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October 2010 Archives

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The whole freebie cupcake thing was wearing on Patty Rothman.

"I'm ready to start selling," Rothman, owner of More Cupcakes, 1 E. Delaware, said Thursday as we headed for the Willis Tower. She was at the wheel of the sleek More Mobile, not the city's first cupcake truck but most certainly the Mercedes of them all (literally -- it's a Mercedes Sprinter, outfitted with a battery-powered generator).

This was the fourth day of Rothman's week-long promotional push for the truck -- the fourth day of handing out thousands upon thousands of free cupcakes to sometimes perplexed but mostly delighted pedestrians.

At her two-year-old store and on the truck, each cupcake will sell for $3.50. "We handed out 500, 600 in 12 minutes by the Wrigley Building," said Rothman, a lithely built, red-haired mother of five. She didn't want to do the math, didn't want to think about the possibility, or impossibility, of recouping all of that.

"We're convinced the whole world knows about us, and we come down here and people see us and say, 'Oh, are you new?' So we're really looking at it as the cost of introducing ourselves. We're thinking of this as launching an ad campaign," she said as she drove south on Wacker, approaching the Willis Tower.

l0hb.jpg In T minus 15 minutes, Avec will re-open to the world. It has been shuttered since an Aug. 9 fire. It is reopening with a new stove and a slew of new dishes, including whole roasted foie gras and mortadella mousse (but those chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates ain't gone nowhere). Desserts have been expanded as well; crepes with homemade Nutella, anyone?

Publicist Ellen Malloy has been menu-tasting and tweeting, with photos, what diners hereafter can expect.

Here's one (pictured): "Chicken thigh gourgere (holy shit) with parm rather than gruyere (Koren [Grieveson, Avec's chef de cuisine] called it a hot pocket)."

Welcome back, Avec.

Eaters, meet our new Food Detective columnist, David Hammond. images.jpeg

You likely already know him from our Food pages -- or if you've ever heard his "Soundbites" series on WBEZ-FM (91.5), perused the culinary chat site LTHForum.com, where he is a moderator, or hung around his pal Mike Gebert's Sky Full of Bacon site. (Tip: If you're at a chef-y, foodie event, and you see a salt-n-peppered guy wearing a hat -- a fedora, maybe, or sometimes a backwards Kangol -- and smiling, that's your guy.)

Today, Hammond puts his tongue at risk in the name of research - namely, in the name of the ghost pepper, a k a naga or bhut jolokia. He survived.

Good timing. On Nov. 11, Jake Melnick's Corner Tap at 41 E. Superior welcomes mohawked pro eater and native son Patrick Bertoletti and other gluttons for punishment for a Major League Eating event -- its XXX Wing Eating contest. Jake Melnick's wings are made with the ghost pepper and another hottie, the red savina.

Next week, Hammond investigates Munster cheese.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes:

Matthew Eisler knows two things: bars and how to give people a good time.

Eisler has stirrers in more than a few drinks. He's the owner/operator of Bar Deville, Angels and Kings, Empire Liquors, Nightwood and Bangers and Lace.

If you're gearing up to have a Halloween party, then you might take a tip from Eisler (a change from leaving change on the bar, but it's time for trick-or-treat, after all). He plans his menus with care, but cheerfully admits, "The offerings aren't the main draw; it's the atmosphere, the music, the experience as a whole. People are coming out to have fun." Sounds like a celebration - and it takes the pressure off whoever's throwing the party. Yes, you want to serve the best to your friends and family, but don't get too fussed if everything isn't perfect. They're there to have a good time.

Hold that thought. Eisler does. "There are trends," he acknowledges, "toward serious craft cocktail lounges." Yes, there are. Eisler's doors are open to people ready to escape the serious, ready to relax, laugh and enjoy a few hours of life.

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Eisler has a perfect tequila drink for All Hallow's Eve. Do the prep work in advance. Buy a few bags of Pop Rocks. Pour them onto plates. You can mix the colors for a confetti effect, but if you keep them separate, then you can arrange an attention-catching tray - and, just like Eisler's customers, your guests will have a great time choosing colors.

Dip the topmost edges of the glasses in liquid. What liquid? "We started in a pretty conventional way," Eisler says. "Take a lime, run it around the rim of the glass." That's not your only option. "A little bit of diluted honey works." (Diluted: two parts water to one part honey.) Agave nectar, made from the same plant used for tequila, plays nicely with this drink. Eisler says the nectar and Pop Rocks complement each other. Want to use thinned fruit nectar? Simple syrup? It's your party.

Don't use too much liquid; you want it just moist enough to hold. Rim the glasses with Pop Rocks and arrange them as you will. (Diagonal rows look striking.)

To serve, fill the glasses with Hornitos tequila. Don't let the liquor touch the candy. Save the sweet explosions for your guests' mouths.

It's that simple.

According to Eisler, it's not just the alcohol that gives a kick. "Even when people are aware of what they're drinking, they still have a little smile on their faces afterward." If you don't tell your friends what's on the rim, then they might easily mistake the candy for colored sugar. Once they taste it, though . . .

Tequila and Pop Rocks. It's a shot of trick and treat.

SCHLITZ1 112908.jpg Yes, yes, the craft beer movement is a wonderful thing, and all the talented local brewers have been nothing but a boon to Chicago. But a can of PBR has its place, too, does it not?

To wit: the Pabst beer dinner at Branch 27, 1371 W. Chicago, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Not only are Old Style, Schlitz and Colt45 making an appearance, but chef John Manion promises his version of Doritos, a "Cheez-it crumble" atop beer cheese soup and . . . Tums with dessert.

This harkens back to chef Paul Virant's Old Standbys beer dinner at Vie in July, which went one course more (though without our beloved Colt45). C'mon chefs -- one more makes it a trend!

More from More: The truck

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The More Mobile finally hit the streets Monday, dispensing 1,500 free cupcakes to the hoardes at various points of interest around downtown. They're doing this -- free cupcakes -- all week. That's a lot of cupcakes.

The truck's route today isn't exactly inspired -- it started at the Michigan Avenue bridge and later today is looping back around to Michigan and Wacker. But oh, did we mention, the cupcakes are free?

Follow the More Mobile on Twitter, of course.

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by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Doug Frost holds a rare combination of titles. He is one of three people to be both a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. That's worldwide, thank you very much.

He's also a founding partner of Beverage Alcohol Resource (a killer program for high-end bartenders). Frost has forgotten more about wine, spirits and cocktails than most of us can ever hope to learn.

It's not surprising that he thinks in original terms -- and occasionally lets loose with a phrase nobody else would utter. Consider this recent one on the subject of cocktails: clarity of flavor.

"What is that?"

Giada De Laurentiis, who charmed fans during the Taste of Chicago, is back in town Friday and Saturday on behalf of Target. Since she'll busy hawking her new line of cookware and food products and giving away free groceries, we got the chit-chat -- about celebrity, children and chocolate -- out of the way today.

De Laurentiis is the mother of a 2-1/2-year-old girl, the author of five cookbooks (the newest, Giada at Home, was out this spring) and a bona fide Food Network star who makes it all look so breezy and easy but, refreshingly, gives credit where it's due (her clothing designer husband's flexible schedule allows her to travel and fulfill her many commitments, she says).

Mostly, she just sounds like the rest of us parents -- concerned with figuring out the work-life balance and making sure her kid isn't eating total crap. Today Show Giada De Laurent.jpg

On not getting a true taste of the Taste of Chicago (she and buddy Mario Batali were the cooking demo headliners this year): "It was overwhelming and I didn't get to walk around as much as I would've liked. When I asked to go out for a walk, it was very brief, and it got a lot of people very stressed out."

On not being a sandwich-at-lunch person: "I don't believe in sandwiches. And I know a lot of parents give their kids sandwiches. For lunch, my daughter usually gets pasta with protein and a vegetable. I put it in a Thermos and it stays warm."

On Americans' tendency to scare themselves out of the kitchen: "We have time to cook. I think it's how much do we want to do it. . . Maybe you cook twice a week. And if you cook twice a week, it'll last you four days. And then maybe after that, you go ahead and open a package of something to eat. People think they have to change their entire way of thinking and eating, but truly, it's baby steps. If you just cook one night a week, that's a big difference."

On why you probably won't see a Giada talk show anytime soon: "I feel like for me, because I have a small child, I have to be very careful as to what I spend my time doing. Because obviously we can't do everything and we can't do everything well. I've been trying to figure out how much can I do and what can I do well. I don't want to wake up one day and say, Oh my gosh, my daughter's 10, where have I been all this time."

On her mini-me daughter: "In her preschool, they have a little kitchen set up. She'll go up to [classmates] and say, 'I'll cook you something. Do you want me to cook you something?' "

On her guilty pleasure: "Frozen chocolate chips."

On Twitter: "I don't do Facebook, but I do tweet. I think I like to because it's immediate. It's really been fun. And it is me doing it."

Follow De Laurentiis on Twitter at @GDeLaurentiis. Or catch a glimpse of her at noon Friday at 435 N. Michigan - she'll be doing a cooking demo, signing books and handing out food.

Chicago chefs have been quite the literary bunch this year.

Forget the blogs. We're talking books and book deals, people (some more of a done deal than others). 6-22_Lachat_can_1.jpg

Grant Achatz's memoir is due out in March. Phillip Foss is shopping his around. Former Aja chef Joshua Linton reportedly has penned a cookbook. Mana Food Bar chef Jill Barron told me last month she's got an idea for a veggie cookbook stewing.

The latest (and firmly in the done deal camp): Paul "Mr. Preserves" Virant of Vie in Western Springs, who is in the throes of recipe testing for a book on canning.

"It's as if the Ball Blue Book was overhauled by a chef with a penchant for making aigre doux and unexpected variations on sauerkraut," writes Virant's co-author Kate Leahy on her blog, A Modern Meal Maker.

The book, to be published by Ten Speed Press, will take a two-pronged approach: how to make preserves, and then how to incorporate said preserves into meals.

Virant offered his expertise and recipes for our story last year on rustling up some canning courage, pulling out a tattered notebook full of recipes during writer Jennifer Olvera's time in his kitchen. The cookbook will include recipes from that notebook, says Leahy.

The book is slated for a spring/summer 2012 release.

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Phillip Foss' ever-evolving business plan for his Meatyballs Mobile now includes this: the opportunity for you, the eater, to create your own edible spherical treat with Foss' help and then ride along for a day to sell your creation.

Foss explains this on his newest site, phillipfoss.net (one we can actually access; our Web filters for reasons yet unknown have declared Foss' Pickled Tongue blog "malicious." Is it the "tongue"? The "balls"? Who knows.).

First up, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, at Monroe and Wells: one Brian Eng, who writes the blog Chow-Eng Down and appears to be your typical camera-happy foodie, and his Banh Mi-tyballs ($8).

Foss will be auctioning off another create-and-ride-along at tonight's Meals on Wheels event at Macy's on State Street. Tickets at the door are $125.

Katherine Duncan, whose caramels, truffles and now toffee we love to love, is moving on up.

The Potbelly-sandwich-slinger-turned-confectioner on Tuesday moved into her very own space at 2745 W. Armitage, after four years of commercial kitchen tenancy.

Though Duncan says the space has "retail potential," for now, it is functioning as a private kitchen. Duncan also will make the space available for private events -- truffle-making parties, anyone? -- and is creating a tasting area for brides.

Duncan launched her business, Katherine Ann Confections, in 2006; that's when we first met her, before everyone else got wind of her and her unbelievably pillowy caramels. Since then, she's built a steady, devoted following at farmers markets and specialty shops and has branched out flavor-wise, offering market-inspired truffles and caramels and, in smaller doses, toffee.

Duncan says her plan is to share the new space with Nice Cream, whose owner Kris Swanberg is working on getting its business license. Swanberg, who turned to ice cream in 2008 after being laid off from her teaching job at Orr High School on the West Side, is using Duncan's toffee in one of her current fall ice cream flavors -- Burnt Caramel with Crunchy Toffee.

Call it synergy or good karma, the little guys have it in spades.

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story and photos by guest blogger Seanan Forbes:

"People ask me if beer is the new wine," says Greg Hall, brewmaster of Goose Island, "and I say absolutely not." He lets that hang for a moment and adds, "Craft beer is the new wine."

This may be true. It's certainly possible that craft brewers are the new rock stars. These days, it might be easier to catch Hall in an airport than in a brewpub. Recent sightings have been had in Portland, Stockholm and London. A brewer's life is a hoppy one in more than one sense.

There were also New York sightings -- plural. Hall was there for New York Craft Beer Week. Between Brewer's Choice, where he was the keynote speaker (on a Thursday) and Brewer's Bash, for which Eleven Madison Park made all of its tables disappear (on a Sunday), the brewmaster darted from Manhattan to Chicago and back again.

Hall says that craft beer's popularity has "exploded." He links this with people's rising interest in eating well. It's hard to argue against that, especially when standing in a room packed with folks downing fresh oysters, chocolate, house-smoked meats, kimchi chili and more - each item happily paired with hops - or, as Hall sees it, stouts and ales and porters "paired with food - and good food," he says. "There's not one pizza in the room."

In some cases - or kegs - thoughts of food start far from the kitchen, let alone the table. "We're doing a collaboration brew with Rick Bayless," Hall says. "We do collaboration brews with the best chefs in Chicago every month." IMG_1574-Bourbon-County-&-Madame-Rose.jpg

Maybe chefs should be bragging about that. Goose Island took its first award, for Chicago Vice Weizen, at the 1989 Great American Beer Festival. In 1992's festival, it nabbed two awards: a gold for PMD Mild and a bronze for Oatmeal Stout. Since 1994, when it left the World Beer Championships bearing one platinum and two golds, not a year has passed without Goose Island claiming a medal - at one event, two events, four . . .

If you wanted to taste the last of Chicago Island's Bourbon County Stout, a beautifully balanced, dark brew made with Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso, then you should have flown to Eleven Madison Park. The last two bottles were opened and poured there.

If you want to taste Hall's barrel-aged Madame Rose Belgian Style Ale, then you're right where you want to be: in Chicago. Madame Rose is coming out Dec. 1. (You do want to taste it. It's made with tart cherries grown especially for Goose Island at Peter Klein's Seedling Orchard in Michigan. You can't buy those cherries, but you can get other Seedling produce at Green City Market - big city; small world.)

Something's always brewing at Goose Island - but the special stuff may be out for only a month or so. If you want to know what's coming when, then bookmark the brewery's beer calendar. It's hunger-inducing reading. (What do you want to eat with your Bourbon County Vanilla Stout, while you can get it?)

2010 may be running out of time, but Goose Island isn't running out of beer.

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The above photo didn't make it into the print version of Maureen O'Donnell's story today on the Irish breakfast, but it illustrates Kappy's owner George Alpogianis' words perfectly: 'I'm a Greek boy with Mexican cooks. What the heck do I do with an Irish breakfast?' "

At Kappy's in Morton Grove, the Irish breakfast is popular among Koreans. Alpogianis speculates it's because they're more open to trying new things. I'm more inclined to think it's because Asians dig the savory breakfast. I'm thinking of my own childhood, but also the congee, pho, miso and kimchi on the morning tables of other cultures.

Another message to take home: a Greek guy owns a coffeeshop that serves Irish sausage cooked by Mexicans and beloved by Korean customers, and a pair of Ecuadoreans own a diner that serves Irish blood sausage popular with Puerto Ricans -- now, that's Chicago.

And a final something to chew on: The word "coffeeshop" appears twice in O'Donnell's story -- which is exactly how many times it has appeared in the Sun-Times so far this year. (Note I'm not talking about coffee shops, where you can get your venti, half-caf, light whip, pumpkin mochaccino, but rather coffeeshops, where you can get coffee.)

Those two previous mentions of "coffeeshop" appeared in stories written by O'Donnell -- obituaries for one Bess Maros, 85, and one James Deuter, 71. RIP, Mrs. Maros, Mr. Deuter and the coffeeshop as they knew it.

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Chicago's Downtown Farmstand turned 2 last weekend, but it's celebrating all month long.

Available only in October, and only at the market at 66 E. Randolph: a pumpkin cupcake from Sweet Miss Givings bakery, topped with cream cheese frosting and candied ginger ($3); and Intelligentsia's Farmstand coffee blend.

The festivities ramp up this week with samples galore from other local vendors. Wednesday's the big day, with tastings from Pasta Puttana, Co-Op Hot Sauce and Chicago Rooftop Honey, and a farm-to-table talk at 6 p.m. led by David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm and Seedling Orchard's Peter Klein. Also on the panel: Alison Bower of Ruth and Phils Ice Cream and Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions, both of whom use products from Cleverdon and Klein.

The Farmstand is a pet project of the city's cultural commissioner Lois Weisberg. Judith Dunbar Hines, the city's director of culinary arts, has been charged with carrying Weisberg's vision through.

One way she's doing that is by partnering with our food pages. In May, we introduced the Low Mileage Kitchen recipe column, written by Hines. It's been a win-win: the Farmstand gets a boost, and we get recipes -- good, solid recipes using seasonal, local foods.

The Downtown Farmstand isn't the only shop of its kind in the city -- something to applaud, isn't it, that local food producers and entrepreneurs are getting more shelf space? There's Green Grocer Chicago in West Town, which opened a few months prior to the Farmstand; the Dill Pickle Food Co-Op in Logan Square; Provenance Food and Wine, and Friedman's recently opened City Provisions Deli. There is, too, the Chicago French Market -- but that's another story.

All this, of course, is a shameless plug for the Farmstand and the aforementioned businesses. Ever heard of Wind Ridge Herb Farm? B True Bakery? Neither had we -- until places like the Farmstand came around.

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by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Farmer Lee Jones has been serving chefs for a while. (If you ever meet him, then ask him about the time Julia Child called the farm.)

Top mixologists buy from him, too. The farm produces goods fitted to pass the bar, including edible swizzle sticks - also used as skewers, which means that you can eat the skewer, as well as what is speared. They come in rhubarb, zesty lemon (at left) and horseradish. Imagine that in your Bloody Mary. zesty-lemon-sticks-herbs-chefs-garden.jpg

Some items cross between the bar and the kitchen: popcorn shoots, lavender blossoms, root beer leaf with its flavors of licorice and clove, anise hyssop, edible flowers . . . No wonder Nacional 27's Adam Seger orders food fresh from the farm.

Fun though it is to play with produce, bartenders aren't doing it for themselves. "The mixologist recognizes that they can add value to the experience for the guest by buying ingredients that are high-quality and have purpose," says Jones.

As with cooking, so with bars: Being pretty is not enough. "The flavor needs to lend to the drink," he says. No matter how nice something looks, if it isn't going to complement your cocktail, then don't use it.

If the farm affects the cocktail - and it does - then the cocktail also affects the farm. "We've changed the way that we grow some things, to be able to create things specifically for mixologists," Jones says. For the rhubarb skewers, which are approximately as thick as a No. 2 pencil, Jones planted the seeds closer together. "Of course, you've got the red color to it, breaking into green." So it's pretty and it tastes good, too. Fits the bill - or the menu.

That's all well and good for those who work in restaurants or behind bars, but what if you want to try Farmer Jones' products at home? Enough people asked that question, and Jones started a consumer site.

A couple of days ago, he added a home mixologist's box to the lineup. If you're a habitual pencil-chewer, then be wary. You might swallow your stirrers before you have time to mix a drink.

photos courtesy Chef's Garden

She had them at her panna cotta. But she didn't have the heart to keep going.

Malika Ameen, 35, the lone Chicago contestant on Bravo's "Top Chef: Just Desserts" walked away from the competition on Wednesday's episode, citing her dislike of "cooking in a competitive environment." Ameen dropped the bombshell just as Gale Gand, a guest judge and fellow Chicagoan, was offering generous praise for Ameen's saffron-scented panna cotta.

"I think I'm the least of the group who wants to be 'Top Chef' and that's unfair," Ameen later told her fellow contestants.

Ameen, a divorced mom to three young boys (her ex-husband was the chef at their now-shuttered River North restaurant Aigre Doux), says she still doesn't regret her decision to quit, something she'd hinted at in the previous episode. "It was what I felt was right at the time," she said by phone today. NUP_138872_0819.jpg

The toughest part, Ameen says, was anticipating how her family would react. She called her mom, "and much to my dismay, she was grocery shopping," instead of watching the show, Ameen said. Later, after her mom had watched and digested the episode, the two talked.

So why did she bother going on "Top Chef" in the first place, if competitive cooking isn't her cup of tea? "To me, it was taking another step forward in my life. It was really outside of the box of what I'd do," she said.

Ameen's departure wasn't the only shocker. Seth Caro, viewed by many of the other competitors as a loose cannon in the kitchen, was physically removed from the set, and the show, after suffering a panic attack.

Ameen was empathetic. "I felt very badly for him. I think clearly he had some very big emotional or mental issues going on, and unfortunately, they all came to fruition on national television."

After just four episodes, the dessert spinoff is proving to be one of the most entertaining in the "Top Chef" franchise. Ameen says it's not surprising.

"Pastry chefs are wired very differently," Ameen said. "We are used to working in very controlled environment with formulas and recipes, and when you take us out of that element . . . We're just rigged differently."

Top Chef groupies can find Ameen plowing ahead with her custom dessert business, By M Desserts. Her home base: the kitchen at Pasticceria Natalina, 5406 N. Clark, owned by her friend and fellow pastry chef Natalie Zarzour.

Say what you will about Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP newsletter, she did OK with today's installment: a simple nod to 10 food blogs that do it right, with lively writing, drop-dead gorgeous photos and inspired/inspiring recipes.

Sprinkled in with the predictable (David Lebovitz, Orangette) and the uber-popular (Smitten Kitchen, Tastespotting) are a few I hadn't heard of, mere mortal that I am, but which I've now bookmarked.

Paltrow's 10 favorites, in alphabetical order:

Canelle et Vanille
David Lebovitz
Matt Bites
Oh Joy Eats
Orangette
Pictures and Pancakes
Smitten Kitchen
Stay at Stove Dad
Tastespotting
What Katie Ate

Happy reading.

Breaking up is hard to do

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A few months back (I like to think before the rest of the world caught on) I wrote in this blog about the new biodegradable packaging for Sun-Chips.

At the time, I said "the new bags for Sun-Chips practically scream out that they are compostable. It's not the large-sized type that says, "World's First 100% Compostable Chip Package" ... it's the actual sound of the package, whether you are opening it or digging into it for some chips, and that sound is REALLY loud."

Sun-Chips (made by Frito-Lay) was aware of the noise their eco-friendly bags made, and explained that their traditional packaging, while extremely efficient (in both cost and performance), was made of multiple layers of polyolefin materials, which are derived from petroleum by-products. The company wanted to find new packaging film, which was more eco-friendly, and they thought they had it with polylactic acid, or polylactide, aka PLA.

Unlike the traditional petroleum-based packaging PLA is made from plants, and the chip bags reportedly would break down on about 14 weeks, the company said.

But the ecologically-friendly packaging came with a price, which customers just could not put up with. The company said, "although this version (of their packaging) is a little bit louder, we hope you'll appreciate the change and the positive environmental impact it will have."

Unfortunately, the only thing louder than the Sun-Chips bags was the reaction of those who thought they just could not deal with the sound of the bags crinkling every time they reached inside for some chips (heaven forbid people should maybe not reach into the chip bags so often, but that's another problem).

After an outcry from offended chip-eaters, including the inevitable Facebook campaign, Sun-Chips has retreated, and will go back to the old, petroleum-based bags for five of its six chip varieties.

It's not as though our nation's dependence on foreign oil would have been lifted by Americans putting up with some noisy chip bags, but at least it was a step in the right direction by Frito-Lay. And those little steps add up, except when you give in and step back. The company does say that they are working on other, quieter, environmentally-friendly bags.

The foodie haven that is Andersonville (Anteprima, Natalina's, m. henry, Jin Ju, In Fine Spirits, That Pizza Place That Looks Like a Hardware Store, Vincent, Sunshine Cafe) will soon have another intriguing spot, called Acre.

Acre is taking over the location formerly home to Charlie's Ale House, which is just a few doors down from Anteprima, on the 5300 block of North Clark St. Acre is not only Anteprima's newest neighbor, it is also brought to us by the people behind the rustic Italian eatery. A note posted on the window of the former Ale House, which I read as I walked past Wednesday afternoon as workers were busy preparing the place for its new life as a restaurant that would feature casual, seasonal American fare, said so.

I'm looking forward to this new place. Anteprima is one of my absolute favorite restaurants, featuring the real, regional Italian food that you just can't find anywhere else, and were it not for their slightly high prices I would eat there more regularly. The thought that that same attention to authenticity and quality will be carried over to another eatery, that will have a "casual American" menu, seems very exciting. Charlie's Ale House was a spacious and casual place that had what I'd call an estate library aesthetic -- brown leather, dark, heavy wood, vintage photos -- that was the best thing it going for it, honestly. I look forward to seeing what the Anteprima people do with the place and wish them luck.

Baconfest is going big.

The second annual all-bacon tasting extravaganza will be held in April at the UIC Forum, which can (and will, organizers say) accommodate more than twice the number of attendees as the inaugural fest -- an estimated 2,000 pork-eating fans.

Andre Pluess, one of the fest's chief architects, also expects to double the number of chefs and vendors. This year's Baconfest was held at the Stan Mansion, 2408 N. Kedzie. A preview dinner, held last fall, drew about 100 people.

There is method to all this porcine madness. As with the first fest, a portion of the proceeds will go towards the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Tickets go on sale early next year - that's right, next year, because it's never too early to plan your spring eating calendar. Go to baconfestchicago.com for updates on tickets, participating chefs, preview dinners and more.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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