Many of you know that I have to travel a bit for the work that I do. Since Chicago is such a popular city (for many reasons), I get questions all the time. It generally starts with sports, moves to celebrities and then it settles on food. The celebrity thing is a bit weird, we don’t have that many but they are WELL known. The food questions are about the hot dogs, pizza, barbecue & popcorn. Yeah it seems that EVERYBODY knows about Garretts Popcorn. This is when I bring up the “Taste of Chicago”. Some are familiar and have been to one. People that haven’t experienced it, GO CRAZY!!!! I know what you are thinking, “It’s too crowded and I can get that food anytime”. That is really the wrong approach to the “Taste”.
Let’s start with the mere SIZE of the festival. There is not another 10 day event that brings in 3.5 – 5 million people. And that is not just a bunch of people from the southside visiting the Harold’s booth. It’s set up so that you can discover these places on a small level and if you like it, you can visit their regular location. You can also try different foods that you have heard about and see if you like it. If you don’t, it was only 4 tickets. Food discovery can be a gateway to better eating. More of us need to stop taking our taste buds for granted. I recently did an afternoon visit (for research purposes) and tried a few dishes. I will list a bit of the good, the bad and the downright crazy! My hope is that you read this and get a few ideas for when you visit…on Sunday July 4th at 3pm to see the Chef Julius Cooking Demonstration in the Dominick’s Cooking Corner.
As soon as I approach on Jackson, the smoke from Robinson’s Ribs (#23) is calling me… I KEEP IT MOVING!! Sorry, but I have had too many disappointing experiences with that place. I will stick to Uncle John’s on 69th Street or Georges in Dixmoor.
Vermillion (#6) – They have a grilled Tandoori Turkey that is AMAZING. It’s full of flavor and healthy. A very pleasant surprise.
BJ’s Market (#27) – This southside staple is offering “Turkey Ribs”. You all know how I feel about places that try to use turkey to replace pork. Please STOP LYING! Call it something else. People are vulnerable when it comes to visions of barbecue. They will start asking for this in public and get laughed right out of the restaurant. However, the Mustard Fried Catfish is STILL on point!
Manny’s Deli (#49) – Their regular food is good but they are charging waaaaaay too much at the “Taste” for the BBQ Turkey Leg. It used to be one of the best values, now it’s out of hand. 1st cup of CRAZY is right here.
Shokolad Pastry Café (#47) – I really like the Spinach Crepe, but the Citrus Grilled Chicken is the STAR of the show here! Great flavor for your tickets.
Pegasus (#46) – The Laukaneko (Greek Sausage) was a new dish for me. What really impressed me was the lingering flavor of lemon & oregano on the finish. Also, this was a really good value. 4 tickets for the “Taste Portion” and you got a full sausage link with the pita bread.
Vee Vee’s African Cuisine (#22) – So this is an easy one. I got some of the fresh “jerk chicken” and it delivered. It had really nice heat & smoke. The joloff rice was good too. The plantains were overcooked.
Las Tablas (#48) – These are the best empanadas that I have had at the “Taste” in about 5 years. Also, they cooked the plantains correctly too. Las Tablas is also serving a chimichurri sauce with the empanadas. It is so refreshing and light. It’s different than a lot of the heavier ones you usually get.
This is just a small snapshot. I did taste a few more items. I encourage every to try “Taste” portions. You can get a greater dining experience. By the way, C’est Si Bon (#21) has a Collard Green Eggroll that is one of the BEST, yet understated items at the festival. That is, if you like greens. And…Harold’s Chicken Shack (#41) really is there. So westsiders, give it a try. No one will tell the crew at Uncle Remus or Coleman’s. Yes, ALL of the beverages are priced too high, so expect it. However, Oceanspray does give out free samples. The City of Chicago is asking anyone with a bag to open them up and allow inspection. Be ready for it. One other thing, the city widened the amount of walking space. It was designed to limit some of the crowding between the booths. It does help.
So after you “taste” a bit, come see your favorite chef, cook for a bit. The tent where I am performing has seating available and we are giving away a chef goodie bag to ALL seated patrons. I am one of the few people giving away items at the Taste of Chicago. Let’s have a great holiday weekend. See ya there!!!