Taste of Chicago preview: The good, the bad and the bland
Fourth time's the charm.
The sun shone brightly at Daley Plaza for today’s mini Taste of Chicago. Three previous tastings had less-than-ideal weather.
If today’s eight vendors were a sample of what to expect at the end of this month, get ready for a lot of sandwiches and pizza. Festivals pose many challenges for food vendors, but if a restaurant is going to take the safe road and serve sandwiches, they better be as good as Robinson’s No. 1 Ribs' boneless rib sandwich.
Lagniappe-Creole Cajun Joint's crawfish boil looked tantalizing—but also messy. The pralines-and-cream ice cream was more weather-appropriate.
Adobo Grill's famous guacamole, studded with thick chunks of avocado, was the highlight of the day. Hass avocados from California, garlic, onions, tomato and a little lime juice made for a refreshing snack to cool off with while waiting in line. Adobo boasted the longest lines of the event, offering cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork marinated in achiote), tacos and chicken tamales alongside the guacamole.
Garrett Popcorn Shop’s Popcornsicle and Polo Café’s Mashed Potatoes Stuffed Chocolate Cupcake vied for most bizarre dessert. The Popcornsicle, flash-frozen caramel popcorn on a stick, wins based on taste. Garrett’s sweet and crunchy caramel corn is even better cold, and the smoke adds a bit of mystique. It’s sure to be a hit with kids and the easily amused.
The Mashed Potato Stuffed Chocolate Cupcake, on the other hand, fell short of expectations. Served warm in a muffin tin and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar, the cupcake was weak on both chocolate and potato flavor. Re-create it yourself at home with a Hungry-Man frozen dinner. Just dig a hole in the brownie and shovel some mashed potatoes in for an equally bland DIY version.
Doreen’s Pizza and Timothy O’Toole’s are newcomers to the Taste this year. Still, I would pick Lincoln Park’s Bacino's over Doreen's. The stuffed pizzas are a treat, with a crust similar to Lou Malnati’s and plenty of gooey mozzarella. The Stuffed Spinach Pizza is dubiously recognized as “heart healthy” by the Chicago Heart Association, but it failed to make Humana's Healthier Choices Menu. Healthy or not, the pizzas were a hit and had to be replenished just an hour into the event.
The 30th Annual Taste of Chicago takes place June 25—July 4 in Grant Park and features 45 more vendors, with many international offerings. If you're looking for me, I'll be heading back to Adobo Grill for that guacamole and Robinson’s for another sandwich.