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September 19, 2007

Annual Chicagoland festival of gluttony packs big taste for an affordable price

They came to eat.

The masses of Chicago and its surrounding area came to Taste of Chicago once again this summer to produce the same great hit. Taste of Chicago, also known simply as Taste, occurs the week before the Fourth of July weekend and features myriad restaurants from Chicago and the diverse types of food the city has to offer. Each restaurant had its own booth and three selections of food from its menu. The fourth option from each booth was a cheaper three-ticket “taste” of one of the items on the menu. You could buy tickets as you walked into Grant Park.

Though the food came from local restaurants separated by their cuisine, the pilgrimage of tasters brought a sense of community that came from a desire to eat. And boy, did they eat. People walked around with a variety of foods, all stuffing their faces with the magical flavors that the park had to offer. The most shocking of the food offered was a turkey leg, a 12-inch monstrosity that few appeared able to finish, though many attempted the feat. Throughout the multi-block affair, many of these legs were seen. They seemed to be the most extreme take on the food consumption at Taste.

There were other less drastic types of food that calmed the salivating mouths of the masses. My favorites were deep fried artichokes with a curry-mayonnaise sauce, gazpacho (though few of my companions knew what this cold tomato soup was), and paprika fries with pomegranate chutney. Though I sampled many foods, I was most taken by the paprika fries. The flavors came together to excite the taste buds and remind me of both Middle Eastern and down-home American cooking. They were hands-down my favorite, and a dish for which I went back not only for seconds, but thirds.

Though there were reports of food poisoning from one booth’s hummus, few were deterred from venturing to downtown Chicago to try a taste or two.

The week of the event was unusually nice, with weather that wasn’t as boiling hot as is usually experienced in the summer months. Instead, on the two occasions I had to visit the event, the days were warm but not overpowering, with clear skies that granted visibility of the teeming masses from the top of the Ferris wheel.

My favorite part of Taste (besides the fries) was the Ferris wheel. My ride on it made the money I shelled out to enjoy the food worthwhile; however, at five tickets, it was one of the more expensive things I purchased at Taste. At 7 dollars for 11 tickets, though, I didn’t exactly break the bank.

Also at Taste were a variety of music groups, from John Mayer to Cheap Trick to the Black Crowes. I have to admit that despite my love of the teeming masses enjoyably stuffing their faces with the greatest food in Chicago, I was deterred by the crowds at these shows, and therefore stuck to the Ferris wheel.

Taste of Chicago inspires those who visit to do many things. Some learn to cook their favorite dishes. A few of my friends perfected the art of deep-frying artichokes with mayonnaise sauce. Some aspire to come back every year; this was not my first year at Taste. Some seek out their favorite restaurants from Taste to explore the full menu of options that eatery has to offer. After all, from the perspective of the restaurants, the point of Taste is promotion. It is not, however, the point for the visitors of Taste.

They come to eat.