The Taste of Chicago Isn’t Just for Tourists
It’s been a few years since I visited the Taste of Chicago, but my memories are full of sweaty days and packed crowds in Grant Park. I stopped by the “world’s largest food festival” this week to cover it for Chicagoist, and while it was still hot and crowded, it was also a lot of fun.
Here are my favorite reasons to visit the 36th annual Taste of Chicago, especially if you live here.
Celebrity Chefs Abound
You know that fancy restaurant you keep meaning to try? Well the chef is here and he’s preparing dinner for you next to Buckingham Fountain in the Celebrity Chef du Jour tent. The ticketed dinners ($45) feature a different celebrity chef daily for multiple-course sit-down meals. Patrick Sheerin of Trenchermen, Nonnina’s Chris Macchia, and Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice will be cooking this weekend.
Food Trucks Galore
Maybe you work in a food truck desert like me or you’ve grown weary of the usual offerings. Maybe the promise of lobster mac & cheese is all you need to get excited about these roving restaurants. This year, rotating food trucks will be stationed at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive and also at Columbus near Balbo. Don’t miss sweet newcomers like InsideOut Cake by Auntie Vee’s and the Tahitian Vanilla Iced Donut at Firecakes.
Free stuff takes the cake, and this Saturday Eli’s will be distributing complimentary slices of its iconic cheesecake while supplies last. Eli’s will be marking their 36th anniversary with a giant cheesecake cutting at 12:30 p.m. They claim to be the top selling dessert at the Taste, dishing out over 2 million slices. You only need to sample their slow cultured cream cheese and sour cream to see why.
Foodie Podcasts Are Taping Live
Public radio personalities are more familiar to us than our own neighbors, so we can’t wait to listen in as culinary podcasts are recorded live. On Friday at 1 p.m. WBEZ’s Monica Eng will discuss the stories behind unique Chicago foods for Curious City. The Cooking Channel’s Dan Pashman hosts the James Beard Award nominated Sporkful podcast this Saturday at 1 p.m. On Sunday at 2 p.m. Hot Doug’s chef Dough Sohn rocks the mic.
Pop-Up Restaurants Are Sprouting Up
If you didn’t have enough options among the 30+ five-day restaurants represented at the Taste, take advantage of the eleven pop-up eateries. Our favorite pop-up offerings included Rojo Gusano’s butternut squash taco and the crispy, savory Buta Hara from Arami. The flavorful, filling winning fest dish was Jin Ju’s bulgolgi bowl. Discovering new neighborhood restaurants to visit just a bonus.
Watching free live music against Chicago’s skyline backdrop is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. This weekend, the Petrillo Music Shell will host The Decemberists, Billy Idol, and the Isley Brothers featuring Sheila E. A second stage at Columbus and Balbo will feature genre artists. Catch live jazz acts from 2:30-7:30 p.m. at the E&J Gallo Winery Wine Garden.
The Taste’s musical programming was off to an electric start on Wednesday with sold-out performances by Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, Chance the Rapper, and The Roots. You can read my full review on Chicagoist.
Chicagoans came out in masses to support their own on the stage. Chicago’s Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment offered an hour-long whirlwind of energetic, alt hip-hop complete with dancers and guest appearances by Joey Purp and D.R.A.M.
Chance appeared at the end of the set for four songs, including “No Problems” and “Blessings.” For a moment we forgot we were at a free, after-work food festival as Chance and Donnie Trumpet’s performance recalled their triumphant headlining set at last summer’s Pitchfork Music Fest.
If anyone could follow up this vibrant opener, it was The Legendary Roots Crew. The eclectic hip-hop icons delivered a funky, unwavering set led by Questlove’s rhythmic foundation and Black Thought’s lyrical ammunition. The crowd grooved from hit to hit, including “The Fire,” “Proceed,” and “The Seed (2.0)” along with covers of “Jungle Boogie” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” They may be Jimmy Fallon’s house band, but The Roots’ onstage aerobics haven’t lost any steam.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful Taste of Chicago!
The Taste of Chicago runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, July 8 and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.