Every summer millions of people descend upon Grant Park for the Taste of Chicago. As for myself, I cannot get far enough away from it. It's wonderful that the city can attract so many people (and their disposable income) downtown, but I'd rather stay away.
I prefer to get in the car, take a little ride and share my meat on a stick with thousands, instead of millions. One local food fest that I do look forward to is the Taste of Melrose Park, which took place in that near west suburb over the Labor Day weekend. (My apologies to readers for not sharing this before last weekend, but I needed to conduct extensive firsthand research on this Taste before blogging about it.)
There are many reasons to love the Taste of Melrose Park, besides the fact that it's on a smaller scale than that other Taste. While they do have an impressive number of food vendors, few of them are from restaurants -- most are just families who have their own specialties they sell, such as Petruzzi's meatball sandwich, Louie Ariola's artichoke casserole, Tony and Aldo's pepperoni roll, Vinny and Nico's quesadillas, Siciliano's fried bologna and Meno's neckbones. Yeah, that's another thing I love about the Taste of Melrose Park -- you can have your frog legs and turtle on a stick at the Taste of Chicago, but you'll find things at the Taste of Melrose Park with a real heritage; the sort of food your grandparents made, like neckbones, or things you or your parents used to eat, like fried bologna, and old favorites, such as fried dough.
One of the more popular items year after year, with the longest lines, is the sfingi made by the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles. By the way, a long line at this food fest is one that you may have to wait at the most, five minutes in, and most vendors' booths do not have lines with more than a few customers.
The portions are not huge (which makes sampling a little of everything easier), but neither are the prices. Most items were $2, but none were more than $3.
This year I paced myself, sticking to things that really intrigued me or which I really wanted. My take included D&D's arancini, the pepperoni roll, the sisters' sfingi, Mama D's braciole sandwich and the fried bologna sandwich (with onions and mustard). Everything was good, the crowd was nice, and parking was free. I'll be back again, that's for sure, and next year I'll try the neckbones.