Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Eating my way through day 2....

"I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail." H.L. Mencken
(Hope and me, in front of Buckingham Fountain and ONE of the great downtown skyline views.)
Well, I have to admit, I have not seen a chitling at the Taste of Chicago (thank goodness!), but there's always the famous Robinson's if you have a yen for spareribs! BUT, if you want a healthier option, there's BJ's Market's TURKEY ribs: the breast meat still attached to the rib, cooked oh so fall off the bone tender in BBQ sauce. Healthy never tasted so decadent! And that's how we started the feast today, before even leaving home, with some of BJ's turkey ribs for lunch. I topped it off with a half beignet from Lagniappe Creole Cajun Joynt leftover from yesterday. (Don't know how I forgot to chronicle this little lump of heaven in yesterday's Taste-imonial! I'll be going back for more and tell you about it again, I'm sure!)

Of course, eating lunch before didn't mean we ate any less once we arrived at the Taste! I decided today would be adventurous. On the way in, I decided to try the spinach, mushroom and feta crepe from Shokolad Pastry & Cafe. It seemed like it would be a healthy way to start the evening graze,... until they handed it to me adorned with a HUGE dollop of sour cream! I endeavored anyway and found it quite Taste-y. So much so, that I had it devoured before the thought of taking a photo even occurred to me.

I passed on the Gyro I'd been craving for a few days (preferring to wait until my stomach was emptier because this is one of the larger items at the Taste). Rather, I stopped to try a pork filled banana dumpling and Key lime shortbread from Sabor Latino. They were only 4 tickets each so I figured they couldn't be that large. The dumpling was a bit more than I thought it would be, but it was a Taste bust so I didn't waste precious calorie consumption trying to finish it. The dumpling didn't taste anything like banana and, although the pork WAS quite Taste-y, I was hardpressed to find more than a few morsels of it in the center. (Not exactly what I would describe as "stuffed.") I stuck the shortbread in my pocket, for I'd seen a sign listing the intriguing mashed potato stuffed chocolate cupcake at Polo Cafe & Catering Bridgeport USA. (Stuffed items seemed to be becoming the theme for the day!) I like mashed potatos and I LOVE chocolate cupcakes, I just couldn't figure out why anyone would think to put them together, ... and then top it all with powdered sugar! Since I couldn't imagine it, I just had to try it!

Hope inquired of the chef, who was out front of his booth on the sidewalk hawking his cuisine, and she was told that he formerly had been a baker, hence the chocolate cupcake, and now ran a restaurant where they sold a lot of mashed potatos, so he decided the combine them and wrap them in a silver foil cup to commemorate the restaurant's 25th anniversary. Ooookaaaay! Well, gotta give him kudos for creativity! So the chocolate cupcake was excellent and the mashed potatos were pretty good, but I think I'd still have preferred them during separate courses than in the same cup!
Now, we're still just in transit and haven't even reached the BJ's Market booth until this point! Once we arrived at the booth, brother-in-law John asked if we wanted to go to a party, the party put on for the vendors. This is one of the perq's of being related to a vendor! He gave us wristbands and led us on over to the tent where there was a hog heaven of food to sample from various vendors, wine, beer, and reserved access to the concert going on at the Petrillo Band Shell - no food tickets required! We nibbled on Iyanze's jerked chicken; Guey Lon's tempura vegetables; prime rib quesadillas from The Grill on the Alley; Timothy O'Toole's Pub buffalo wings (THE absolute TASTE-IEST thing I had today! As buffalo wings go, they wer simply perfect!); Cakey Brownies from Ina's (too appropriate for my namesake restaurant to offer one of my most favorite desserts AND they were MOST EXCELLENT!); Tutto Italiano's fried ravioli; fried okra from Harold's Chicken; Italian breaded steak sandwich from Ricobene's; .... there may have been more that we consumed and there was much more offered, but I was too busy consuming to take notes (or photos)!
So after pilfering a few more plates for the kids, we waddled on back to BJ's booth, where Brianna was all too happy at our return (not sure if she was happy to see US or the plates we were carrying)...

After Bri had opportunity to benefit from our partaking at the vendor party trough, she, Hope and I took a walk to Buckingham Fountain and enjoyed the beautiful Chicago lakefront environment and gardens. A perfect ending to a lovely day at the Taste of Chicago. Thank God for Montgomery Ward who had the foresight to protect this area from developers and the current Mayor Daley who has done such a wonderful job of beautifying the city. The area around Buckingham Fountain has even been paved, making the stroll much cleaner and easier on the shoes. I have to say that I DO miss the pea gravel and dust for sentimental reasons. Strolling on pavers is just not the same as running through and kicking up the dust from my childhood. It's progress, though! And the gardens surrounding the fountain are now downright gorgeous.

There was some mention of ice cream on the way back from the fountain, but I think we were all a bit too chilled in the evening air and more than a bit engorged from our prior feasting, so ice cream was put on hold for another day. However, I DID remember the little square of Key lime shortbread I'd stashed in my pocket earlier and Hope and I stuffed a few bites of that in. It was definitely worth stuffing!
I MUST get a workout in tomorrow! After all, I've already spied the upside down caramel cupcake at Abundance Bakery, petite grilled prime sirloin steak sandwiches with Bearnaise sauce at Polo Cafe, Japanese shrimp tempura burger & white sweet potato tempura from Summer Rice & noodle,.... and there's still the beignets to repeat! So much still to Taste and only 4 days left to fit it in...!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Finally Taste-ing!!!

Ahhhhh.... Back at the Taste of Chicago and BJ's Market & Bakery!

Was held up on the airplane in Houston due to some undisclosed maintenance issue, so lost a couple hours, but I have finally arrived!!! Adding insult to injury, however, the airplane food (even in 1st class) upset my tummy - NOT the way to start at Taste. So I did my best to recover and took it a LITTLE light for my first evening.

I heard they had great attendance on opening day Friday, but the pace has been pretty slow since then. The "down economy" just keeps taking its toll every direction you turn. Nonetheless, we will take advantage of the smaller crowds by venturing out and visiting as many vendors as we can while the lines are short. I expect, down economy or not, lines WILL get longer as we approach the holiday weekend.

So, there can't be much better way to start ANY visit to Chicago than with PIZZA! My first Taste stop just had to be Lou Malnati's for a flavorful sausage slice of Chicago style (deep dish for those who aren't connoisseurs) pizza. And, from past experience, the "Taste-iest" way to get your roughage at the festival is Lou's chopped salad with just the right mix of Romaine, tomato, olives, feta, bacon bits,... in a light and mild dressing that must be their own creation. It is DEEEE-lish!

Since I arrived late and with questionable digestive status, pizza and salad was the only gastric delight I planned to have on my first outing. BUT THEN,....

My niece, Brianna, had to come sit her overflowing plate of crispy sweet potato chips from BJ's Market & Bakery next to me. She must have noticed my longing glance. She told me I could have some - just the temptation I couldn't refuse! So I nibbled on just a few perfectly crisp, nicely cinnamon and sugar spiced chips. MMM..mmm! Had to keep it to just a few, though. The week is still young.

Meanwhile, my sister, Hope, and Brianna acquired a boat of pot stickers from the Star of Siam booth next door. They were both quite satisfied with this time-tested favorite. I Taste-d just a corner. Pot stickers aren't really my thing, but I must admit, the sauce was more than worth the nibble....

Back at the BJ's Market booth, I found my brother-in-law, John Meyer (chef extraordinaire and owner of BJ's) working doggedly - HA! (He's the one reclined on the right.)
To be fair, he was just taking advantage of the lull in the crowds, as were we....

We took a few more strolls around the festival to scope out the offerings and begin plotting the rest of the week's culinary escapades. Every time I would comment, " ooo, THAT sounds good!" in reaction to menu item postings, Hope would ask if I wanted to try it. I kept responding that "I have to pace myself!" and made a mental note of where I'd be returning later in the week....

That pretty much covers MY 1st day at the 30th Annual Taste of Chicago. I DID have one last indulgence. It got cool in the evening, for which I was unprepared in my short sleeves. (After leaving 95 deg. and 95% humidity in Houston, it didn't take long for the refreshment of 8o deg. to transform into the goosebumps of 70 deg!) So, since I was quite chilled and forced to stay until the end, I figured a nice boat of warm BJ's peach cobbler would be just the thing to help me stay comfortable! Sorry, was too busy spooning and moaning in pleasure to snap a photo, but I have 5 more days.....

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Taste-monial Intro!

It's time to Taste again and I'll be back to report! This year I'm going to try to get a little more technologically current and blog my Taste-imonials, capturing the sights and sounds, but most importantly the TASTES of Taste of Chicago! I'm getting a bit of a late start because I couldn't afford the air fare to get there for the kickoff today. BUT I'll be there Tuesday - Saturday and report on my abbreviated experiences. Hope you enjoy Taste-ing vicariously!