July 11, 2008

Taste Me!

Taste of Chicago is like that really mortifying friend of a friend you see once a year only because some unbreakable social tradition keeps bringing you together. Leading up to the ordeal of the occasion, you're like, oh god why do I have to tolerate this idiot? Who keeps inviting this person? How will I stand it? And then eventually the occasion arrives, plays out and, wonder of wonders, you realize that you actually had a kinda good time with the person you were completely dreading seeing.

Taste is like that. Every year you go no! I'm not gonna go! It's trashy, the food sucks, the crowds are incorrigible (and now carrying weapons, apparently) and I just simply will not subject myself to the heat, the stupidity, the indignity, the outsized potential for a dose of e-coli, the utter commonness of it all and, well, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Then, then! you pack up your sunblock, your folding lawn chair, your appetite, and you go. Admit it, you do. You're a Chicagoan. There are some things, like holding parking spaces with chairs, pretending to be Irish on March 17th, and reading Carl Sandburg, that you just do. You can't help it!

When you spend your summer leisure time floating in Monroe Harbor, you have even less justification for missing Taste. It's right there, for cryin' out loud. You hear the music wafting across the water, you smell the smoking grills, you might as well just go and do it. You don't have to tell anyone. I broke down and went on July 4. Yeah, smart huh? But it was early on July 4th. Dave missed it. We both had little tasks to do at our workplaces that day. He was still tied up with his when I took a reconnaissance stroll through Taste on my way from the office to the boat.

Afraid of getting sucked too far into the festival grounds, I got my food tickets at the first booth I came to, where the lines were already forming:

Next to the ticket booth was The Aquafresh Trailer. Proof that even if it's completely idiotic, Americans will stand in line for it:

A few months ago, I was completely horrified by that Humane Society undercover video that made the internet rounds. The one shot in a California factory farm that depicted the complete disregard of a sadistic forklift operator for the dignity of an ailing cow. You know the video I'm talking about. Sickening, right?

After viewing it I decided that, going forward, unless I had reasonable assurance that any flesh I was about to eat had enjoyed a lifestyle roughly equal to the one nature had intended it (before getting whacked to indulge my gustatory pleasures) I would eat vegetarian. So, having no clue to the provenance of the meat served up at this year's Taste booths, this is what I ended up ordering:

It's not as bad as it looks, actually. It's a vegetarian gyros from, oh cripes, what was the name of the restaurant? Vegetarian Soul? Soul Vegetarian East! The seitan was steeped in a distinctly not-really-greek BBQ sauce, but it was light and not too sweet. Nice foil to the chewy wheatiness of the seitan. The real standout of the dish was the tzatziki, the white sauce over the top. It was zing-y and dill-y and cucumber-y and, man, it just made the dish. I finger-fed myself the seitan, the bed of chopped romaine lettuce, the tzatziki, and ditched the doughy pita.

Sated, and now completely unmotivated to commit to the deeper trenches of Taste, I skirted across the Petrillo Lawn and admired the foresight of these pioneers who were the first to stake their claim in anticipation of the Bonnie Raitt performance later in the day.

And I took a moment to muse on the contributions of the true, unsung heros of Taste, the guys who spend countless shifts wrangling what must be the nastiest of garbage:

Thank you, yellow-shirted Taste Garbage Guy.

Let's not overlook the green sentinels that manage another inevitable form of Taste waste:

What goes in must come out, I suppose.

So this brought me to the end of my foray through Taste, and I thought, well that wasn't so bad. Like that once a year friend of a friend, I actually kinda had a good time with Taste. Brief, sure, but maybe that's the way to do it: quick in-and-out at an off hour. Sample a snack, take a few pix. Allow no opportunity to become utterly stuffed, sweaty, bitchy, dissed, shot at, drunk, frazzled, sick or disillusioned.

Next up, Her Dependable Redheadedness, Miz Bonnie Raitt.

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