stared at me blankly, Brent was like he’s a competing hotdog seller!! Turns out Street Dogs was just opposite. Oops. Our last menu item of the night was a tempura battered hotdog with kewpie mayonnaise, teriyaki sauce and strips of seaweed. It was delicious, save for the too-chewy seaweed. Bordering on nauseatingly full, we wandered back towards the streetcars through the midway. I kept shaking my head saying no no nope, at all the roller coasters. I just don’t get it. We stopped at a game where you had to hang from a bar for 1min50s to win a prize. It was hilarious seeing the overly confident guys walk up and be like I got this, only to see their face contort seconds later in agony. It felt like an old-timey fun fair, gawking at people.
*Beach Bar. I was close.