Overindulgence at Capital Ex 2012

Love or hate the name, the fair with the much-maligned moniker is here to stay. And for Mack and me, Capital Ex is something that we look forward to attending during the busy Edmonton summer season. It’s loud and boisterous, with that infectious carnival atmosphere that isn’t replicated by any other festival in the city.

Capital Ex 2012

Capital Ex

While we’re not as adamant about what attractions should be maintained or embraced, we do have our opinions. For such a big event that tries to appeal to every demographic and age group, there are hits and misses. This year was no different.

The Food

On the consumables front, Mack and I were lucky to have the opportunity to try the breadth of cuisine offered at Capital Ex for free. For such a task, we also elicited the help (and stomachs) of my sister Felicia and her boyfriend Jeff, and even then, our capacity was limited. But we did our best!

Ribfest

One of the heralded additions to the Capital Ex line-up this year was Ribfest, which promised good Southern-style barbecue.

Capital Ex 2012

Ribfest

Located near Northlands Park (the race track), I was disappointed that such an attraction was relegated to the far corner, instead of trumpeted near an entrance. As a result, the two times we passed through, the crowds weren’t nearly as large as they should have been. We did like the fact that the Telus Stage concert was being streamed on the large screen mounted in the paddock, which connected Ribfest to the larger festival, but I think this simply highlighted the need for live entertainment in the eating area, and moreover, a more prominent location for the entire set-up.

Capital Ex 2012

Tongue-in-cheek displays

Ribfest also incorporated a charity aspect, as all five barbecue purveyors have been paired with a local charity. Diners were given the option of voting for their favourite, with the charity partner reaping the benefit of a donation from Northlands. We have to say the voting aspect wasn’t very well promoted (we were only provided a ballot from one purveyor), with the voting box itself partially hidden by a fence. Also, for an informed vote, one would have to spend a minimum of $45 to purchase a third of a rack from each of the five establishments, unless they happened to dine in a large group. If this continues next year, perhaps some sort of discounted punch card could be instituted?

Capital Ex 2012

Gator BBQ Company

That said, we really enjoyed Ribfest as a whole. None of us had ever been to barbecue competitions, so everything was new to us – from the eye-catching displays to the tables brimming with trophies – it really was a sight to see.

Capital Ex 2012

Trophies!

The food being the main attraction was also very well done. Felicia and I tried the pulled pork sandwiches ($9) from Gator BBQ Company. We both wished we had a scale to weigh the sandwich, as it was absolutely bursting with meat. It could have been a touch warmer, but the slightly sweet sauce and buttery meat certainly hit the spot.

Capital Ex 2012

The spread

Jeff and Mack dug into ribs from Gator and Prairie Smoke & Spice BBQ, respectively ($13 for half racks). Between the two, Prairie won the battle with their aromatic, tender meat. We found out later that they use Manitoba oak to smoke their ribs.

Capital Ex 2012

In need of wet naps

I do hope they keep Ribfest for next year. There’s lots of good to build on, and given how many people lament the lack of good southern barbecue available in Edmonton, this could become a legitimate attraction for Capital Ex moving forward.

At The Grand

The eats available off the midway always seem to undergo a yearly rebranding. This year, under the banner of “The Grand”, there were many new dishes available, on top of some long-standing favourites.

Cyclones (or, pizza in a cone) caught our eye. Staff told us this was the first time this UK-based product had been brought to Canada. They promote a 70-30 ratio of ingredients to crust, as opposed to typical pizza which has a 30-70 ratio.

Capital Ex 2012

Not an ice cream cone

As utensil-less, processed products go, the mozzarella and tomato version was pretty good. The crust (baked low and slow), was crunchy but not hard, and the cheesy, tomato-speckled filling was reminiscent of a Pizza Pop.

Capital Ex 2012

Cyclones

We also hunted down the customizable cream puffs available at Le Grande Café. Organizers did a great job of creating a space reminiscent of an outdoor café, with cute blue-checkered tablecloths and a water feature.

Capital Ex 2012

Le Grande Café

In my frugal student days, I remember hunting down the cheapest eats at the fair. Besides mini doughnuts, these cream puffs would have sat well with me then. For $2, diners can choose from several different whipped fillings and toppings for a personalized and economical treat. I opted for a decadent berry whipped cream topped with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, sprinkles and chocolate-covered rice crisps to be dipped in dark chocolate. Mack was a bit more restrained, with chocolate cream topped with toasted coconut and powdered sugar.

Capital Ex 2012

Cream puffs

While the pastry was definitely no Beard Papa, I was satisfied. The cream was light and airy, and did not taste artificially sweet. Mack was less enthused, calling it more of a “cream sandwich” than a true cream puff. But for $2, it was worth it.

Fusion 53

The biggest surprise for me at Capital Ex was Fusion 53. Replacing Sip!, which in previous years offered fairgoers a sophisticated food and wine alternative to midway fare, Fusion 53 is billed as “elegant” and “refined”, and also features live entertainment and a casino. While no doubt some people would naturally gravitate towards the 18+ atmosphere to escape the chaos of the grounds, I always wondered whether patrons truly wanting a high end dining experience would really seek to find it at Capital Ex. As such, is this really something organizers should continue to offer? Pondering this, I checked my expectations at the door of Hall A.

Capital Ex 2012

Fusion 53

Dimly lit, the lounge space was partially full, no doubt drawn to the Duelling Ivories Piano Show (who were fantastic, by the way). We settled down on a comfortable couch and tried to get the lay of the land. For two food features (with stations similar to what Sip! had set-up in previous years), patrons could order them by purchasing tickets at the counter, but to order most things off the food and drink menu, one had to do so through a server. We tried four items ($10.50) in total.

Though it seemed table service was an odd choice at first, we came to appreciate it later. After many hours on our feet, this was our first chance to relax. Unlike Sip!, which favoured stand-up cocktail tables, Fusion 53 enabled us to just sit back and enjoy the entertainment.

Capital Ex 2012

Lounging

It also helped that the food was great! Felicia’s grilled coconut shrimp made up for its small serving in flavour, and was obviously made to order. Mack’s house smoked brisket slider was generously sized, though Mack would have preferred a softer bun. My smoked chicken and quinoa shooter was the best thing I ate at the fair – the meat was moist, and the quinoa was dressed delectably. Jeff also enjoyed his caramalized bananas on coconut ice cream.

Capital Ex 2012

Fusion 53 dishes

My only criticism of the menu at Fusion 53 was that it did not live up to its “local” billing. While homegrown products may have been incorporated, it wasn’t evidenced anywhere on the menu, save for apple, rhubarb and custard tarts apparently made from “local ingredients”. If anything, a small venue like a dedicated lounge would be the perfect way for Northlands chefs to experiment with products sourced locally. Should they decide to continue Fusion 53 in future years, I do hope they consider enhancing this aspect.

On the Midway

Let me say it was not easy to locate specific items on the midway. Signage was poor, and a walk through the fairgrounds yielded nothing. We had to ask someone at guest services who was able to point us in the right direction, but for a fair attempting to woo “foodies”, the execution was poor. A map made for food enthusiasts highlighting new experiences really would be useful in this regard.

Anyway, we heard that the red velvet funnel cake ($6) was a crowd pleaser, so with some guidance, located the vendor near the Top Cop diving show. None of us had ever had a funnel cake before, so we didn’t know what we had ordered was a smattering of deep fried dough in a shade of radioactive red. Sweetened with a combination of icing and powdered sugar, it was crispier than a mini doughnut. It didn’t, however, remind any of us of actual red velvet desserts – no hint of cocoa, just fried batter.

Capital Ex 2012

My first red velvet funnel cake

On the savoury side, we also tried a trio of sliders ($10) from the Canadian Beef Bacon wagon. Having replaced beef patties with strips of bacon, the sweetness of the maple bun did enhance the bacon.

Capital Ex 2012

Canadian Beef Bacon sliders

Mack had great intentions to try the cricket pizza, but I’m sorry to say, he just couldn’t do it. It just really bugged him (hehheh). No, in all seriousness, the freak food attraction of the fair just did not look very appealing – the crickets did not look fresh at all, and looked more like maggots than crickets. If we’re going to eat bugs, at least make them look appetizing! Were you brave enough to try it?

Capital Ex 2012

Cricket pizza

The Exhibits

Of course, Capital Ex isn’t just about the food. There’s tons to see, and I really enjoyed some of the exhibits new to this year.

Though the music theme wasn’t as prevalent as I was expecting, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame displays were interesting to browse (who knew Kiss had a pinball machine)?

Capital Ex 2012

Mack checks out the displays

Even better was the Rock University, which certainly seemed to appeal to a generation of kids who grew up on Rock Band. It was an interactive exhibit I would have expected to see at the Telus World of Science, and not at Capital Ex, but it really was a fun opportunity to try out different instruments and take some zany snapshots.

Capital Ex 2012

Felicia’s a rock star!

Capital Ex 2012

On Abbey Road

Rhythms of the World, a seeming return to the cultural showcase of fairs past, was an exhibit I really hope they keep and grow in the future. The installations, which only covered a handful of countries, were eye-catching and photogenic.

Capital Ex 2012

China installation

Capital Ex 2012

Down you go!

It was surprisingly quiet, but provided a nice reprieve from the midway, and a laid-back opportunity to browse boards of information.

Capital Ex 2012

Aboriginal display

The space also hosted a great stage, so we sought out a performance schedule, but couldn’t find one posted anywhere. We found out later it was on the LCD screens outside the hall.

In the Family Fun Town this year, they also had a petting zoo. I’m a sucker for animals!

Capital Ex 2012

Lambs

Capital Ex 2012

Pigs

The Shows

It’s almost too bad the Michael Jackson show from last year had already been done – it would have fit in perfectly with the music theme. It also wasn’t reminiscent of an acid trip, which The Aluminum Show was.

Capital Ex 2012

The Aluminum Show

They also tried a little too hard to engage the audience – the inflatable pillow sequence went on for much too long.

No, it’s not a rave

The Midway

We didn’t go on any rides this year, but we did catch a bridal party going down the Kiwanis slide.

Capital Ex 2012

Whee!

Games, on the other hand, were fair game. Some of us were more successful than others.

Capital Ex 2012

Just stand up, darn it!

Capital Ex 2012

Felicia with her prize

We ended our night with the fireworks show – a fitting way to end our day at an Edmonton tradition.

Capital Ex 2012

Fireworks

Thanks again to Northlands for the opportunity to eat our way through Capital Ex!

You can see my full photoset here.

New at Capital Ex: Five for Foodies

Mack and I are both suckers for fairground food, and every year, make sure to get our fix at Capital Ex, which runs July 20-29, 2012. This year is no different (Mack has already said he is looking forward to his annual corn dog), but with a deluge of new items they are introducing this year, we had to consider upgrading from our usual menu.

Lucky for us, Northlands has given us some gift certificates that we can use to try these new dishes. While the menu certainly has enough variety to appeal to most, I have to say I gravitated immediately towards these five food experiences:

  1. Capital Ex Food Grill Cheese Burger: we were introduced to this idea of sandwiching a beef patty with grilled cheese sandwiches on Eat St., where the Portland-based Brunch Box had made a name for themselves with this indulgent burger. In Edmonton, we know Delux has offered it as a special on occasion, but we have yet to try it ourselves.
  2. Ribfest and Oinkers: though Edmonton does have Bubba’s and Smokehouse BBQ, we could use a few more restaurants that offer authentic Southern barbeque. Ribest and Oinkers at Capital Ex will try to satisfy that craving, where pulled pork and a variety of ribs will be served.
  3. Capital Ex FoodCricket Pizza: we keep hearing that insects will eventually make it on mainstream menus, given their high protein content and the minimal space needed for their production. At Vij’s in Vancouver years ago, we did indulge in paranta made from a mixture of whole wheat flour and ground crickets. So although Capital Ex treats cricket pizza as a fringe item for the headlines, it’ll be interesting to see how many patrons actually bite.
  4. Fusion 53 Lounge and Casino: on a kitchen tour two years ago, we learned that Northlands is trying to source some things more locally (such as Spring Creek Ranch beef). This year, the menu they will be serving up at the Fusion 53 Lounge and Casino is said to highlight Alberta producers. Details about the actual menu are scarce, but I am hopeful that they will showcase some of the bounty available in our province at this time of year.
  5. Capital Ex FoodCream puffs – Beard Papa hasn’t taken Edmonton by storm as it has in other cities. Perhaps the reason for this is a lack of accompaniments? Capital Ex will test this theory with a customized cream puff at Le Grande Cafe, where dessert-goers will be able to add anything from fruit to chocolate sauce on their personalized creations.

Now I’m hungry. Capital Ex can’t come fast enough.

Fun on the Midway: 2011 Capital Ex

Mack and I made our annual pilgrimage to the land of doughnuts and carneys yesterday. I’m not sure when it became a tradition for us, but a summer in Edmonton isn’t complete for us without a trip through Capital Ex.

Midway food is one of the reasons we’re back like clockwork. Mack treats himself to the one corndog he has a year, and of course, we just have to indulge in Those Little Doughnuts.

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Double fisting

This year seemed to bring more “branded” food items, kiosks that offered items that differed from the usual fare. Some skewed healthy while others just piqued our interest (waffle-coated hot dog?).

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Skewers and Those Wicked Waffles

Based on a recommendation, I tried the poutine from La Poutinerie ($8). While the gravy and fries themselves were not bad, this was the third time in a week that I had tried Quebec cheese curds, and the third time that I found they didn’t squeak. I miss curds from the Cheese Factory!

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La Poutinerie

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Poutine

We also tried the frozen little ice cream pellets – they were surprisingly filling! A really odd texture to get used to though, sticking to your tongue because of how cold they were. I think we both prefer real ice cream.

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Pellet ice cream

I was so confident that the skies would hold up yesterday that I didn’t bring an umbrella, and Mack didn’t wear a jacket. And you know what that means – about an hour after we passed the gates, it poured.

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Mopping up the slide

Thankfully by that time, we were fed and ready to explore the Expo Centre. We really liked the Container Art – though Mack commented that the “Like” exhibit really could have done with the most famous “Like” of all – Facebook!

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I like Mack!

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Through the art

We stayed for the Spirit of Michael Jackson, billed as a “laser spectacular”. It took a while to get going (and some of the song choices seemed less than inspired), but the “Thriller” finale was fantastic! The lead dancer who played Michael was quite good – he had a wicked moonwalk!

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Spirit of MJ

Walking through Sip!, we found the liquor sampling booths to be fewer than last year (especially on the wine front), but those that did have tables seemed to step it up this year.

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The aerial entertainment from Firefly Theatre was a welcome spectacle

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Liquor booths

The menu of items (including smoked local beef sausage with a salted potato pancake, inspired welsh rarebit) was appealing, but for us, carnival food is king. It’s a bit unfortunate – I wish food items served at Sip! were served at the Taste of Edmonton – it would be a big improvement over what is currently being offered at Churchill Square.

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Californian Club

When we decided to peek outside again, we were happy to discover that the rain had stopped, and lucky that it did not return again.

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The midway

Given similar amusements can be played at Chuck E Cheese for a fraction of the price, Mack and I rarely partake in carnival games. But we came across one that cost a quarter this year! Neither of us won anything – but we had fun trying.

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Bowl to win!

Before the fireworks, we took a turn on the ferris wheel. That was definitely the silver lining on a wet evening – shortened ride lines!

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Ferris wheel

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There’s nothing like the view of the midway from the top

We’ve been able to hear (and see, to a lesser extent) the fireworks from our condo in the last week, but the show is of course better up close. It was probably the best show of fireworks that I’ve seen at Capital Ex in the last few years.

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Fireworks

We’ll be back next year!

Capital Ex 2011 runs until July 31, 2011.

Capital Ex 2010

There’s something about Capital Ex that keeps me coming back. In spite of its inescapable associations with teenage excess, there I am, every summer, pounding the midway pavement like clockwork.

Swings

Round and round

It’s not any one thing – not the food or the exhibits, not the fireworks or the talent shows, and certainly not the rides – but the atmosphere, the energy, the collective joi de vivre that pulses through the fairground. It’s exhilarating being among a crowd that is living in the moment, searching out the next thrill.

Whee!

Whee!

We had picked up our gate admission from Ticketmaster in advance (it actually only saves you $2, but between the two of us, that’s enough for mini doughnuts!), bypassed the ticket lines, and headed straight to the grounds.

We had big plans for deep-fried gluttony, but first, we were fortunate enough for a behind-the-scenes detour. A few weeks ago, Mack had been contacted by Sandra Pysklywyc, Public Relations Manager for Northlands, in order to arrange for a tour of the kitchen, as Mack had expressed interest in their promotional Monster Burger.

Sandra introduced us to Arlindo Gomes, Director of Hospitality and Client Services for Northlands, who actually conceived of Sip!, the Food and Wine Experience at Capital Ex. He said that from a merchandising point of view, most liquor trade shows don’t provide the opportunity for consumers to connect with both the sales representative and the product at eye level, and Sip!, with its bar-height counters, does. He also crafted the feel of the event, intimate and sophisticated, using floor lighting, table accents, and art displays to his advantage.

Sip

Sip!

One of my favourite aspects of Sip! has always been their demonstration stage – it was where I first met Sebastian Lysz two years ago at the inaugural Sip (who has since become an up-and-coming figure to watch in Edmonton’s food scene). This year, the rock stars of the schedule included internationally-renowned mixologists Gavin MacMillan and David Jennings.

Bartending demo

Cocktail hour

Arlindo eventually led us into the basement of Northlands, where the kitchen is located. It had been recently renovated and expanded, with Arlindo ensuring that the design would allow for flexibility in equipment set-up as needed. As a result, all of the machines (flattops, grills, ovens) are on wheels, and save the fume hood, can be moved.

Hot kitchen

Hot kitchen

The prize of the kitchen was undoubtedly the combi ovens. The practical ability to cook with both steam and dry heat was demonstrated with some of the food being served at Sip upstairs – beef jerky and a whole roasted pig (which apparently takes only four hours in their oven). Mack and I thought the coolest thing about the oven was the fact that the same cart that holds pans of food can be wheeled out of the oven and directly into the blast chiller, or vice versa.

Blast chillers!

Blast chillers

Arlindo explained that for large-scale functions, this is exactly what happens – food is pre-cooked, plated, loaded up onto a cart (below), then cooled in the blast chiller. Just before the food is served, the entire cart is wheeled directly into the oven to finish cooking. Amazing!

Plate carts

Ready for the next event

Another fairly new feature of the kitchen was their Code Green initiative, seeking to recycle all organic material that comes through the kitchen. The plastic bins were everywhere in the kitchen, filled with everything from coffee grounds to boxes to vegetable peels, to end up in a composting pile. Arlindo said he would have numbers of how much waste has been diverted in November, exactly a year since the program began.

Code Green

In the cold kitchen area, we spotted racks of hibiscus flowers drying atop slices of lemon. Arlindo explained that a few years ago, he had ordered 200 jars of hibiscus flowers, thinking that they would be all the rage (at the time, they were a popular addition to cocktails and other drinks). Unfortunately, the hibiscus flowers didn’t take off as he had planned, and the kitchen is still working its way through his massive order, and remind him every day of his mistake (chefs at Sip were actually using them to make a floral-scented ice cream).

Flowers

Hibiscus flowers

Of course, I had to take the opportunity to ask Arlindo what Northlands was doing to source products from local businesses and producers. On the subject of coffee (and buying from local roasters), he explained it was an economical decision – Starbucks provided and maintains all of their brewing equipment at no charge, and is able to service the machines quickly and efficiently.

Coffee

Coffee equipment

On the subject of local producers, Northlands did just recently start using beef from Spring Creek Ranch. Arlindo said that the 20-30% mark-up on the premium beef does make it difficult for them to use it on a large scale (although they do utilize Alberta beef in all of their facilities), but they have been able to experiment with it upstairs in their Monster Burger outlet. Though the 1kg burger is a promotion specifically for Capital Ex, the outlet will be in operation during all conferences and events, and features not only a 7 oz. Spring Creek Ranch beef burger (priced at just $9.75, with fries), but the first premium Spring Creek Ranch hot dog (with no preservatives, hormone and antibiotic-free, in a natural casing). It was fortuitous that Bern Kotelko of Spring Creek Ranch was having a meal there during our tour.

Monster Burger

Monster Burger

Arlindo

Bern and Arlindo

Next to Monster Burger is maspasta (“mas” means “more” in Latin). Another one of Arlindo’s initiatives, the pasta outlet is a fast but tasty option for conference and event attendees.

maspasta

maspasta

Once the tour was over, we headed back into the hall to use our Sip! tickets (Sandra was generous enough to give us 50 tickets to use at our own pace). We were happy to see local breweries Alley Kat and Yellowhead present, but Mack ended up trying beer from Yukon Brewing Company for the first time (he gave the Yukon Gold a thumbs up). I steered clear of familiar wine brands and found Warrego Wines out of Australia. Their Half-Way Wine lived up to its promise of being semi-sweet.

Yukon Brewing Company

Yukon Brewing Company

In terms of food, the selection this year of savoury dishes seemed better than in past years, and to add to things, Northlands even prepared recipe cards for patrons to take home if they wanted to recreate the dishes at home.

Recipe Cards

Recipe cards for pulled pork panini

The Alberta barley paella was a great way to start off, textured and satisfying, but my favourite was the Cuban-inspired pulled pork panini.

Barley paella

Huge paella pan

After seeing his (or her?) poor cousin in the combi oven downstairs, we also had to give the roasted pork a try. I have to say it was difficult to eat without a knife (I try to keep the savage table manners to a public minimum), but the meat was moist, albeit on the fatty side.

Some pig

Some pig

Though I can see why beef jerky was on the menu (no need to keep it hot or cold, and keeps well to boot), it was a bit out of place in the elegant setting. That said, out of the three flavours, Mack liked the sweet and sour best.

Beef jerky @ Sip

Beef jerky

We ended our experience with a treat from the fun ice cream bar that not only featured fresh ice cream, but also a variety of candy toppings.

Ice cream bar @ Sip

We all scream for ice cream

By the time we were ready to hit the midway, the heat of the evening sun had dissipated. In the dwindling light, we soaked up the fair.

Mack's annual corn dog

Mack’s Capital Ex tradition

Hamster ride

I could have watched the poor souls forever, but we were unfortunately positioned in the splash zone

On our walk through, we passed by the outdoor Monster Burger kiosk. For those who didn’t hear about it, it was a 1kg Spring Creek Ranch beef burger topped with 1/2 lb of bacon, onions, lettuce, cheese and tomatoes, and would cost $39.50…unless the person could finish it in one hour.  I have to say I love that they took and posted photos of every person who successfully completed the challenge.

Monstr Burger Challenge

Monster Burger challenge

I really do hope it is something they continue in future years – I think it helps expose Spring Creek Ranch to a wider audience, and also benefits the Edmonton Food Bank (1kg of beef was donated to the Food Bank for every Monster Burger purchased).

We were really hoping for fireworks that night, but the skies threatened to open up, so we hustled to our other Capital Ex tradition – a bag of Those Little Doughnuts.

Threatening sky

Looks like a vortex is about to open up, doesn’t it?

Mini Doughnuts!

All I need are doughnuts

Thanks again to Sandra and Arlindo for their hospitality. We had a great time, and are looking forward to next year already!

Capital Ex 2009

No particular reason drew us to the Capital Ex grounds on Thursday, except perhaps a sense of homegrown duty to visit the city’s annual excuse for gluttony. Although we enjoyed ourselves last year, the attractions were somehow less interesting this year.

Sand sculptures

That said, I do still enjoy the sights and sounds of the midway – the exhilarated screams from thrill-seekers, enthusiastic pitches from the amusement carneys, the wafting smells of deep-fried everything and flashing neon lights that never fail to transport me to nights of Ex’s past.

Midway

We did make a point to go see the Cirque Shanghai troupe. Entertaining, we were surprised at how young some of the performers were. We also walked through the Sip! wine and food experience, but decided not to sample any of the food. Though we arrived too late to see David Adjey in person (I was curious to see if his arrogance held up off the screen), we did see Brad Smoliak and Mary Bailey in their nightly “dessert and nightcap” feature. Their dessert of a ginger cocktail and sautéed nectarines with mascarpone cheese and amaretti cookies was quite nice (and best of all, free!).

Mary Bailey and Brad Smoliak on the CookTop stage

Dessert

Chris’ extensive inventory of Ex eats was helpful in knowing what was available (and what to avoid). We opted for the tried and true favourites, namely – Those Little Doughnuts, corn dogs, and Deli Manjoo custard-filled treats.

Mack hearts corn dogs!

Deli Manjoo cakes

We stayed for the fireworks that night, and were quite impressed! While not as spectacular as the Canada Day offerings, the show at least exceeded our expectations.

Ferris wheel at night

It’s hard to avoid one of Edmonton’s most popular summer festivals – but I wouldn’t want to. Despite it’s shortcomings (and year-to-year fluctuations in interesting acts), the Ex is an Edmonton institution of frivolous fun.

Capital EX 2008

Though I loathe to admit it, I am not immune to the pleasures of Capital EX, even though now most of my enjoyment comes not from amusements, but from immersing myself in the atmosphere.

The midway at dusk

Mack and I started our evening in the cool recesses of the Agricom, specifically at Sip! The event I was most looking forward to, Sip! is set-up to be a showcase of alcohol and food in that order. At the gate, we were handed a small booklet containing a comprehensive list of liquor merchants and the wares they were showcasing, not unlike the pamphlet provided at the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival.

Sip! in the Agricom

We ended up buying 13 tickets (at $1 a pop), and tried Mojo (an “alternative vodka beverage”), wine from EnSante Winery, Alberta’s only organic-fruit cottage winery (too cool, wine made from alfalfa and rhubarb, among other varieties), and Firecracker Shrimp (cayenne-dipped, phyllo-wrapped, tempura-battered, served with a mango habanero sauce). The chefs at each of the food stations we passed were so eager to tell us not only how their products were made, but why the flavours complemented each other – count me impressed.

EnSante Wines

Firecracker Shrimp

We decided to stick around a little longer when we noticed a few people setting up at the CookTop, a stovetop and counter with an angled mirror installed above for easy viewing (like Home Economics class in secondary school). Sebastian Lysz of Devlin’s (10507 82 Avenue) led the session, and prepared Spring Creek Ranch flank steak and sauteed vegetables. Mary Bailey, an ISG certified sommelier and noted local food writer, spoke about appropriate wine pairings. The best part about watching the demonstration was the free food – we received two wine samples each, and a small plate of steak and vegetables. Based on what we paid for the shrimp, we were sure that quantity of food would have easily been $10. It was darn good steak, too.

Sebastian Lysz cooks

Flank steak, vegetables, au jus

After chowing down, we had just enough time to head to the next hall for a performance of the Birdhouse Factory, a show of acrobats in the same vein as Cirque du Soleil. Besides still wondering why the theme of a “birdhouse factory” was necessary at all, the show was great. It was definitely worth staying through the entire forty-five minutes. My favourite acts were the gymnastic tango and the trio of agile trampoline performers. The soundtrack really did enhance the show – made it more exciting and upbeat, or whatever mood the scene required.

The rest of our evening consisted of wandering the grounds, perusing various exhibits, including the ETS Centennial display, ED Fest (where Raine Maida was performing, alongside his wife Chantal Kreviazuk), Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo, and the Family Fun Town.

In the driver’s seat (I stole this caption from Mack)

Art walk

E

ED Fest

 

Scary python (thank goodness for the cage)

Too corny (heh)

Like a memory from my childhood

We also tried our hand at skee-ball, but ultimately decided that we belonged at Chuck E. Cheese.

Shoot for 50!

In our quest to find the most unusual food on the midway, we came across deep-fried Oreos (which actually looked quite sad), deep-fried cheesecake, and last year’s sensation, deep-fried Coke. “Taco in a Bag”, essentially Doritos tortilla chips, ground beef, cheese and other taco fixings in a bag to be eaten with a spoon, was around last year as well, but this was the first time I had seen it. Needless to say, we bypassed all of the above in favour of our summer festival standby – mini doughnuts.

Happy with mini doughnuts in hand

To end the evening, we took in the fireworks at the racetrack, finding a comfortable bench to wait out the anticipatory period. In total, the show was six minutes long – respectable, and both of us were quite impressed with the finale (with pops and whizzes louder with the sound bouncing off of the grandstand). To be fair, we were happy there were fireworks at all – they had been cancelled at our last Capital EX outing the year before.

In all, it was a nice way to spend a summer evening in Edmonton. Mack’s pictures are here.