BaconFest Chicago

If you haven't made the trek to BaconFest, you'd better start planning for 2016.  It is a show of culinary porkdom, craft cockpigtailing, smokey sensory meaty goodness.  I waded through a sea of people looking for a pork fix, piggy tricks and drink mix.  There were cooks from Chicago restaurants like Big Jones, Duck Inn, Epic, Lockwood, Perennial Virant and Taco Joint. Meaty, salty eats everywhere surrounded by beer from Lagunitas, Goose Island and Lakefront Brewery along with Wirtz cocktails.

The biggest quandary on what to do is where to start or how.  I figured it was best to start in the middle and work my way out, taking small bites from each vendor to save my stomach for later, while grabbing cocktails from Templeton Rye and Tito's and foregoing gutstuffing brews. 

Wading my way through the masses, I managed to find my favorites:

- Tanta (118 W Grand Ave).  They made my favorite dish of the Fest, a Chicharron Glazed Bocado, a spicy thick piece of bacon with pineapple which had the right amount of everything. Delicious

- Kanela Breakfast Club (1408 N Milwaukee Ave).  This was an extremely close 2nd, with an amazing dessert- Bacon Infused Loukoumades (Greek Donut) accompanied by the most outrageous candied bacon I've ever tasted!

- The Duck Inn (2701 S Eleanor St).  The most insanely delicious hot dog ever- The Frankenduckie: a duck fat dog wrapped in bacon with cheese sauce, pickled jalapeno and Calabrian chili relish. 

- Acre (5308 N Clark St).  Chicken Liver and Bacon Pate which was so delicious I almost asked for fourths!

- Sheekar Delights (Glenview IL).   One of the best Baklava ever with bacon, pistachio, walnuts and simple syrup, which made it lighter and better.

- Velvet Taco (1110 N State).  The Cuban Pig: a taco stuffed with grain mustard, slow roasted chili rubbed pork butt, cured ham, applewood peppered bacon, gruyere and pickles.  Perfect Cuban taco.

- Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse & The Budlong (6954 N Western Ave).  Nashville Hot Chicken Club was an insanely heat rubbed chicken paired with Nueske's smoked bacon.  I love the heat.

- Old Town Pour House (1419 N Wells St).  Ebel's Weiss Braised Pork Belly.  It was like pot roast but 100x more delicious with onion marmalade, red pepper coulis and sweet serrano chili pepper.  Love love love.

It's so hard to stop talking about the food but I'll stop there and leave your imaginations (and drooling) to wander).  Too many cocktails to think about my favorite with Koval, Tito's and Templeton Rye in the house.  You'll have to taste through the madness!  

Windy City Wine Guy trying to entertain his Wife   

Windy City Wine Guy trying to entertain his Wife


Winter Preparation: Saving on Favorite Wines, Beers & Spirits

Winter is definitely upon us here in the Windy City and if you aren't ready, then it's time to strap on the snowshoes and head to the store.  This is the time of year when nobody likes to venture into the cold and stock up their house so you must be prepared.  Fortunately, I went on a South Loop spree last week and was ready for this snow session.  Here's a bit on my preparation:

In our neighborhood, we're lucky to have a bounty of large stores: Jewel/Osco, Dominick's, Whole Foods, Binny's, Target, Home Depot and Best Buy.  This makes shopping close, but a bit complicated- you have to check prices/sales against others.  First, we take a small inventory of what we need and what we want to prepare for meals in the upcoming week.  I wanted to have a diverse selection of animal protein main courses (easily substituted for vegetarians or vegans), so I wrote down pork loin chops, ground sirloin, beef for stew, chicken breasts, lamb loin chops, and wild salmon.  We also included our side dishes: beans & rice, cous cous, fresh vegetables and salad, and pasta.  Secondly, it's time to compare prices and sales.  Don't you just hate when you go to one store, buy cage-free eggs (for example) for $3.49, and then you see them for $2.50 at another?  Now that's only 99 cents, but when you fail to save money all the way down your list, this could mean you overspent by $20 or more! 

Next, I checked my stash of alcoholic beverages.  I still have some amaretto, vodka, gin, aged rum, and cognac.  I could use some tequila, but it's not necessary unless I see a bargain.  My wine cellar was stocked full of aging and special wines, but I was running low on sparkling, white and red RTD wines.  I was also in need of beer.  For this, I drove to Binny's South Loop to see what was on sale.  The beer was an easy choice- I really like both Sam Adams and Goose Island seasonal brews, and I found Goose Island Mild Winter 12 pack on sale for $12.99.  At just over $1/bottle, this is a steal for an ale that brings hearty, caramelly flavor and winter spice.  Next, I was on to wine.  I noticed Domaine Chandon selections were $15.99, but were on sale at Dominick's for $12.99, so I would wait on that and save $3.  I also decided to wait on my red wine until I got to Whole Foods because Maipe Malbec was on sale for $8.99- quite a deal for an old vine, critically acclaimed, very fruity red.  I decided to get only one bottle of white, and since I didn't see any specials, I picked up Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina for $14.99.  A personal favorite from the Campania region in Italy which I like to keep stocked, this wine brings loads of tropical fruit along with medium body and minerality.   All in all, with so many great value choices, there's not many reasons for one to spend more than $15 for a good bottle of wine.

We do have some small entrepreneurial shops, but I would like to see more.  South Loop Wine Cellar, Warehouse Liquors and Printers Row Wine Shop are great wine shops with boutique selections and fun wine people.  Even if you have to pay an extra dollar here or there, try to support your neighborhood's small shops.  It helps build community and keeps the little guy in business- the American way!

Food & Beverage at Lollapalooza '09

PearlJam LollapaloozaIt happens once a year- numerous bands along with thousands of fans flood Grant Park for a weekend of live music, fun, sun, and Chicago.  The neighborhood will be rockin' until 10pm from Friday, August 7 thru Sunday, August 9, as Lollapalooza invades the Windy City.  Big names like Pearl Jam, Depeche Mode, The Killers, Jane's Addiction, Tool, Lou Reed, and Snoop Dogg will be performing for the mobs.  But who will be providing food and drink for the masses?

The lineup for food and beverage is almost as impressive as the music, as many of Chicago's best will be onhand to dole out the grub.  Fast food stallworths like Buona Beef and Greek Delights gyros will be onhand as well as entertaining options like Cans Bar, Adobo Grill, Goose Island Brewpub, and O'Brien's.  Even haute cuisine from Graham Elliot will be available- in a quick and fun version.  Click here for the full menu and here for the map.

As far as beverages go, you can get yourself a best lemonade, Sweet Leaf Tea, or a smoothie.  For adult refreshment, quite a few beers will be representing like Beck's, Hoegaarden, and Stella Artois.   So make sure you enjoy all that Chicago has to offer and drink responsibly!

WhiskeyFest Chicago 2009

img_1124Whiskey.  A liquor made from a distillation of fermented grain mash aged in oak casks, and also one of my favorite quotes from Raiders of the Lost Ark.  There are many types of whiskey, and I was about to run through them all at the 8th Annual Chicago WhiskeyFest held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Located in the Grand Ballroom, there was over 200 whiskies from around the globe, along with some beer and a few other spirits.  There was also a small spread which included build-your-own-mashed potatoes, poached salmon (perfect with whiskies), stir fry, carving station, and desserts.  After a small snack, it was time to try some of the product.

I started with Bulleit Bourbon.  Bourbon is an American mostly corn whiskey with a style that started in Bourbon County, Kentucky.  Bulleit was first created in the 1830s by Augustus Bulleit, but ended production after his death.  It was reintroduced by his great-great-grandson in 1987 and has become a huge success.  It is made of a high rye content (30%) for a bourbon, and has a bold but smooth flavor- vanilla oak spice, coconut, and honey.

Scotch, a whiskey made in Scotland, was the biggest hit at the event.  There are three types of Scotch:

  1. Blended.  A Scotch whiskey distilled at more than one distillery and made from a combination of malted barley and other cereals.

  2. Blended Malt.  A Scotch whiskey distilled at more than one distillery made from malted barley.

  3. Single Malt.  A Scotch whiskey distilled at one distillery made from malted barley.

There are also five different regions (some consider the Islands as a sixth), each with their own distinct aromas and flavor profiles:

  1. Speyside.  Elegant and complex, with refined smokiness.  Located on a portion of the northeast coast, with the largest concentration of Single Malts.

  2. Lowlands.  Soft flavors of malted barley, located south of Perth.

  3. Highlands.  Round and firm character with a slight peatiness.  The largest region, located north of the Lowlands.

  4. Islay.  Seaweed, iodine, phenolic character- very much like the sea.  Located on the northwest islands.

  5. Campbeltown.  Very distinct and briny.  Located on a peninsula just west of the Lowlands/Highlands border.

  6. Islands.  Jura, Orkney, and Skye Islands, each with their own distinct character.

I am more of a Speyside guy, so my favorite was The Macallan, a Scotch with a rich tradition.  Traditionally aged in img_1128one year old Sherry casks, giving caramel and nuttiness.  They also released a Cask Strength (a whiskey bottled straight from the cask, with no additional spring water added), which is smooth and extremely flavorful, aged between 10-12 years.  I also really like The Glenrothes, which is unique in the fact that it is bottled by vintage, not age.  Made not far from The Macallan, they have an old tradition of additionally using Bourbon casks to age the Scotch.

img_1129After all the whiskey, I needed to tone down, and visited the Goose Island stand.  Many small batch production beers were onhand such as the Matilda Belgian Style Pale Ale, the Pere Jacques Vintage Belgian Style Abbey Ale, and the Sofie and Juliet Champagne drinkers ales.  Keeping with the whiskey tradition, there was also a Bourbon County Stout, aged in Bourbon casks.  It is very rich and chocolatey, an excellent winter beverage.

A special thanks to Malt Advocate for the VIP tickets and to my wife for accompanying me and finding out how these products could appeal to women.

Whole Foods offers Whole Wines

While doing some weekly shopping with my wife at Whole Foods in the south loop I could not resist checking the wine section (like I always do).  I noticed that it had grown to an enormous size since they first opened.  Not only was the section quite large, but there was wine everywhere- in the aisles, by the vegetables, the meats, etc.  Since I perceive Whole Foods not only to offer a superior product than other supermarkets, but also the finer things in life, it makes me happy to see good wines marketed with great foods.

There are also a few things which make the experience even better while shopping: 

  1. Purchase a Vin-O-Pass.  You can load money onto the card then try sample some wines.  The pours (30ml) come out of a dispenser straight from the bottle into a provided glass.  They range in price from $.50-4.00 and there are over ten wines available.  You can put on your own tasting!

  2. Not only is the inventory huge but some of the selections are from organic or sustainable practicing producers and around $10.  Some of my picks are Boomtown Chardonnay ($10.97) and Syrah ($12.97) both from Dusted Valley Vintners, Washington state.  Also for $10.99 each- Quinta Dos Grilos Portuguese red, El Quintanal Ribera del Duero, Gascon Malbec, and a great white for those who have been to San Gimignano in Tuscany, Teruzzi E Puthod Vernaccia.  Plus if you buy 6 or more bottles you get 10% off- Enjoy!

  3. There is a great beer selection offering organic and local product like Two Brothers, Three Floyds, and Lamar Street organic from Goose Island.

  4. It is located right next to the cheese and olives- great for pairing with help from their expert staff.