Taste of Chicago 2011

Yesterday, me and Chris experienced Chicago’s epic foodfest known as “The Taste of Chicago.” It was our first year trekking down to Grant Park in Chicago’s Loop to spend a couple of hours eating selected fair from a dazzling variety of local restaurants.

The Taste did not disappoint.

We hit it early and got there right before the gates opened, which is definitely the way to experience The Taste. We also bought our tickets in advance so as soon as the festival got underway we were able to immediately start stuffing our faces.

The first taste portion we tried out was a potato pierogi. Very nice.

Our second stop was the Loving Hut booth. Loving Hut was the only all vegan booth at this year’s Taste. Having been a full fledged vegan in another life, I appreciated the effort.

The vegan fair at Loving Hut was phenomenal. On the left is a BBQ drumstick made of seitan and sweet and sour nuggets that were soft and flavorful.

The sweet and sour nuggets were my fav. This was seriously one of the best things I had at the Taste.

A view of the General area. Grant Park in the Loop.

Next up, we made a stop at Connie’s pizza to try their gluten free pizza. The cheese was perfectly gooey and the crust was crisp. I’m guessing they used a combination of corn and rice flour for the crust. I didn’t miss the wheat.

Chris then wanted to try a Chicago dog, so we stopped at the Vienna Beef booth.

I didn’t personally try this one, but Chris gave it a thumbs up.

Grilled chicken tacos with salsa verde from Càrbon. My second favorite dish. The salsa was spicy, the chicken was moist.

Of course, I had to try the fire roasted corn on the cob. Always a treat.

The day started out pretty hot and sunny so I was looking for a chilled treat after a few hot dishes. This bissop sorbet from the West African restaurant Lyanze was just the ticket. Bissop is another word for hibiscus, it’s a light sorbet sweetened with honey and topped with whipped cream. One of the more interesting options at the Festival.

Chris got adventurous and tried the African spiced rice and goat. He said it was delish.

Bobak’s sausage was a natural progression for Chris.

We ended with a Rainbow cone, which I had never even heard of before the festival, but apparently it’s a Chicago tradition.

Quite a delicious tradition.

There were tents for beer and mixed drinks through the festival, but we didn’t want to fill up on beer. We wanted to save space for the food. So, we waited and were rewarded by our patience with the wine tent.

If you’re considering visiting the Taste of Chicago, I highly recommend ending your visit at the wine tent.

We tried the muscato and sweet red from Gallo. Not terribly fancy wines, but refreshing. They made for a good digestiv on our way out of the park.

Overall, we had a great time. The Taste of Chicago runs through July 3. If you live in the area and are thinking about going, my suggestions are to get there at opening time and buy your tickets at Dominick’s rather than wait in line at the festival. Some people might think I’m crazy, but I’d also suggest bringing your own fork, to cut down on waste. I wish we had thought of that ahead of time. We sampled quite a few other dishes that I didn’t bother to photograph, including some amazing churros from this place:

I do regret not making room for fudge. I mean, if you’re going to a food festival, you really ought to eat fudge. There was also quite a few Cajun and BBQ booths that we just didn’t have room for. At around noon, the place became stiflingly crowded and the lines started getting out of control. But we were lucky, we got in, we got full, we got out.

Chicago, you rock.


The Chicago Dog

Can you believe I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly two years and have never managed to eat a Chicago dog?
It shouldn’t be a surprise to people who know me personally, but I’m not much of a meat fan.
Hotdogs especially make me suspicious. Aside from a brief period in my pre-kindergarten years when I enjoyed noshing on uncooked weiners straight from the package, I have largely managed to avoid most tube-shaped, processed meat products. You just never know what’s in those things.
Since I don’t have a natural appetite for hotdogs, I have never stood in a two hour line outside Hot Doug’s or gone for a late night, drunken, catcalling, weenie-fest at The Weiner’s Circle, nor have I ever grubbed at Chubby Weiner’s in Lincoln Square, a corner store bedecked with a giant, cartoon hotdog outside it’s entrance. I feel like I’m missing an essential Chicago experience.

Chicago loves hotdogs and it’s hard to blend in and pretend to be a true Chicagoan when you don’t partake.
So in the spirit of getting to know my new hometown a little better, I’ve decided to finally try out the Chicago dog, sans the actual dog.

But first, a little background: Chicago hotdog lore has the Chicago-style hotdog originating sometime during the Great Depression around the famous and now non-existent Maxwell Street Market. Nowadays, there are hotdog joints galore and a particularly cult-like following for the hometown favorite.

The ingredients, listed in topping order, are:
1. poppyseed bun
2. yellow mustard
3. two tomato wedges
4. a dill pickle spear
5. chopped white onions
6. pickled sport peppers
7. neon green sweet relish (which is somewhat difficult to find outside of Chicago)
8. a sprinkling of celery salt
9. Never, ever, ever ketchup

When it’s all said and done it should look a little something like this:

Technically, a Chicago dog is made with a Vienna beef hotdog, but the results are easy enough to replicate using a faux-dog. As a side note: my favorite brand of fake weenie is Lightlife Smartdogs, I find them eerily realistic in texture and flavor.

So what did I think of the famous Chicago dog?


Really. I grew up eating hotdogs with mustard and ketchup and maybe, if things got fancy, a little relish. Most of the time, we didn’t have buns and used a folded slice of bread, resulting in a soggy doggy mess. The Chicago dog is a revelation. With two, ripe tomato wedges, I honestly didn’t miss the ketchup and that’s saying something because I’m a ketchup fiend. I don’t really understand the aversion to ketchup in Chicago, it may have something to do with this particular type of hotdog pre-dating the corn syrup sweetened Heinz ketchup we all have come to love.
I had a hard time tracking down “sport peppers,” and I had to settle for pepperoncini instead. Why did it take me so long to put hot peppers on a hotdog? Genius!
Yes, Chicago gets props for it’s salad-dog, as I like to call it.

Just be careful and make sure you have a plate conveniently placed directly below the fist that’s stuffing the dog in your mouth, otherwise you’ll probably have to change your shirt.