Typically, if you found a bug in food you ordered at a restaurant, you’d call your server over and ask that the dish be replaced — or at the very least, taken off your bill.
But that’s not the case at this year’s Fair at the PNE where cricket covered caramel apples are one of the big hits of the annual event. And we’re not talking just a sprinkle of crickets, but more like a small colony of the leggy creatures pressed into warm caramel.
The cricket caramel apples are the brainchild of long time vendor/evil genius Jason Faria, owner of Next Gen Concessions, who uses salted, oven-roasted crickets from Ontario-based Entomo Farms, which specializes in the sale of insects and insect-based products such as flour. During a media tour of some of the more “interesting” foods available at the Fair at the PNE, we all had the opportunity to sample this buzz-worthy treat and while I did witness one man spit his piece of apple out, for the most part everyone brave enough to try the cricket caramel apple decreed it as pretty good or “not bad.”
That was the same response I received from colleagues after sharing pieces back at the Courier’s office. I also tried a piece and, honestly, if you didn’t know what you were eating you wouldn’t give it a second thought — just don’t look at their little legs.
And a shout out to Those Little Donuts, which is celebrating 50 years. I mean, what's the fair at the PNE without mini donuts?
The Fair at the PNE is famous for its annual creative culinary concoctions and this year is no exception. Here are a few other highlights of the foods I tried during our tour:
Smoking charcoal ice cream
You’ll either find the grey/black look of this ice cream Instagram worthy or off-putting, but the flavour was a delicious mix of pineapple and coconut. The presentation is also impressive — Merchant Concessions serves the ice cream up in containers that hold dry ice that puts the “smoke” in Smoking Charcoal Ice Cream.
Diggity Dog hot dogs
Diggity Dogs is famous for its over-the-top toppings for their hot dogs. Besides the Korean BBQ dog, you'll want to try the Southern Comfort topped with crunchy fried onions, chipotle slaw and pulled pork. That dog was a hit with everyone I spoke with who tried it. I also gave it a thumbs up for flavour and texture — the crispy onion give it a nice bite.
Wat a Melon
Also Instagram worthy is this combination of watermelon-flavoured ice cream served between slices of watermelon.
You like milk shakes. You love hamburgers. So, why not combine them, but with a twist. Brian Jones is serving up hamburgers topped with rock salts, caramel drizzle and vanilla ice cream or with garlic vanilla ice cream. It’s literally a hamburger with a scoop of ice cream on top of the lettuce on top of the burger. This is the same crew that brought us the cricket burger and cricket fries and gravy last year, so I can only imagine what 2019 will bring. These burgers got mixed reviews from our group.
Deep fried burger
Jason Au of Tin Lizzy Concessions says he had to find a replacement for hamburger buns while developing this deep-fried creation because the buns kept dissolving in the fryer. Instead, his deep-fried hamburgers are wrapped in flavoured pizza dough that gets nice and crunchy once it hits the fryer.
Deep-fried Kit Kat fries
Steve-O’s is famous for frying pretty much anything you can imagine, but this year they’ve nailed it with these deep-fried Kit Kat fingers. These were one of the top hits of our tour and I give them two big thumbs up.
Bacon wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cups
Who doesn’t like bacon and peanut butter together? Pickled Pete’s from Okotoks, AB, has combined sweet, salty and savoury in this treat, which is wrapped in dough and, you guessed it, deep fried.
For the first time, the PNE is serving alcoholic slushies in flavours including Frosé (rosé wine), lime and pina colada, in the area around the barbecue section and beer garden and, get this, you’re allowed to walk around with them. How very civilized. You can’t wander the entire fairground with your drink, but fairgoers no longer have to park their baby stroller on one side of the fence of the beer garden while they’re on the other enjoying an adult beverage.
So, while these creations might not be something you’d want to live on year-round, eating weird fair food is all part of the experience at the Fair at the PNE, which runs now through Sept. 3.