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An Eater's Guide to the CNE: 10 Over-the-Top Treats You Need to Try

Get your napkins ready for these glorious (and mostly deep-fried) creations

Closeup shot of CNE fare, a fried chicken sandwich topped with pickles, the top bun laid out beside it, topped with a colourful and crunchy slaw

Some visit the Canadian National Exhibition (August 18 to September 4) for the rides, others for the midway games. But almost everyone is lured to challenge their taste buds with the buffet of unique eats created each year. CAA Magazine attended the preview this week and rounded up our top 10 picks to sample for 2017.

Spaghetti Donut Balls for pasta lovers

It’s like a giant meatball—sans the meat. These whoppers from Fritta are mixed with breadcrumbs, Italian herbs and Parmesan before hitting the deep fryer. The result is a crunchy exterior and al dente noodle interior dunked in tomato sauce.

Spaghetti donut balls topped with red sauce an sprinkled with a hit of parmesan cheese seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: Medium

Deep-Fried Cheese Curds for poutine and cheese fans

The King of Curds brings this Minnesota state fair fave to the CNE for the first time. Try them three ways: deep-fried with a dipping sauce; Potato-Less Poutine–style with the curds dunked in gravy; or The Great Canadian sweet version, served with pure maple syrup.

Takeout trays with fried cheese curds, a blue sign atop them reads King of Curds, Deep Fried Cheese Curds, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: Medium

The Colossal Coliseum for the competitive eater

Talk about a belly buster. San Francesco’s Italian Sandwiches upped the ante of its famous veal sandwich by adding a—whole—pulled pork panzerotto, bed of coleslaw, jalapeños and sweet barbecue sauce. Two deep-fried brownies on a skewer top it off.

A large sandwich made with pulled pork, veal and topped with a creamy coleslaw, jalapeno peppers and drizzled with a sweet barbecue sauce, as seen at the CNE

Mess factor: High

Deep-Fried Frog Legs and Cod Tongue for the food connoisseurs

Here’s a hybrid of gourmet and midway cuisine by Farm to Fryer. The crispy frog legs are dusted in a simple flour batter, while the cod tongue (not the actual fish’s tongue, but the flesh from the throat) is tender with a denser bread coating. Tartar sauce is the ideal accompaniment.

Takeout platter with deep fried frog legs and ranch dip, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: Low

Strawberry Shortsteak for those who prefer their meal and dessert in one

Philthy Philly’s gives the classic Philly steak sandwich a dessert twist that happily marries sweet and salty flavours together. Set on a doughnut bun, the succulent steak strips and provolone cheese filling gets a sweet touch of strawberry sauce and icing sugar.

Steak sandwich with whipped cream and a large drizzle of strawberry sauce, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: High

Deep-Fried Chicken Feet for the savvy snacker

“It’s like dim sum at the CNE,” exclaimed digital editor Chloe Tse. Mounted on a stick, it’s the perfect snack-on-the-go. And it’s all texture—the first bite is met with crisp resistance before your teeth sink into the gelatinous inside.

Golden brown deep fried chicken feet threaded onto wooden skewers are stacked in a metal tray as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: Low

Sugar Mountain for serious dessert devotees

Take this name literally. Cake Shack has revolutionized hand-held desserts with this gravity-defying combination of a brownie topped with a scoop of cheesecake, a white-chocolate dipped sugar cone, confetti doughnut and cotton candy. Hello, sugar high!

A brownie topped with a sugar cone topped with an iced donut sprinkled with colourful sprinkles and dinosaur-shaped iced cookies, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: High

Dragon’s Breath Crepe for the little kid in all of us

Kids of all ages are going to love this crepe-wrapped (chocolate or vanilla) ice cream stick from Eative that’s dipped in liquid nitrogen before it’s handed over to you. The result is a fog-like gas you can blow through your nose and mouth, which explains the fun name.

A fried golden crepe wrapped around chocolate ice cream on a stick, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: Low

Cricket Cone for the adventurous palate

Here’s a new take on ice cream toppings: chocolate-roasted crickets thanks to Bug Bistro. It’s a great, albeit crunchy, way to dress plain ol’ vanilla ice cream along with a sprinkling of toasted coconut. You won’t even taste the bugs, we promise.

A person tops a vanilla soft serve ice cream with fried crickets and golden toasted coconut, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: Low

The Captain for a taste of childhood nostalgia

Ice cream sandwiches are the quintessential summer treat. Chloe’s Doughnut Ice Cream’s The Captain comes on a California-style churro bun with multi-hued Cyclone ice cream, which is rolled in—wait for it—crushed Cap’n Crunch cereal.

An ice cream sandwich made with two sugared churros sandwiching a generous scoop of multicoloured ice cream, all sprinkled with Captain Crunch cereal, as seen at the CNE 

Mess factor: High

Don’t Miss

If you still have room in your belly, try a bite (or sip) of these goodies as well.

Maple Butter Tart Ale

Sawdust City Brewing Co. owner Sam Corbeil says this ale has a doughy flavour with notes of maple and caramel. He suggests pairing a pint with deep-fried cheese curds (mentioned above) from The King of Curds, located just by the brewery’s stall.

Peanut Butter Sriracha Bites

Fran’s Restaurant has paired plenty of complementary flavours in this treat thanks to the sweet dough, salty peanut butter and gentle heat of the hot sauce. A drizzle of chocolate syrup ties them all together with a hint of sweetness.

Deep fried morsels with peanut butter oozing out that are drizzled with chocolate and Sriracha sauce, as seen at the CNE 

Pancake Bacon Tacos

An all-in-one breakfast, this is a new item on Bacon Nation’s menu, featuring a buttermilk pancake “taco” loaded with fried and scrambled eggs, topped with tomato, green pepper, onion and maple bacon strips, and finished with chipotle syrup.

Breakfast tacos made with a pancake shell and stuffed with eggs, melted cheese, green onions, tomatoes, and a slice of crispy bacon, as seen at the CNE 

Last Samurai Burger

This isn’t just your regular hamburger. Sandwiched between ramen noodle buns, this combination from Yatai (an offshoot of local haunt Kanpai Snack Bar) nestles a juicy all-beef burger, crunchy chicken katsu and special ninja sauce.

A burger patty is topped with a slice of American cheese, fried chicken katsu, lettuce, purple cabbage and a generous helping of sauce and sandwiched between two buns made of fried ramen noodles, as seen at the CNE 

For more creative, delicious eats, hit the road in search of the best food trucks in Ontario.

And don’t forget to visit the CAA booths at the CNE, where you can enter for your chance to win gas for a year, take advantage of CAA Membership specials or challenge yourself to a digital trivia game.

Image credit: Chloe Tse