A Squared: Chicago Street Festival Season for Foodies

Friday, July 25, 2014

Chicago Street Festival Season for Foodies

Summer is quite possibly the best time to be a Chicagoan. As the TV show proclaims, there are only 100 days of summer here in the Windy City and we certainly know how to make the most of them. Street festivals are a very Chicago thing. I recall a few fests taking place when I lived in Boston, but most of them were in the North End and affiliated with some Italian tradition or Catholic feast day-- which I am not knocking. I would never turn down twinkle lights, loud music, and a fresh cannoli! In Chicago though, fests are way more prevalent and definitely more diverse. Every summer weekend there are a handful of street festivals happening in neighborhood parks and streets all over the city. Live music, local businesses, and of course, great food and drinks are a requirement at any Chicago festival. I've been to a few lately and have a couple more on my To Do List, so here's the rundown:

Taste of Lakeview

Although the name suggests that this is a food-centric street fest, I think this summer festival is best described by its old name Rock Around the Block. It's a small street fest with a handful of local restaurants and bars selling food in addition to some of the festival standbys that you'll see all summer long. The real draw at this festival is definitely the live music. With two stages and festival favorites like Mike & Joe, Wedding Banned, and Two White Crew, and our new favorite the Hot Sauce Committee on deck, it's definitely one of the most fun musical line ups of any Chicago street festival I have attended.

Alexis, Kayla, & me

Back to the food, Alex was in junk food heaven at this festival trying a slice from Jet's pizza and these out of control brisket-topped fries from Mrs. Murphy's & Sons. The girls and and I went in another direction and tried one of those festival regulars that I mentioned: College Corn.

I saw tons of people walking around the Taste of Lakeview with these giant ears of corn and decided I needed to try one for myself. College Corn sells fresh ears of corn cooked and covered in butter, which you can then top your own combination of a variety of seasonings. I went with Parmesan and chipotle and it was delicious!

Taste of Chicago - The Good Life Embassy
The Loop

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Taste of Chicago. It is by far the largest of the food-centric festivals you'll find in the city with a wide variety of vendors and restaurants from all around Chicagoland there. From grocers to food trucks to high end restaurants, there is a little bit of everything here-- along with some pretty major musical acts headlining the festival. The downside is that it is typically very crowded and is notorious for getting a little rowdy. That said though, it's totally worth a visit-- and I would recommend a weeknight or earlier in the day on Saturday and Sunday.

I have been to the Taste a few times before and wasn't planning on going this year (since we had just moved into our new place), but when Olive Oils from Spain reached out and invited me to visit the Good Life Embassy tent for cocktails and a cooking demo I couldn't pass it up!

Spokes-chefs Diego Guerrero and Marc Murphy were both on hand that evening for live cooking demonstrations featuring olive oil from Spain. You may recognize chef Marc Murphy from various appearances on the Food Network, including his regular gig as a judge on Chopped. I got the chance to chat with him after the demo and he was as kind and funny (and cute) in person as you'd hope!

Me with chef Marc Murphy and Kit

And while I am a big fan of chef Murphy and the salmon crudo that he prepared in the demo was ery good, chef Guerrero's dish was definitely my favorite! His pan y huevos was rich and delicious: soft cooked eggs wrapped up in thin crispy bread and serrano ham surrounded by a rich sauce of pureed potato and olive oil. So good!

Me with 2 drinks: A sight not often seen.
Burger Fest
Roscoe Village

As the name suggest, this street festival is all about honoring the burger-- and selecting the best one in Chicago. This fest was definitely a foodie paradise with restaurants showcasing their best burger creations hoping to win the votes of festival attendees. I had never attended this one before, but I loved everything about it-- from the great food to the entertainment (Better Than Ezra played, people! Talk about a flashback) to the fact that it's in our new neighborhood just a few blocks away from our place. This is a good one. My one critique: All burgers served should be available in slider size. The more opportunities for sampling, the more likely I am to vote for you. I'm not putting all my voting eggs in one full size burger basket! So, here's what we ate:

First up: We tried The Slide Ride, a local food truck specializing in sliders. Alex ordered the Jalapeno Jack sliders, while I went for the Bacon Baby and we tried one of each. I'm not usually a fan of spicier food, but I really liked his choice-- they had a great kick of heat from both the pepper jack cheese and the pickled pepper slaw. And you can't go wrong with the combo of cheddar, bacon, and mustard caramelized onions on my slider pick!

Next up, Alex headed over to LeaderBar's booth for a slider so spicy it came with a disclaimer and he drank 2 cans of Coke trying to cool down. The El Diablo is topped with pepper jack cheese, habanero relish, jalapeƱo, grilled onions, and Sriracha mayo. Needless to say, I didn't go near this one!

Instead, I opted for a cup of delicious baked mac and cheese from Reggie's. It was simple and saucy and a nice break from the burgers!

Last, but not least: My favorite burger of the evening. Cortland's Garage earned the top honors at last year's Burger Fest and having never been, I wanted to check it out. And I would have to agree! The Cortland Street burger is cooked exactly how I like it (evenly, lean, and not rare) topped with white cheddar, crispy bacon, avocado, crispy onion strings, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Alexis tried their mac & cheese burger which also received rave reviews.

Hungry for more? Here are few upcoming Chicago street festivals fit for foodies:

Taste of Lincoln Avenue - July 26-27, 2014
Lincoln and Fullerton, Lincoln Park

Festa Italiana - August 14-17, 2014
1453 W. Taylor St., Little Italy

Chicago Food Social - August 23-24, 2014
Kendall College (parking lot), 900 N. North Branch St., River West

Taste of Greektown - August 23-24, 2014
400 S. Halsted, Greektown

Crush in Old Town - September 14-15, 2014
North and Wells, Old Town

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  1. burger fest?! ok you are making me really miss chicago!! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

    1. I don't know how I have never been, but I'll be going back every summer!

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