Like most Chicago natives, I annually avoid the Taste of Chicago as though its name were the Taste of Cholera.
The Taste of Chicago
The thought of standing in saturating Chicago humidity, going elbow-to-elbow with tank-topped rubes on a snack pilgrimage from far-flung places like Kankakee and Racine, couldn’t be more repellent to me. And yet…
I had to run a quick errand during my lunch break yesterday, which put me right outside the Jackson street entrance to the Taste. “What’s the harm?” I thought, “I’m right here.”
It was Day One for the Taste,and I was there early, only 50 minutes past when gates opened. It was humid, 90-something, and sunny, and I was dressed in black. I thought about turning back for the office once the first beads gathered around my forehead, but I was going to “man it out.” I marched forward to the ticket booth.
I bought 12 tickets for eight dollars, which didn’t seem all that outrageous (a Jimmy John’s lunch will run you about the same). From there, I decided to only buy dishes/entrees that I don’t normally have access to. While I appreciate the presence of Home Run Inn, Connie’s, and Lou Malnati’s at the Taste, there’s nothing unique about me eating their pizzas, so those booths were an easy “pass.” Note to all three: I’ll see you all soon in your more comfortable confines.
Steps way from the ticket kiosk was African restaurant Vee Vee’s. I was looking for something different, and really, nothing screams “different”like an entree of goat.
I walked right up, and traded the majority of my tickets for a paper boat filled with goat. It was like my own version of “Green Eggs and Ham”: Would you, could you, in a boat? Would you, could you, with a goat? Yes, Sam I Am. I would eat it in a boat. I would eat that African goat.
In case you’re wondering, it tasted like beef brisket. Yummyish.
After getting my goat (heh), I had to buy another 12 tickets. One entree had effectively wiped out my stash.
I marched due south, finally landing at Lagniappe, who was serving up chicken and waffles. Growing up in Chicago, that combination always seemed like an awful idea “those crazy crackers” in the south came up with. I had to know for sure.
The chicken was really good; its creole seasoning was subtle enough to give it some punch, but it was in no way overwhelming. The Belgian waffle beneath it? Delicious, but totally unnecessary. There was no way to eat the chicken simultaneously with the waffle, so it was kinda like having toast on the same plate as an omelet. Both are tasty and nice building blocks for a meal, but they don’t need the other to exist.
Between the syrup and fried chicken, the chicken and waffle entree left my hands a greasy, sticky,mess. The single wet nap Lagniappe gave me was a lovely souvenir, but I needed 20 to properly towel off.
While the types of food I had were worth mentioning, the overall Taste experience is pretty miserable. Making it most unpleasant is the basic premise of eating hot food under a hot sun. I need a breeze. And a comfortable chair. And,as mentioned earlier, elbow room. After buying food, there’s a need to scramble to find somewhere…anywhere…to sit and eat that hot food. In most cases, it’s a curb. This leads to another issue: Wandering eaters.
There just aren’t enough reasonable places at the Taste to drop anchor and eat. As such, the throngs milling up and down Columbus are eating while they walk. And they walk s l o w l y. Between roving diners and the city’s usual texting-while-walkers, mobility is totally stifled. It was pretty bad yesterday; I can’t imagine it at peak hours.
Once you’ve filled your belly, there’s nothing left to do at the Taste. Sure, you can take in some of the advertising partner booths (e.g. the Illinois Lottery), but there’s no real joy in doing so. And the talent lineup? Weak.
Take, for example, the 4th: Killing time in a huge sweaty crowd that grows and grows as the day progresses for the opportunity to see a shit sandwich like Passion Pit for free just plain isn’t worth it.
And with that, I’m back to treating the event like the Taste of Cholera.