A Summer Tradition: K-Days 2016

K-Days really couldn’t have asked for better weather to kick off the 10 day Edmonton summer mainstay. Mack and I joined the thousands of festival revelers on Saturday for our annual pilgrimage to the midway. Mack had accepted an offer from Northlands to visit the grounds as their guest, which included special passes to the TD South Stage and cash to eat our way through some of the new items. We invited my sister Felicia to join us, at least for the food portion of the afternoon.

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Felicia can’t resist soft serve

It was interesting to see a number of local food trucks among the mix of vendors, including Smokehouse BBQ and their sister truck Stuffed Gourmet Sausage, Cuisine on Wheels, and Native Delights. While we have our fill of food truck cuisine elsewhere, it is great to see more Edmonton-based vendors present.

Our food choices were ultimately guided by the new food flyer that can be picked up at information kiosks on site. They list all of the items that are new to the festival. Unlike previous years, no insects were harmed in the making of this list, so the shock value was minimized to items such as rainbow grilled cheese and Oreo fried rice.

Our favourite item that we sampled that day was actually also the winner of the new food award – the meatball sub on a stick. Pizza dough was woven in between three skewered meatballs, then broiled with cheese and seasoned. As midway fare goes, this was actually on the healthy side, given it wasn’t deep fried. The meatballs themselves were quite tasty, balanced out with just the right amount of dough and cheese.

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Meatball sub on a stick

The big pickle dog had been voted the runner up of the new food competition. Mack, being a corn dog aficionado, was quite excited to try this, as it was a marriage of two of his favourite things: pickles and corn dogs. Alas, it was just too hard to eat, as the pickle retained too much of its crunch, and the hot dog slid right out from the pickle’s empty core. He doesn’t recommend this one.

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Big pickle dog

Continuing the "food on a stick" theme, Felicia tried the chicken waffle on a stick. It looked promising, with a crisp, made to order waffle exterior. But it contained chicken with little flavour, and unnecessary breading since the crunch was lost underneath the waffle batter.

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Chicken waffle on a stick

Perhaps our biggest disappointment was the mac ‘n cheese stuffed burger. The concept had much promise, but the execution needed work: the patty itself was overly charred, and the toppings were hastily assembled. We could barely eat the burger and derived no pleasure from doing so.

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Mac ‘n cheese stuffed burger

We were pleasantly surprised by the poutine perogies, which substituted deep fried perogies for potatoes. It was a healthy serving meant to be shared, with salty gravy and a generous amount of cheese.

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Poutine perogies

Of course, we had to indulge in mini donuts at K-Days as well, as much of a tradition for us as anything else.

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Those Little Donuts

The best thing about K-Days is being able to partake in the variety of shows and activities in between food. Our favourite show was Canine Stars, featuring rescue dogs in a high-energy demonstration of agility.

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Canine Stars

We also enjoyed the expanded Tech Life exhibit (which, on July 30-31, will host the first ever Canadian Drone Championships). In addition to the retro video game systems they’ve had in years past, they also included an extensive selection of board games. We opted to challenge Giant Jenga.

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Jenga!

The main K Days music stage has typically been located right off the midway. But as an example of how the Northlands Vision 2020 could play out, organizers decided to relocate the stage to the infield of the race track. The result is a defined, enclosed area, which promoted an atmosphere more conducive to a proper show. The simple act of departing from the midway signaled the transition to a dedicated concert space. Mack had been given VIP passes for the TD Comfort Zone, which meant we could watch the musical act for the evening from the vantage of an elevated tent.

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TD Comfort Zone

The tickets, which would have cost $100 (including gate admission to K-Days), includes access to a spread of appetizers and non-alcoholic beverages. The platform is licensed though, and most patrons took advantage of this. No doubt, the price enables exclusivity, and is a way for Northlands to generate additional revenue from an existing festival component.

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Matthew Good

Matthew Good put on a great show, and played right up until the fireworks began. An unintentional benefit of the new stage location is the natural expansion of the fireworks viewing area. The west side of the race track is in close proximity to the launch site, so I’d recommend heading over there for an even better view of the light show.

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Fireworks

We finished our night with a bit more Bowler Roller, my amusement addiction. For the record – Sharon: 2, Mack: 0.

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Midway magic

Thanks to Northlands for a great evening out to our summer tradition.

Check out Mack’s experience here.

Food and Fun at K-Days 2014

Mack and I may not be the target demographic for K-Days, but we love it regardless. It’s an annual summer tradition for us – there’s just no other festival in Edmonton that offers the variety of attractions, or a midway of that scale.

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Midway

We were fortunate enough to have been asked to eat our way through some of the new food items offered this year. And knowing our consumption capacity, we thought it best to invite Amanda and Felicia with us on Saturday, two people also used to testing their limits.

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Ready to eat!

Like last year, the one page map produced by K-Days helped us to locate the new dishes on the midway. However, it wasn’t as intuitive as it could have been, as many of the vendor names didn’t match the signage on the actual booths (Tin Lizzy for instance, home of the porcupine corn dog, was branded “Wiggle Chips” instead). I also had to wonder if the list was comprehensive, as none of the local food trucks participating were included on the listing (even though it was their first time at the fair), and Expo Centre vendors were conspicuously absent.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Juicy’s Outlaw Burgers (home of the world’s largest commercially available hamburger and hot dog)

We started our indulgence indoors at the Taste of Canada in Hall H. In 2013, we found the dishes inside to be of the best value (not to mention their relative distance from the deep fryer). Unfortunately, things changed, and the average price for a sandwich with a side of chips has risen to $13. Disappointingly, the menu was smaller and less enticing than last year. Given the recent launch of Northlands’ Alberta Flavour initiative, it’s surprising they couldn’t have somehow incorporated more local ingredients in some of the dishes. We did note the cooking stage located in the same area, but without a posted schedule, we didn’t know when the next demo would be conducted.

We ended up with a Montreal-style house smoked meat sandwich ($13.25). The sandwich itself was fine, if unremarkable. The side of kettle chips was the highlight for me, lightly salted and addictive.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Montreal-style house smoked meat sandwich

Back on the midway, Mack’s annual corn dog was from a maple bacon breakfast corn dog ($7), served with a side of maple syrup for dipping. It was definitely light on the bacon, but Mack enjoyed it all the same.

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Mack’s maple bacon breakfast corn dog

Amanda’s porcupine corn dog ($5) was the better deal, and more unique – a corn dog studded with French fries. She remarked that the fries themselves could have used a bit of seasoning, but other than that, she gave it a thumbs up.

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Amanda and her porcupine corn dog

I was happy to see the return of Rib Fest. The theatricality of the staff is as much of a spectacle as the food itself.

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Rib Fest

That said, I’m not sure why the lines moved so slow this year. It took us more than 30 minutes to reach the front of a modest sized line, even though the transaction time for us between ordering and receiving our food was less than two minutes. The big attraction was Gator BBQ’s pulled pork sundae ($9), a savoury concoction comprised of layers of mashed potato, baked beans and pulled pork.

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Success!

The serving size was not for the faint of heart, and from a conception standpoint, I loved the idea of the sundae. Execution-wise, everything from the pulled pork to the potatoes was over salted to the point that we struggled to finish it.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Pulled pork sundae

My favourite item that night was the Royal Street turkey dinner poutine ($12) from Mardi Gras Grill. It was a creative take on comfort food, topping a bed of fries with cheese curds, gravy, slices of roasted turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. All of the individual elements were well-prepared – the roasted turkey would have been equally delicious on its own – but together, it was a tasty, one box meal.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Royal Street turkey dinner poutine

On the sweet side, I was most looking forward to the deep fried cookie dough ($7). Three generously battered and fried balls made up the serving, lightly dusted with powdered sugar. And though we all remarked that they were intensely sweet, they delivered – the chewy coating gave way to a soft chocolatey centre. Our only suggestion for improvement was to make them two-bite treats.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Deep fried cookie dough

Cin City Donuts offered a different take on the fair favourite of mini doughnuts. We tried their s’mores mini donuts ($5), which saw marshmallows, chocolate sauce and graham crackers replace the traditional cinnamon sugar topping.

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S’mores mini donuts

It’s worth noting that when I mentioned that Felicia is allergic to chocolate but still wanted to try it out, they ended up giving us two servings for the same price – one minus the chocolate sauce. Their generosity aside, we had assumed the dish would have been quickly broiled to melt the marshmallows, but no dice. As a result, the donuts themselves were on the dry side. We decided the traditional cinnamon sugar was the way to go.

Interspersed between bites, we took our time to explore the grounds as well.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

One of the mini-parade floats

I had been hoping to catch a glimpse of the futuristic robots in the Techlife exhibit, but they had been packed up for the day. Still, there was lots to see in that pavillion, from the Hacklab where kids of all ages were putting together different models, to the mock stadium view they had set-up for gamers on stage.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Hacklab

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Gamers on display

Next door in Hall C, we had the chance to indulge in a little gaming ourselves of the retro variety. There was an NES and a Super Nintendo set-up, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and MarioKart on rotation, respectively. I have to admit, I’m a bit out of practice – Amanda schooled me on MarioKart.

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Out of practice

We also took in the Hockey Canada exhibit, and didn’t pass up the chance to have our photo taken in front of a memorable backdrop (we think it’s Eberle’s tying goal in the 2006 World Junior Championships, but we may have heard wrong).

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Felicia and I weren’t ready for the photo

Hall A hosted the Farm exhibit, and we loved seeing the live animals.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

The three little pigs

K-Days Edmonton 2014

How about these three day old chicks?

We closed out the night with a final walk around the midway and fireworks.

K-Days Edmonton 2014

Ferris wheel

K-Days Edmonton 2014

At Northlands Park

All in all, we had a great day. Thanks again to K-Days for the chance to sample the breadth of this year’s fair food!

K-Days runs July 18-27, 2014.

K-Days 2013: New Food at the Fair

It’s that time again! One of our summer traditions is heading out to K-Days and soaking up the sights, smells and sounds of the midway.

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Though it’s been years since we’ve taken in the rides, we’ve always reserved the right to indulge in Those Little Doughnuts and for Mack, a corndog or two.

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I can smell them already…

K-Days usually tries to entice diners by introducing new items each year, and this time is no different. Here’s what I’m looking forward to at the festival, which runs July 19-28, 2013:

  • Home Grown Alberta: Based on our experience in 2012, I’m a little disappointed they decided to axe the Fusion 53 Lounge, given that was some of the best food we had during our visit, and it was meant to showcase locally-sourced products. This year, K-Days will feature a showcase area called Home Grown Alberta, where “local Alberta home grown producers will sample and sell their product.” This could mean many different things, but hopefully it works out to be an opportunity of great exposure for these businesses.
  • ChimneyCakeNew Midway Delights: Last year, Capital Ex outdid itself with cricket pizza, so I was expecting to see deep-fried butter on this year’s menu (the “freak” food of choice at the Calgary Stampede). While the menu is much tamer than I expected, I’m intrigued by items like the chimney cake (sweet dough baked around a roll and dipped in sugar). It’s a little curious why items like pad Thai and Chinese noodle boxes would be featured so prominently (hasn’t our food culture normalized some ethnic foods?), but I suppose when most midway fare is battered and fried, I suppose it’s a step beyond that.
  • A Taste of Canada: For those looking for something more refined than the casual midway bite, a variety of dishes representing the different regions of Canada are available in the EXPO Centre. They include a lobster roll from the Maritimes, Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and duck confit paninis from the East, salmon wraps and Okanagan peach cobbler from the West Coast and from the Prairie, pulled bison sliders and beef & barley soup.
  • RibFest: I’m so happy that RibFest is back! Last year, we received our first taste of a Southern barbecue competition, with several vendors competing for our vote. Four trailers will be present this year offering up ribs and great atmosphere.

Capital Ex 2012
RibFest 2012

See you on the grounds!