The tents are going up for Taste of Chicago in Grant Park as I speak. Taste of Chicago starts June 23rd and runs through July 4th.
Every year, Chicago surrenders Grant Park to throngs of hungry locals and tourists and local restauranteurs who ply their usually deep fried wares.
Look, I used to love this event but as I've grown older, I'm less and less enamored of fighting a couple hundred thousand of my closest friends so I can get a salty fried dough ball ON A STICK! I also think that most years the Taste of Chicago festival gives people a warped idea of just how great the food in Chicago is in favor of a fast food version of the culinary diversity of this city.
However, this year, I will say the list of vendors is intriguing. As the city changes, the Taste seems to be trying to broaden its ethnic appeal and to add a few healthy vendors. But when I say few, I'm not kidding. Most of what you're going to get is classic heavy summer festival food.
Yes, I'll go, but I will try to be more selective than in the past, and not just buy a slice of pizza from the first booth I see because I'm hungry. I'm holding out for the more unusual food this year.
A selection of the participants I think are worth checking out this year after the jump:
Ann Sather Ann Sather's cinnamon rolls are legendary. Their pecan rolls are tastier and both will be at the Taste booth. If you like duck with sauerkraut and lingonberries instead, you're still in luck.
Arya Bhavan will be serving "Samosa (crisp patties with potatoes, peas, coriander and spices); Matar paneer with nan (lightly fried cream cheese cooked with peas in onion and tomato sauce with bread); Chana masala with nan (chickpeas made with traditional North Indian spices and bread); and Gulab jamun (dumplings in sugar syrup)" according to the Sun-Times. I may be wrong but this may be the first South Asian restaurant to show up at the Taste. It's the first I've taken note of in any case.
Billy Goat Tavern & Grill? Chee'burger, Chee'burger, Chee'burger, no fries - chips.
B.J.'s Market & Bakery is dishing up mustard fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, and peach cobbler. Your belly may hate you afterwards, but your tongue will tell it to shut the hell up.
Cousin's Turkish Dining brings a bit of the Near East to the Taste:
"Borek (spinach and feta cheese pie); Tavuk adana (spicy ground chicken, greens and cucumber yogurt sauce in pita); Falafel sandwich; Chocolate baklava."
Dominick's is a supermarket and not a restaurant but they will have some of the only fresh healthy refreshing food in the park. Stop here for Bing cherries, seedless grapes, watermelon, and the best corn on the cob at the Taste, even if it isn't ON A STICK!
Is it wrong of me to say I don't like Eli's Cheesecake? What was once a nice local thing has been turned into mass market blandness.
Gold Coast Dogs/Vienna Beef - get your hot dogs here and avoid American Dog near the fountain. You can also get a pickle ON A STICK! here.
Grizzly's Lodge has interesting foods for the carnivore in your life. I got sick on the alligator ON A STICK! one year but they have it again along with alligator "wings", fried catfish nuggets and wild boar sausage.
Harold's Chicken #13 - Near and dear to my heart. I lived on this stuff in college, but now they have nuggets and fried okra as well as chicken wings. Maybe its better if you go to one of the real locations of Harold's and get yourself a white half hot with salt and pepper (no barbecue/mild sauce).
Harry Caray's serves Fried dough and Potato chips. Ho-ly crap. Ugh.
Helen's Kitchen is where you can get your own giant barbecued turkey leg this year and key lime pie - ON A STICK! These people know the Taste crowd.
Hey Sushi! will be at the Taste, but they're chickening out on serving raw fish in the 90 degree heat and will serve ice cream (red bean or green tea flavored) and tempuras instead. I guess they didn't want to be known as Hey, Salmonella!
Cool off with Mazzone's Italian Ice. They're in Western Springs now, but a lot of the old Taylor Street Italians moved west when the University of Illinois tore up the old neighborhood. Italian ice is better than ice cream in the hot sun, if you ask me.
For us vegetarian-ish types, A Natural Harvest will have what I call a McRibless (Veggie riblet with sauce on a whole wheat bun) as well as double cheese nachos with black beans and peppers and Grilled veggie dog on a whole wheat bun,or plain old Fries (actually Cajun or plain). See? Vegetarian doesn't have to mean healthy!
Corn on the cob is the reason I go to the Taste, and O'Brien's Restaurant & Bar is claiming they have Celtic corn on the cob. Celtic. So... a leprechaun passes out on it or something? Probably fine but go to the Dominick's booth instead.
Penang Malaysian Cuisine is your typical Malaysian restaurant. Wait. I don't think I've ever been to a Malaysian restaurant except once in DC so I have no idea what typicl Malaysian might be. The Sun-Times says you can expect "Roti canai (Indian style pancake with curry chicken and potato dipping sauce): Satay chicken and beef; Fried banana with honey; Fresh coconut pudding"
Mowimy po polsku? Me either. But the Polka Sausage & Deli might just have you dancing the night away with their assortment of encased meat products and pierogi.
I don't get the attraction Popcorn Chicago has to so many people. It's just popcorn, people.
I rode my bike through the area from where Sabor Latino hails during the Puerto Rican Day parade last weekend and it was crazy fun. Visit their booth for "Arroz con gandules y bistec encebollado (steak and onions with Spanish rice); Puerto Rican steak and onion sandwich on Criollo bread; and Tostones con ajo (plantain chips with garlic sauce)" according to the Sun-Times. Mmmm.. Tostones.
Every year, someone dishes the turtle soup and this year it's a place best known for its meatloaf. Stanley's Kitchen & Tap serves up BInyon's turtle soup, a couple of Mac and cheese dishes and some sweet potato pie. No meatloaf, though.
Near North lunch favorite Star of Siam is serving "Shrimp pot stickers; Pad Thai; Grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce and salad; Goong n' pak tod (fried shrimp and vegetables)" according to the Sun-Times. You have to have a good Thai place at these things and this is one of the better Thai restaurant's in town. You could also go to Tiparos's booth if Star of Siam doesn't satisfy your hankering for a hunk'a Thai.
I'm not familiar with Taqueria Los Comales, but they're from the right neighborhood (3141 W. 26th) to dish up some mean Mexican
Visit Tuscany's booth instead of Buona Beef's booth for a really good Taylor Street Italian beef, Italian sausage or beef/sausage combo sandwich. Almost makes me want to become a carnivore again...
Vee-Vee's African Cuisine is the best place to get goat and plantain at the Taste. In fact, I think it's the only place to get goat and plantains at the Taste. Or avoid the goat and just have the plaintains in garlic sauce.
Lots of rib places and pizza place will be at the Taste as well. I used to prefer the Fireplace Inn's ribs over Robinson's or Sweet Baby Ray's, but it's a matter of (heh) Taste. Best sample them all.
For pizza, I favor Lou Malnati's over Home Run Inn, Suparossa, Bacino's, Connie's, and Father and Son's (though Father and Son do have shrimp ON A STICK!)
Musical acts this year include Donna Summer Steve Winwood and Doctor John, Santana, Morris Day & the Time, a July 4th concert featuring Moby, The North Mississippi All-Stars, and John Hiatt (sponsored by WXRT - who would guess they'd sponsor John Hiatt? Huh.) There'll be fireworks and a selection of John Philip Sousa's works and Tchiakovsky's 1812 Overture July 3rd.
Expect to spend too much, drink too little (dang those beers are expensive), and to end up with a vague sense of intestinal forboding. Tickets are $7 for a strip of 11 at the event or $5.50 in advance at Dominick's. Get two or three strips per person.
Go on Chicago - stuff yourself silly with fried foods and cheese in the hot summer sun! It's the Taste.