For those who may not follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I attended my first Taste of Chicago a bit over a week ago. According to its website: it’s “the nation’s premiere outdoor food festival showcasing the diversity of Chicago’s dining community”. Held in downtown Chicago at Grant Park, it also included music performances by a variety of established and emerging artists.
In the five days I was there, I ate my way through a maze of great food and had a great time visiting the city in the process. There are three things I love just as much as writing: food, music and culture. Therefore, I wanted to share a few things that I loved about not only Taste of Chicago, but also the city of Chicago in general; the food I indulged in, the neighborhood I stayed in, etc. It was the perfect mini-vacay, where I packed in as much as I could in a limited amount of time.
I’m a relatively healthy eater; I eat fish and some seafood but no chicken, beef or pork. So I wanted to indulge but not to the point where my stomach would pay for it later. To be honest, if you’ve never visited the city, Chicago is a relatively healthy place. There were plenty of vegetarian options at many vendor stations, so I was happy to know the choice was available.
That being said, “When in Rome…” My first snack was Chicago-style fries – which were topped with chopped onions, roasted carrots, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and melted cheddar cheese. They were good, yes! But everything in moderation, so over the course of my visit to Grant Park, I drank a lot of water (it is summertime), ate lots of fruit (watermelon slices, grapefruit bites, pineapple bites, even a dark chocolate frozen banana). But I also treated myself to a Nutella crepe. Though I don’t remember what they’re called, I inhaled a Jamaican vegetarian dish of corn patties with a side of Buffalo fish; four little crispy patties that were quite delicious. Even on my way to the park one day, I stopped at a veggie cafe I’d spotted before and had a black bean burger and a wheatgrass shot.
I stayed in a hostel located in Wicker Park/Bucktown, a hip and happening neighborhood, on Chicago’s west side. I loved the area because it was easy access to the train and bus, which is on the Blue Line, and the hostel was very inexpensive. Plus it’s an eclectic part of the city full of different races and cultures, cafes, coffee shops, music venues, art galleries and restaurants; even spotted a record store. Furthermore, several times throughout my stay, I’d grab lunch at a café and head over to Wicker Park; cop a squat on the grass and just chill with my iPod and people watch. As a dog owner, one day I chatted up a fellow owner with a Corgi and one with a Poodle.
Smoothies were my breakfast of choice on some days. I’d get them from a local shop called The Green Corner. I ate a couple of times at Native Foods, a fast-casual vegan café, and had their Lavender Hibiscus tea sweetened with organic agave. I also spent several hours on my laptop writing at Caribou Coffee and Filter Lounge Café, noshing on good stuff too, including a tofu scramble on croissant with feta cheese. Stopped at another spot, which I can’t recall its name, and had their Sloppy Jane, which is made with soy crumbles instead of meat and a side of tater tots with a dill pickle.
It’s funny how a place can insert itself into your life, seemingly by accident, and then take on mythical powers of attraction. – Luke Barr (grand-nephew of the late food writer M. F. K. Fisher)
Technically, this was my third visit to Chicago. Once many years ago with an ex; the second time was a six-hour stop via Amtrak. This time, my main two reasons was to catch Robin Thicke and Estelle perform on Thursday night, and Jill Scott and Maxi Priest on Saturday night. Still, I had no plans to attend The Taste (as the locals call it) on Wednesday (opening day) but I found my way there pretty much as soon as I arrived at O’Hare. And glad I did. It gave me the opportunity to get a lay-of-the-land without a huge crowd, plan my food route as well as purchase food tickets (12 for $8), and to find out exactly where the music would be playing.
Wednesday night: Indie pop band Fun. played an evening set at the Petrillo Music Shell, while indie rock band Delta Spirit opened for them. Two words: huge crowds! Both bands played great sets, including “Some Nights”, “Carry On”, “We Are Young” as well as “Tear It Up”, “California” and the like. I was so far back from the stage that I could only see them on the single gigantic screen in the middle of the park. Ah well. I also caught a band of musicians earlier in the day called Great Divide. They mix up rock and soul; they played on the Bud Light Stage, which showcased local acts.
Thursday night: English R&B singer Estelle did an opening set of old-school R&B and hip-hop as well as performed several of her hits such as “American Boy”, “Freak” and “Thank You”. She then brought out a surprise guest – Chicago singer Jeremih. He sang his hit singles “Down on Me” and “Birthday Sex” while Estelle changed outfits.
As smooth and sexy as ever, Robin Thicke sauntered onto the stage shortly after Estelle’s set ended. The 35-year old married father of one, jumped right into his mega-hit “Blurred Lines” and then coasted through his catalog of songs like “Magic”, “Love After War” “Pretty Lil’ Heart” and of course, “Lost Without U”. He then ended where he started, with another performance of “Blurred Lines”!
Saturday night: British pop/reggae artist Maxi Priest did his thing singing tracks from his stash of 90’s tunes such as “Close to You” and his Shabba Ranks-duet (sans Shabba) “House Call (Your Body Can’t Lie to Me)”. He also covered Bob Marley’s sweet tune “Is This Love”.
The treat of my entire trip was seeing Jill Scott live again. This was my third time. As a singer, songwriter, actress and poet, she teased us with an opening act prior to Maxi Priest – spoken-word poetry collective Fiveology. They consist of five guys (nationally known poetry slam champions) reciting original material about relationships, love and honesty. They were pretty awesome.
The songtress herself, Jill Scott, appeared on stage confidently and quite sassy. The entire show she donned a gold-plated grill on her lower teeth. Pretty gangsta! She slowly ran through tracks like “So In Love”, “Golden” “Whatever” “Gimme” and “A Long Walk”. She even did an operatic show of, if I’m not mistaken, “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)” from her 2001 debut, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Songs, V1. It was so beautifully long that I forgot what song it originally began as!
On Sunday night I attended Westfest Chicago, a neighborhood music festival on the west side of the city. A street party of epic proportions; I arrived about 20 minutes into the legendary Derrick Carter’s DJ set. House music, summertime, outdoors. It was so hot and humid, all I could manage to do was grab a beer, snap a few photos and record like a minute of video.
I had to keep it moving! I needed to get to the food! I ended up at a spot that made vegan black bean tamales. I ate four. But the coolest thing, there was a food truck for dogs parked along the curb too. I bought my two-year old dachshund mix, Nick, a dog treat from Fido to Go, “Chicago’s premier gourmutt food truck for dogs” that makes hand-crafted, gluten and allergen-free canine treats. I got him the bacon wrapped in cheese treat they had on site. Gave it to him on Tuesday night and he loved it!
All in all, I had a wonderful time and I will definitely be back. Maybe next year I’ll hit up the Chicago Blues Fest, who knows.