Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Red River Ex steps up its food game, but no pizza topped with seasoned scorpions

  • Print

It used to be that midway food consisted of familiar standbys that evoked a summer day spent at the fair: ethereal pink clouds of cotton candy; hotdogs served in nutrient-deficient white buns with the iconic squiggle of bright-yellow mustard; glossy candy apples; golden corndogs; sticky caramel corn; grease-spotted bags of mini-doughnuts.

Back in 2001, Eric Schlosser posited in Fast Food Nation that fast food offers a taste of the American dream. So, too, does the food you find at the fair. More than that, it offers a comforting taste of childhood.

Related Items

Poll

Do you plan to take in the Red River Ex this year?

View Results

These days, it seems those nostalgic favourites are taking a backseat to new ones. Ever since the Haven Chip Bar in Stonehaven, Scotland, started deep-frying Mars bars in 1995, fairs across North America have been in a contest to see who can unleash the biggest assault on your arteries.

Bacon-wrapped corn on the cob from Fresh Roasted Corn stand.

Enlarge Image

Bacon-wrapped corn on the cob from Fresh Roasted Corn stand. (MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

In 2006, deep-fried Coca-Cola won "most creative" at the Texas State Fair; by 2010, deep-fried butter made its debut at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. At the Calgary Stampede this year, you'll be able to eat deep-fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, deep-fried Cheezies and deep-fried cookie dough. And then, of course, there is the (probably delicious) monstrosity that is the bacon cheeseburger served between two glazed-doughnuts that has popped up on midways all over North America. Human innovation is a wonderful thing.

The Red River Ex plays it a bit more safe when it comes to culinary offerings -- you won't be able to find pizza topped with seasoned scorpions, for example -- but it has expanded the menu beyond the usual fare (which, don't worry, is still there. I know, I know, I can pry the deep-fried pickles out of your cold, dead hands).

There are more ethnic options to be found in the Expressway, including African, Portuguese and Greek cuisine. There are also more healthy choices to be found but, let's get real, who goes to the Ex for kale? Maybe if it were deep-fried. And covered with scorpions.

In the name of investigative journalism, I went on a gastronomic tour of the Ex and ate a mix of new (to me, anyway) and old faves to provide you a list of must-eats -- zero per cent of which consists of green vegetables. I had heartburn for three days. You're welcome.

 

Chip dog from Chipstix stand. A fried potato wrapped around two deep fried hotdogs.

Enlarge Image

Chip dog from Chipstix stand. A fried potato wrapped around two deep fried hotdogs. (MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

The dish: Chipdog, from Chipstix

What's that? It's a hotdog with a full potato spiralled around it. And then it's deep fried because of course it is. You can also get chipstix, which is the same thing minus the meat.

So, how was it? It was OK! The resulting chip was softer than I would have liked and it had the tendency to slip off the dog. The hotdog itself was delicious; it had a wonderful campfire taste and crunch. The chip itself was made exponentially better by the salt and vinegar seasoning I put on it.

Verdict: There was not enough water in the world to quench my thirst after this bad boy. Still, would eat again.

 

The dish: Deep-fried plantains, from Simba Safari Grill

What's that? I call plantains "weird bananas."

So, how was it? Very tasty. The plantains are deep-fried from fresh, giving them wonderful flavour. Served golden, they had a pleasant chew; like a denser sweet potato fry. I dipped them in sweet chili sauce, but they were great on their own.

Verdict: Would definitely eat again.

 

The dish: The Fisherman, from The Poutine King

What's that? A traditional Montreal poutine -- golden fries, squeaky cheese curds and gravy -- topped with wedges of brie, smoked salmon, capers and fresh dill. Fancy poutine.

So, how was it? Pretty much the best thing I've ever eaten, hyperbolically speaking. But seriously. While those are all flavours I enjoy on their own, I was skeptical they'd go together. But they do. It's a rich, indulgent dish.

Verdict: Would definitely eat again. Still thinking about it.

 

Mini donuts.

Enlarge Image

Mini donuts. (MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Photo Store

The dish: Bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, from Fresh Roasted Corn

What's that? Bacon is wrapped around the corn cob, the husk is replaced, and then it is grilled to perfection. The husk is then removed, and the whole thing gets dipped in butter. This seems like a Homer Simpson innovation.

So, how was it? You are acutely aware of how bad this is for you the entire time you're eating it, but especially when all the butter has migrated into the mostly decorative napkin you're clutching. But I ate the whole thing. (No regrets.)

Verdict: Nrrregggggh. But would eat again.

 

The dish: Mini-doughnuts

What's that? But everyone knows what those taste like. Yeah, well, my column, my rules. Plus, I'm not going to go to the Ex and not have mini-doughnuts. (Stay tuned for my next feature: Mini-doughnuts, ranked.)

So, how was it? I decided to hit up the big mini-doughnut vendor that sells actual mini-doughnut tickets (!) because it seemed the most legit. I was not disappointed. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. The cinnamon sugar-to-doughnut ratio was also impressive; the mixture didn't all end up in the bottom of the bag. According to my Ontario-raised videographer, they tasted similar to the CNE's Tiny Tom mini-doughnuts, which are the gold standard. You can buy 'em by bag or the bucket (no judgment).

Verdict: Would eat again. Obviously. But probably not after a Chipdog, fried plantains, fancy poutine and a bacon-wrapped corn on the cob -- dipped in butter -- next time.

 

The Red River Ex is on until June 22.

 

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca


What is your favourite food at the Red River Ex? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Press

A staple at the Red River Ex, mini donuts float down the cooking oil conveyor at the Mini Donuts stand near the front entrance.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2014 D1

History

Updated on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 7:23 AM CDT: adds slideshow

4:38 PM: Corrects headline typo.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

O'Shea says the team is going to stick to the plan after first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
my2011poy

View More Gallery Photos

Ads by Google