(photo by he_arthur/Flickr)
You can bitch and moan as much as you'd like, but you've got to hand it to the folks at the Mayor's Office of Special Events: the fact that the city is in the midst of celebrating its 30th friggin' annual Taste of Chicago is pretty remarkable. There are long lines and large crowds to be sure, and I wouldn't even dare try to bring a car anywhere within a mile of Grant Park until after the 4th, but this year, I've been heartened by a few changes.
First of all, if you have a booth at this year's Taste, it means your business actually has to have a location within the city limits. No more carpetbaggers from the near suburbs or the collar counties. Here's lookin' at you, Aunt Diana's Old Fashioned Fudge (Riverside), Buona Beef (Berwyn) and Sweet Baby Ray's.
I tend to stay away from the booths that offer only fried items (french fries, various Puerto Rican joints, etc.) and seek out the new, interesting - dare I say - ambitious items. Carbon, a fun little taqueria beneath the Dan Ryan, will offer up small "Taste" portions only of its signature steak, chicken, fish and veggie tacos. Ukrainian Village's Shokolad Cafe will have its signature verenky (dumplings) on hand, as well as sweet crepes with cheese and fruit. Pegasus is another newcomer this year, and brings with it the signature dishes from its Greektown base: spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie), meatballs, gyros and chicken wraps. A big surprise this year includes the addition of Bobak's, one of the region's premier sausage companies. They'll have kielbasa on the grill for sure. You can see some of the newcomers to Taste right here, after 11:30 a.m. today.
There will be more than 50 vendors this year - a far cry from the handful restaurateur Arnie Morton convinced to set up shop on Michigan Avenue in 1980. Who would have ever thought that big-name TV food personalities Mario Batali and Giada DeLaurentis would include the event on their schedules, to come teach a class at the Dominick's Cooking Corner next to Buckingham Fountain?
Tonight at 10 p.m., I'm going to show you some of the restaurants that really speak to the diversity and deliciousness that is Chicago, giving us a "taste" everyday of the year. Better take notes, because you're not likely to find them at "The Taste" anytime soon. You can watch the video here after 10:30 p.m.