Over the course of my life, I’ve been to Chicago dozens of times, but I’ve never been able to attend Taste of Chicago. I’d heard stories from my mom, a Chicago native, about how expansive the festival was decades ago, so naturally I became curious as to what the festival looked like today. When I finally showed up on Saturday, I was not disappointed.
Though it seemed as if every person in the city took off work to attend the festival, it never felt too crowded. The setup was spacious and wide, giving breathing room and allowing attendees to take their time and browse all of the vendors. There was an overwhelming variety of food available, reflecting Chicago’s wonderful ethnic diversity. As an incredibly impatient person, I was very thankful that the line for the ticket booth went by quickly. Hungry and eager to expand our suburban midwestern palettes, my friends and I set off to eat. First, we bee-lined to the Ricobene’s stand to try their fried steak sandwich, named by USA Today writer Ted Berg as the best sandwich in the world. Coming topped with oozing mozzarella cheese and spicy giardiniera (an Italian relish comprised of vegetables pickled in oil or vinegar), the piping hot sandwich was a delicious way to start things off. The crunchy texture of the steak juxtaposed itself perfectly with the warm, intense flavor of the giardiniera. While I’m not nearly qualified to say if it’s the best sandwich in the world, it’s certainly one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Next, we tried something we were all a little more unfamiliar with: Vee-Vee’s African Restaurant. We ordered the jerk chicken with red beans and rice. The chicken was tender, seasoned well, and most importantly, spicy. As someone who LOVES spicy food, the chicken hit that spicy sweet spot of being subtle enough to have complex flavor, but bold enough to be exciting. The red beans and rice complimented the chicken well, being not too wet, not too dry, and evenly seasoned. Lastly, we searched the festival for some tried and true Chicago barbeque. We ended up getting barbeque ribs from the humble but exquisite Ben’s Bar-Be-Cue. Barbecue is a delicate art, and it is extremely difficult to hit that perfect blend of spice, smokiness, fat, cut, and bone. Many barbecue dishes that have been going viral on cooking blogs lately have featured overzealous slatherings of sugary sweet sauces to disguise low quality meat. Ben’s does away with all of that superfluous nonsense and instead focuses on a more subtle, smoky flavor. The sauce uses peaches and apricots, which combined with her vinegar hot sauce, lead to a unique and bold taste. Food wise, my first Taste of Chicago experience lived up to my expectations, and I’m excited to return next year.
After eating our hearts out, we headed to the ticket booth to see Passion Pit. To our surprise, the attendants were literally GIVING the tickets away. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, my friends and I went into the viewing area to enjoy the show.
When Passion Pit (@passionpit) first started getting Top 40 radio play back in 2008 with their hit single “Sleepyhead,” the mainstream pop scene was being flooded by indie music. Apparently, the public was starting to become sick of the ringtone rap spearheaded by Soulja Boy and Flo Rida, as the “indie sound” quickly became the newest trend in music. Quirky vocals and crystalline synths soon became the norm. Many of these bands produced only one hit wonders, fading quickly into obscurity. However, Passion Pit’s nostalgic, uplifting sound and respectable work ethic made them stand out amongst their peers. The band is revered within the scene for combining sparkling, upbeat electronic melodies with intimate songwriting and booming kick drums. If you listen closely, the lyrics are often not as uplifting as the instrumentation suggests, the soulful and vulnerable falsetto of frontman Michael Angelakos nonetheless serve to lift up and inspire. Their set at Taste was incredible; Angelakos brought humble charm and striking stage presence. I was surprised that he was actually able to hit all of the band’s famous falsettos live. Angelakos threw beach balls into the crowd that everybody smacked as they were screaming along. They performed all of their hit singles, ending off the night with “Sleepyhead.” The crowd was electrified, and I’m happy to say that Passion Pit’s performance exceeded my expectations.