Thursday, July 3, 2008

Billy Goat Tavern @ the Taste

Well I’ve come to the end of my 2008 Taste of Chicago experience. The 3rd of July is not for the faint of heart. Not saying I was, but at a point you grow out of crowds.

So, we come to my last analysis of the Taste and how you react according to your stage of life. At 30 I’m mainly there to try new food, discover new restaurants, and hang with my friends. Since my mid-late 20s to now at 30 I go to the Taste exclusively after work with friends. We don’t drink because it’s too expensive. We don’t act like idiots because we have sense. We still don’t care what people say. Sometimes though, we do still flirt and sneak in alcohol.

This brings me to the last burger at the Taste: A burger with which many Chicagoans and I are very familiar. Billy Goat. I will review the burger in one of the taverns one day and then I will recount my first experience. But for now let’s focus on why this is by far the best burger at the Taste.

First and foremost let’s establish that this is the exact same burger you will get in any Billy Goat anywhere, anytime. Go to Lower Michigan, same. Go to Wells, same. Go to Merchandise Mart or Midway airport, and you get the same burger. There is a comfort knowing that they can do what they do all day and night everywhere.

They bring in their grills and fry them on the spot just like in the restaurant. No changing the cooking method to fit the venue. No special burger to fit the occasion. Just Cheeborger, Cheeborger. Once you fall in love with this you will be happy that it is a reliable burger. Comfort food, if you will. I chose this as the last burger because I knew what to expect and honestly was not looking forward to it. I rarely get food at the Taste that I have had before. No Connie’s pizza, Robinson’s ribs, or even cheesecake. But by the time I was ready for my Billy Goat, I was really ready for my Billy Goat. And, it was so worth it.

I got a basic Double Cheeseburger for 9 tickets, or $6. This is expensive for the double burger. It is normally 4 something at the restaurants. But, that’s the price you pay at the Taste. It came wrapped in this nice wax paper that became transparent with grease. Always a good sign. It also held in the heat as I made my way to a table next to the booth to eat. It was served with pickle and yellow mustard. It needs nothing else.

I have always found the bun to be a bit excessive but that is a whole diatribe for another time. Here, as with other burgers at the Taste, it helped to make sure you did not drop your food. But a third patty is always better.

This burger is the simple old school fried burger. Thin and with minimal seasoning. The meat is flavorful and greasy. That’s the appeal. The bun soaks up most to the greasy goodness and traps the cheese. If you have had one, you’ve had them all.

It was a great haven at the end of the night when the young crazies were descending upon Grant Park for the fireworks. I got out just in time.

Tutto Italiano

Ok. My second trip to the Taste was a solo project. It was the 3rd of July and I knew what I was in for.

The next big shift in attitude toward the Taste happens in your 20’s. That’s when you can finally legally drink there. They don’t make it easy on you. Alcohol is 8-10 tickets and always increasing. Also, for domestic it’s excessive. But when you’re young, you buy it. Or you sneak it in. (Again Mom…other people) Then, going to the Taste becomes what you do at night, and in your 20’s, you are hardly ever there before 5pm. You and the crew get a bunch of food and find a shady spot to chill. This is the Taste at its best. Now, not only don’t you care about the old (over 30) people, but you really don’t care about the teens. You can be on your own little world with your friends. I used to go in my 20s and just take pictures by myself until my friends arrived. Those were some of the best days of my life. I tried to channel my 20 something self but you can’t go home again. Also, there was no light at the end of the rainbow, because none of my friends were crazy enough to come out on the 3rd of July. And I thought I was the smart one.

Crowds are the name of the game and they did not disappoint me.

My first place to hit was Tutto Italiano.

This is a Steak Burger with blue cheese and a mustard sauce. They had assembling these down to a science it being the 3rd and all. This evening was nonstop action. One set comes off and another goes on without a break in the action. It is a marvel to watch though sometimes the burger looked a bit incomplete.

This was my burger with the mustard sauce and smattering of lettuce. But hey, on the 3rd presentation may fall short. That’s ok. It was a decent burger. The seasoning was pretty good, flavorful and not too peppery. The grill took care of adding additional flavor. Also points can’t be lost for the generic patty. I had to ask for additional blue cheese (dressing). That was ok, and they did not complain. The mustard is on the bottom and it was hard enough getting this shot without dropping anything, so I opted not to try.

The meat was very good. The blue cheese was a great addition but the extra was necessary. Lettuce tied it together nicely, but the mustard was a bit lost. The bun was pretty good; a bit big for the burger even with drowning it in blue cheese sauce. The blue cheese was thick and did not soak the bun like the BBQ did. But to Tutto’s credit, they remembered the venue. For a burger that I had to eat standing up in a park with 500,000 of my closest friends, the bun did its job.

Now for the all too familiar refrain…why isn’t it a destination burger? All together now, because you can’t get it again. Yes this was created specifically for the Taste and is not available in the restaurant. Still, it may be around next year. When I asked, they said they did not know yet. If it is, check it out. It was a good food experience from a great restaurant.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Grazie @ The Taste

The next time of life when the Taste changes, is in high school when you go without adults. It’s a great place to meet friends, flirt and act obnoxious with your friends because your parents aren’t around and you don’t care what the other adults around you say. (And I mean other people, Mom, not me) The teens will never disappoint in this respect. You can always count on them to come in numbers, dress to impress, and act like, well, themselves.

This is the time of life when you’ll make an entire day of going to the Taste. Not that you’re going to be there all day, but you’ll prepare all day. “Going to the Taste” will be the single focus. You’ll meet at someone’s house to get ready and then all go in a big teen mob. Pile on the El or put 15 people in a car and head down. Good times.

As an adult, it’s not fair to complain about these obnoxious “know it alls” that wander Grant Park in packs. Just try to avoid them and know that they and the 20-somethings own the night.

The next stop on “Chris and Eren do the Taste” was right across from Vermillion at Grazie.

Yea, I’d never heard of it either. They’re up in Des Plaines.

We had the BBQ Buffalo Burger for 6 tickets or in Taste price about $4. Not a bad price for not a very interesting burger. Now of course, this burger suffered from having to follow an awesome burger, but it would have trouble holding its own anyway.

Just look at it.

Nothing exciting. A pre-formed patty with some nice grill marks and no cheese. Cheese would have given it some of the additional flavor it needed. It was a bit dry and had very little resistance while chewing. It just gave up. I had to add more sauce to beef up (no pun intended) the flavor. The bun, however, was fresh and soft. They could not have done a much better job selecting it. It seems big for the burger, but considering that you need to drench it with sauce, it becomes an acceptable size.

Overall it was not that great, but like the Vermillion burger, it is only available at the Taste. So, you and I never have to repeat this experience again. In fact there is not even a burger on the menu at the restaurant. There is good and bad in that statement. This burger has potential. While I don’t eat a lot of buffalo, I think it’s worth a try to make this burger great, and it could be done. If they made it a double and drenched it in sauce it would be a good start. Then add some cheese and it would be even better. Also keeping with the whole healthy thing, add a veggie or two. Basically make is a real burger and put some effort into it. Don’t just put meat on a bun and call it a day.

So blah, blah, blah…. not a destination burger. Not even a burger that will be served again. And in its present form, without some major revisions, that’s not a bad thing.

Vermilion @ The Taste

If it is early summer in Chicago then that means Taste of Chicago time. Now, the Taste changes for people as they get older. When you’re a kid and go with your parents, just being there is fun. All those people don’t register as sweaty filthy crowds. The food is good and you are happy you get eat it in the middle of the street. You don’t register the absurd prices and long lines. The fireworks are pretty fireworks, not cover for gunfire. But as a child, the negatives aren’t your concern. More Taste commentary as the Taste series continues.

My friend, Eren, and I set out after work one day (which is how 30 year olds do the Taste). We were on a mission to get some burgers for the blog and since Eren does not eat red meat, we had to get creative. Scratch that…we didn’t have to get that creative. Two of the four burgers at the taste aren’t red meat.

Our first stop was Vermillion, a Latin Indian fusion restaurant. We had a Chipotle Madras Curry Turkey burger which was 8 tickets, or in Taste price, like $5.33. The burger was topped with an amazing curry sauce and served with grilled green pepper and onion.

Can you believe they did not have a knife.

These are not ingredients that normally work for my palette. I don’t love green pepper and only recently began to tolerate curry. But, this worked well. Not only did it work well, but it worked in a manner kept you wanting more. By the time your taste buds processed all the flavors, it was over; and all too soon. We split this one and regretted it from the first bite.

We kind of looked at each other at first as if to say, “Are you going to finish that”? Then shot each other the response look of “Hell yea. Stop looking at my food”. The turkey patties were grilled over an open flame and got a nice light char on them that worked perfectly with the curry and grilled pepper and onion. They exceeded expectations on meat alone by avoiding the common turkey burger pitfalls. They did not dry out, fall apart or taste overly seasoned.

Now that I have told you all the pros about this burger and you are ready to run to 10 W. Hubbard to get one…it’s time for the other shoe to drop. It’s not there. They only make the burger for the Taste. In fact, while they do have a burger trio for lunch, this is not one of them. While the menu rotates all the time, and the day you read this there may in fact be a turkey burger on the menu, it won’t be this one. This one is only for the Taste and only for this year.

So there you have it. It can’t possibly be a destination burger. For all of its wonderful, amazing, rock star qualities, and I do mean wonderful, amazing, rock star taste, texture, blend of different flavors, and proper bun…you can never have one again. And that’s just sad.

It could be a nice recipe, though.

Someone needs to crack this. You, out there reading this.

Make it so.