When it comes to the food -- because it's about the food, dammit -- Taste of Chicago, now under the auspices of the Chicago Park District, won't seem much different this year than in years past. There will be Eli's cheesecake and Harry Caray's fried dough and Robinson's Ribs and more than enough pizza and Americanized Thai and Chinese food to go around.
But there are 12 new vendors this year. Among them: Chinatown favorite Lao Sze Chuan, which will offer dry chili chicken, salt and pepper pork ribs, crispy shrimp in lemon sauce, vegetable fried rice and spring rolls, and the Parrot Cage inside the South Shore Cultural Center, run by Washburne culinary students, which will offer turkey meatloaf, gumbo, seafood salad and red velvet cupcakes.
Another newbie, the Fudge Pot, 1532 N. Wells, looks to be filling the void left by Aunt Diana's Old Fashioned Fudge -- the Riverside shop and other suburban vendors were kicked to the curb last year because of the city's policy that all vendors be located in Chicago -- by offering chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and strawberries.
The other new vendors are:
Alhambra Palace, 1240 W. Randolph, serving falafel and other Middle Eastern fare; Banana Leaf, 1948 E. 79th, with jerk wings and lamb chops and blackened tilapia; Beggars Pizza, 310 S. Clinton; Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery, 5569 N. Northwest, with something called Atomic Cake, among other sweets; Loving Hut, 5812 N. Broadway, offering the even more inriguingly named Home Run Ball, described as a "fried vegetable textured protein with a sweet and spicy sauce"; Ryba's Fudge Shops, 600 E. Gand, offering fudge, caramel apples and more chocolate-covered strawberries; Smoke Daddy, 1804 W. Division, with pulled pork and chicken; Starfuit Café, 2142 N. Halsted, with frozen kefir, and Texas de Brazil, 51 E. Ohio, serving lots of meat.
Six restaurants dropped out: Doreen's Pizzeria, Las Tablas, Shokolad Pastry and Café, Summer Noodle and Rice, Tamarind and the Grill on the Alley.
The Taste runs from June 24 to July 3. Food tickets are 12 for $8. As always, admission is free.