If any event has the power to bring locals and tourists together, it’s the city’s annual Taste of Chicago
. This year’s culinary festival promises to be an even bigger hit with its celebrity lineup, including Food Network’s Emeril Lagasse, who will kick things off on opening day (4 p.m. on Friday, June 26 at Dominick’s Cooking Corner) with a cooking demo and book signing. Emeril’s known for his expertise on the grill (nothing says “bam!” like rising flames), and Chicagoans are known for their, um, intimate relationship with barbecued foods. In honor of this match made in heaven, here’s our recommendation for a grilled-food day at the Taste.
Grilled Anjou pear salad at The Grill on the Alley (Booth 12)
Located on the Magnificent Mile, this upscale steak and seafood house has been slingin’ the grilled fare for Chicagoans since its inception in June 2000. But at TOC, the restaurant takes on a different appeal as it’s stripped of its regular swanky, 1920s-style decor and tucked tightly into a booth. Fortunately, executive chef Anselmo Gallegos’ food lives up to its elite expectations in the festival’s less than glamorous surroundings. While the showstopper here seems to be the prime rib quesadilla, we recommend skipping the beef and starting with something a little more refreshing like the grilled Anjou pear salad with walnuts and Maytag blue cheese. (TOC: where even the salads are grilled.)
Polish sausage sandwich at Kasia's Deli (Booth 47)
We know what you’re thinking. Kasia’s is known for its award-winning pierogi (President Clinton and Mayor Daley are among its numerous fans), so why would you get anything else at this booth? You'll be singing a different tune once you get a look at the grilled Polish sausage sandwich with sautéed onions. After all, who better to make you a Polish sausage than the city's reigning purveyor of Polish cuisine? Just make sure that you pick up some pierogi while you’re there; there’s no sense trying to resist a legend.
Grilled skirt steak at Las Tablas (Booth 48)
photo: courtesy of Bridget Montgomery
Las Tablas' grilled skirt steak
Folks love this meat-heavy restaurant for its huge portions and flashy service (meat served on swords, anyone?). The all-you-can-eat option won’t be in effect at TOC unless you really overbought on tickets, but you can still get the famous grilled skirt steak. Served with sweet plantain wedges, the juicy delight is a must for any meat-lover. The marinated grilled chicken is another option for the slightly less carnivorous.
Chicken breast with onions at Polka Sausage and Deli (Booth 13)
Established in 1945, this authentic Polish staple makes its own sausage and bratwurst in a small factory behind the deli. So you’re sure to be tempted by both creations at this booth. But if you’ve already had your fill of sausage (and you call yourself a Chicagoan?) the grilled chicken with onions makes for a good –- even healthy – substitute.
Char-grilled chicken kabob at Vermilion (Booth 10)
Ever wondered what happens when Indian cuisine clashes with Latin-American fare? The answer lies in the contemporary items found at this fusion-fueled restaurant. We can’t think of a publication that Vermilion’s name hasn’t graced, but we know there are plenty of palates that its cuisine has yet to please. Try the restaurant’s char-grilled chicken kabob with mango-mint chutney with caution, because after you take a bite, no other stick-friendly food will compare. Good thing it’s the last stop on our list.