I’m no country music fan, and I don’t even own a pair of cowboy boots, but when it comes to the Calgary Stampede I’m very serious about one thing – the food. I typically go to the grounds once every year to try out the best that the midway has to offer. One afternoon is nowhere near enough time to sample everything, but on Sunday I tested out a small cross section of Stampede foods. All for research purposes, of course .
It was a hot and sunny day, so I had to start with a classic – the traditional lemonade from Lemon Heaven. You can find Lemon Heaven stands all over the grounds, and there’s a reason I drink these time and time again! I hate overly sugary lemonade, and this stuff is sweetened to perfection. They put the whole lemon in the cup for long lasting lemony-ness, which I love! My only complaint was that more than a third of the cup was filled with ice so it disappeared pretty darn quickly.
We needed some food to go with the that lemonade, and the first place that caught our eye was Reel Mac and Cheese. They have a couple of trucks set up in the grounds, and we found one parked by the BMO Centre. Zevi tried out The Main Event – Reel Mac and Cheese’s take on the classic. I’m a sucker for anything Japanese-inspired, so I had to go with the Godzilla – classic mac topped with nori, teriyaki sauce, and Japanese mayo. I really wanted to love this, but we both found the sauce on mac and cheese to be a little too thin, and I found myself wishing for something crunchy to contrast all of the soft creaminess. All in all, our pastas were good, but nothing spectacular.
On our way to the rodeo we stumbled upon The Pickle Dog. This is the item I’d been most eagerly anticipating since I saw a photo of it on social media. I adore both pickles and hot dogs, so there’s really no way this could be bad! There was a pretty significant wait, but after taking a couple of bites I knew that standing in line was well worth it. The pickle was salty and crunchy (and HUGE!), and the breading was just the tiniest bit sweet. Whenever I eat hotdogs I always load them up with pickles and still find myself with not enough as I take my last bites, so this was the perfect way to make sure I got pickle and hotdog in every bite. Genius! This was by far the best thing I ate all day, and possibly the best thing I’ve eaten at Stampede ever. After I finished way more of my pickle dog than I though possible, we took a much needed break from eating to watch the rodeo. Although there’s really nothing good to eat inside the grandstand, they do make a pretty delicious spicy caesar! Pro tip – pouring your crappy beer into the remainders of your caesar makes it a lot more palatable .
There’s a huge (new?) mainly-BBQ area near one of the Grandstand exits, and we decided to check out the beef ribs at Gator BBQ after the rodeo wrapped up. With apologies to my Jewish husband, I don’t know that beef ribs can ever truly measure up to pork, but these ones were super tender and smothered in delicious sauce. We were greedily licking our fingers after we’d wolfed them down! Zevi really liked their cornbread, but for me it was just ok, and not worthy of too much precious stomach space. If nothing else, go to BBQ alley to watch the cooks literally mop sauce on to the meat. It’s a carnivore’s paradise over there!
No trip to the Stampede would be complete without Those Little Donuts. There are lots of mini donut vendors, but these ones are the best of the best in my book. Sprinkled with a little cinnamon sugar and piping hot, I still think these classics can’t be beat when it comes to sweet treats on the grounds.
I CLEARLY didn’t need any more food at this point, but I couldn’t wrap up my research without trying out the Teriyaki Chicken Perogies from International Perogies. I ended the day the same way I started it – with a Japanese-inspired dish, and this one was much better than the mac and cheese. The perogies were nothing spectacular, but they were good, and the best ones had been fried to a noticeable crisp. The chicken was nice and crunchy, and provided the textural contrast that I was missing in the mac and cheese. The perogy to chicken ratio was a little off, though, as I only had three or four small pieces to accompany the entire dish. Potato and cheese perogies and teriyaki sauce definitely aren’t a classic combo, but this one really worked for me. Even though it was the end of the day and my stomach was protesting, I had a hard time putting them down!
Stampede only comes around once a year, and, believe me, my stomach is pretty darn happy about that. There’s so much more that I wish I could have tried, but that will have to wait until next year. In the mean time, I’ll be trying to figure out how to make a pickle dog in my home kitchen .