Taste of Chicago 2009

June 29 2009 - 11:34 AM

The Taste of Chicago is the city's largest draw in terms of visitors, and you either love it or hate it. Though many foodie cognoscenti turn up their noses at the prospect of Port-a-Potties, waiting in long lines, torrential sweat-inducing 90+ weather, and the possibility of people packing other kinds of heat, I say this is no reason to miss out on Chicago's celebration of the best deadly sin: gluttony. You simply need to have a little strategy and planning before attending.

To avoid the elbow-to-elbow crowds, I stopped by the Taste a little after the weekday lunch rush, at 1:30 pm or so. I was able to buy tickets in minutes, and never had to wait to buy food. This was a vast improvement over last year, when I showed up on a weekend afternoon, during the Stevie Wonder concert.

I recommend scanning the list of vendor booths beforehand, and jotting down ones to target. This year, the item with the greatest Whiz-Bang appeal is definitely Garrett's Popcornsicle, or a caramel & cheese popcorn ball flash frozen in liquid nitrogen. You can see the liquid nitrogen steaming off of your popcornsicle for a minute or two after receiving it. The popcorn ball itself is crunchy, cold and refreshing on a hot day. It will set you back 6 tickets.

Here we have the taste portion of Vermillion's cumin-dusted fries with date chutney. These were piping hot, well-seasoned with cumin and salt, and the date chutney complemented the fries nicely. At two tickets, this is one of the best deals you can get at the festival.

Sabor Latino's pork and banana dumpling (4 tickets) was unfortunately a miss. The dumpling was a squishy, fried mass, with turmeric and some other spices reminiscent of Indian cooking, but I couldn't really detect any banana or much pork flavoring in the contents. Taste of Chicago has never been known for its health benefits, but the dumpling was overly salty and greasy, and I put it down after a few bites.

At this point, I'd spent my strip of tickets and was ready to leave. In general, Taste of Chicago is optimal for afternoon grazing, trying restaurants which are normally too far to reach (Rainbow Cone?), and people watching on the lakefront. If you'd rather not make a meal out of fried objects on sticks, eat lightly beforehand and bring a group to split items with.

Taste of Chicago 2009
Columbus Dr, between Monroe & Balbo
June 26 – July 5, 11 am – 9 pm
Free admission, tickets are sold in strips of a dozen for $8