As if it weren't already the most talked about subject in Chicago right now, chefs from across the city gave us their best attempts at street food during last Thursday's Taste of Chicago held in the Aragon Ballroom. The event benefited No Kid Hungry, Share Our Strength's campaign to end childhood hunger in America.
Even if they didn't all quite pull off the the street food theme, the 50-plus Chicago chefs brought a ridiculous amount of energy and enthusiasm to the floor. It was my first time attending, and after making my way through the congested entrance I was immediately caught up in the frenzy of it all. Attendees seemed to share a palpable sense of urgency; all of us wanting to try every single dish in the first 20 minutes, as though we might never get another chance like this one again.
And isn't that the beauty of an event like this? You could go your whole life in Chicago having only eaten at the spots in your surrounding neighborhoods, but after one night at Taste you feel like you've just eaten in River North and the West Loop and Logan Square and Wicker Park and a dozen other 'hoods in one massive grub crawl.
In no particular order, these were some of the highlights for me:
Rick Bayless' cochinita pibil taco with habanero and pickled onion on freshly made tortillas. Some people thought this was too spicy but I disagree, and I could easily imagine knocking back this kicky little handful from a food truck.
Sunda's steaming pork belly buns and Sable's savory wild mushroom veggie burgers.
Getting to see real food truck owners Matt Maroni and Phillip Foss in action. Maroni was parked outside in his Gaztrowagon and Foss was inside the ballroom serving up vegetarian puffy pan sandwiches for The Pickled Tongue.
While Pastoral's cheese and fruit pairings (think chocolate covered figs with bleu cheese) wouldn't necessarily translate into street food -- I had to find a table to really get to work on this stuff -- it was all so tasty I hardly cared.
Same goes for the lamb kafta meatballs and bread atop a shot of lentil soup from Aja. Not sure I'll ever find myself in a parking lot after midnight downing these babies, but I did go back for two.
I also couldn't help myself from going back for seconds on The Drawing Room's Tamale Guy #3 cocktail with Horchata, nutmeg, orange liqueur and Herradura Silver.
Stephanie Izard, with her braised goat chilaquiles, was definitely one of the hottest stops of the night. I saved her for last and this messy but flavorful concoction didn't disappoint.
The desserts were upstairs and while I sampled everything from Mado's stone fruit empanadas to chili-chocolate crackerjacks, the winners in my book were Hoosier Mama Pie company's pie shakes and Black Dog Gelato's tiny cones of sweet corn cream -- a welcome respite from the over-heated ballroom.
Leaving with an overly full tummy was a firm reminder of what the night was all about: Making sure kids around the country get to experience the same.
Follow Claire Bidwell Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/clairebidwell