In an ordinary year, summertime in Chicago means many things -- a plethora of fireworks, all manner of free events to attend in the city's parks, and more street festivals than you can shake a stick at. However, due to budget cuts, we've lost our annual 3rd of July fireworks display and Venetian Night (the second-largest fireworks presentation in the city accompanied by a boat parade along the lakefront) and the weekly free movies in Grant Park were cut as well. All three things were on my Summer 2010 to-do list before they were scrapped. So I had to be content with the one Chicago summer tradition that survived the budget crisis -- the Taste of Chicago.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Taste. In fact, I went last year with Joy when she came for a visit, and this year I made plans to go with Zac. I was slightly wary about how the afternoon would go, as he doesn't share my enthusiasm for adventuresome eating, but thankfully the Taste offers something to appeal to every palate. I needn't have worried at all -- we had a great time, just like we always do together.
Zac and I in front of Buckingham Fountain at the Taste.
Ever the diligent planner, I went into the Taste of Chicago having constructed a thorough game plan for everything I was going to eat, organized by the route I anticipated we would take. On this years menu were the obligatory pierogis from Kasia's Deli, which have never let me down, in addition to a "Taste portion" or sample, of the Ukrainian version of pierogis, varenyky, from Shokolad Pastry and Cafe. Overall, I found them to be a disappointment compared to my usual potato-filled dumpling selection. The varenyky I sampled contained both potato and cheese, which would ordinarily not be a problem except this cheese was of the sweet variety usually found in dessert pierogi. I found it to be an odd, not entirely savory pairing with the potato. I was more fond of the mini-churros I sampled from The Churro Factory, a new Pilsen spot recently opened by a popular street vendor from Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. They might not have anything on the sheer perfection available at Xoco, but they were still delightfully crisp on the outside while maintaining a soft, steaming interior. A half of a Polish sausage from Polka Sausage and Deli, and a sample size order of gyoza (Japanese dumplings) from Tamarind, one of my local favorites, rounded out my food for the day.
Nothing truly stuck out as great, but nothing stuck out as horrible either, unlike last year. Most notably, I managed to stick to an appropriate amount of food this year, and left the festival without feeling overstuffed or descending in a food coma. In spite of getting mildly sunburned, it was a perfect way to pass an afternoon with my sweetheart on a hot Chicago afternoon in summer.