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Recently in Taste of Chicago Category

Seems like just yesterday (or maybe it was last week) it was a blustery, springlike 50 degrees. Now it's 89 and humid, just about right considering the Taste of Chicago is less than three weeks away.

From 11 to 2 p.m. Tuesday in Daley Plaza, the city will offer a Taste preview, with nine restaurants serving street fest-friendly fare. They include new-to-the-Taste vendors Lao Sze Chuan, Beggars Pizza, Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery and Texas de Brazil.

Lao Sze Chuan's dry chili chicken might be one of the best bets to be had. There's also Adobo Grill's guac, pork tacos and chicken tamales; and Manny's three-course offering -- corned beef sandwich, mac 'n' cheese and apple pie - that isn't quite what the USDA had in mind with its new MyPlate icon for healthy eating. Oh well.

The other vendors include: Connie's Pizza, Polo Cafe and Robinson's No. 1 Ribs.

Tomorrow's samples are cash only and will range from $3 to $6.

7-1_hale_treysongz_5585.jpg There will be no shortage of pizza at the Taste. | photo by Keith Hale

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.

6-26 Jackson taste 9.JPG

(Photo by Brian Jackson/Sun-Times)

It's never too early to get excited about the Taste of Chicago (or miffed, depending on how you look at the city's decision to ban suburban food vendors, including longtime fave Aunt Diana's of frozen chocolate-covered banana fame).

Today through Thursday, take in deals at more than 40 restaurants that will be participating in the Taste. It's the 30th anniversary of the food fest, so specials are all hinged to the year 1980 or the number 30 in some form -- $19.80 prix fixe menus, 30 percent off, etc. Think of it as Restaurant Week -- or weeks, since we can't seem to stick to just one week -- all over again.

Some of the deals are kind of eh -- a dozen free pierogies, a $3 value, with a $30 purchase at Kasia's Deli doesn't exactly scream celebration -- but we're loving Robinson's #1 Ribs' offering, a half slab of ribs, cole slaw, a roll and fries or beans for the 1980s price of six bucks!

Check out all the specials, and print the coupon, which you'll need when you order, at tasteofchicago.us.

7-3 Lachat taste 2.jpg

A few things you should know about the Taste of Chicago, which opens 17 days from now, for those of you who live for such things:

* Each booth now will offer two smaller "taste" portions this year, "our little nod" to the recession, spokeswoman Cindy Gatziolis says.

* There are 10 fewer booths this year. The three newbies are Manny's, Blue Bayou and Garrett Popcorn Shop, whose signature items will be, respectively, barbecued turkey legs, gator sausage on a stick and the popcornsicle (a la Top Chef-er Richard Blais - see video for clarification).

* You can get a preview of what's to come at Taste at a mini-Taste from 11 a.m. To 2 p.m. Wednesday at Daley Plaza. It's open to the public.

* If you walk the Taste route from Monroe to Balboa and back, it's a mile and a half.

Update: About that popcornsicle, Jack Aiello, Garrett's vice president of marketing, tells us the company's decision to join Taste for the first time hinged upon the ability to offer Taste-goers a product "perfect for a hot summer day in Chicago" (provided it ever gets hot).

The Taste marks the popcornsicle's paid debut (it was given away for free during promotions with Blais in New York last year).

As for the popcornsicle's provenance, Aiello says the PR firm representing Garrett in New York knew Blais and connected him with the company.

At the Garrett booth, vendors will be dipping the popcorn balls to order in vats of liquid nitrogen. The popcornsicles -- six tickets each -- should stay cold for a few minutes, Aiello says.

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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