Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Smaller, but Still Quite Appetizing, Taste of Chicago

Although it remains, I believe, the Windy City's biggest communal event and the world's largest food festival, in 2012 the Taste of Chicago is operating at somewhat less gastronomical proportions.

Rather than running 10 days as it has in years past, the Taste is open just 5 days this year, and not wrapping around the 4th of July. Closing this coming Sunday after opening on Wednesday, the Taste also has fewer participating restaurants. There are now just 40 food booths, including three "pop ups" that will be manned by different restaurants each day. This is down from 59 booths last year and previously more than 70. 

While I doubt the downscaling will do much to alter the aversion of folks who disdain the claustrophobic gathering of people stuffing their faces in steamy, sweaty weather, it also shouldn't diminish the Taste's appeal for those who enjoy the populist mix of people and the chance to savor favorite and/or less commonplace foods.

If I haven't been to the Taste of Chicago every year it's existed--excepting 3 years when I lived out of the area and perhaps some early years after its 1980 origin--I haven't missed many. Some years I've gone a couple times, especially if there were artists I wanted to see at the Petrillo Music Shell (Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Ray Davies, Midnight Oil and the Stereophonics are among some favorite acts I've seen for free; $25 is now charged for seats, but the lawn is still free).

The shorter duration is likely to limit some people's ability to get to the Taste, but once there the experience is essentially what it's always been. However, fewer booths mean there is only a single row of vendors along the south side of Columbus, rather than the previous four-packs of stands down the middle of the drive.

On Thursday afternoon, this made the throng along the main drag less dense, and Columbus should be less densely packed even on busier days. The lines I experienced at the food booths were short or non-existent, but it seems possible that with fewer booths, many may be considerably more crowded on Saturday or Sunday.

But for me, the key to the Taste, on any day, is to take it casually. Although I enjoy Thursday's musical act, Death Cab for Cutie, I had no intention of making my visit a six-hour affair. I got 2 strips of food tickets ($8 for 12 tix) and spent roughly 80 minutes strolling around, seeing what appealed to me and having a pretty robust lunch for $16. I didn't even have to spend on beverages, as free Sierra Mist and Pepsi Next promotional booths adequately fulfilled that need.

In other words, I like to treat it as a nice walk with some unique food (and perhaps some free entertainment, though I didn't view any this year), rather than concern myself with the enormity of the event. So while some people hate the Taste, I love it.

My Tasting strategy also includes availing myself of "Taste" portions, which only require 3, 4 or 5 tickets, rather than the 8 or more many regular portions entail. This allows me to try more things for my $16. I also tend to stay away from pizza and ribs, which I can easily get elsewhere throughout the year, and though Eli's cheesecake is a perennial choice, the Taste is the only place I eat it.

So what did I eat? Glad you asked. (Warning: hardcore vegetarians may want to look away at this point)

Tortilla Encrusted Tilapia Taco
Carbon Live Fire Mexican Gril
4 tickets
Rating: @@@@@
Slow Braised Beef (Taste Portion)
Inspiration Kitchens
(a Pop-Up one day vendor)
5 tickets
Pork Filled Banana Dumpling
Sabor Latino

4 tickets
(I also enjoy their Steak Jibarito, which I've had in past years)
Chocolate Frozen "Baby" Banana (Taste portion)
The Fudge Pot
3 tickets

2 tickets
Mini Chocolate Chip Crunch Dipper
Eli's Cheesecake
5 tickets
1 ticket remaining

And for good measure, a nice shot of Buckingham Fountain:

Click here for more information on the Taste of Chicago, including participating restaurants and entertainment schedules.

1 comment:

Chris from said...

The taco, braised beef and dumpling look really delicious! I've never been to Chicago and this is one of the many places I'm dying to visit.