Once a year in downtown Chicago, thousands of businessmen and women get incredibly frustrated. That’s right, a generous portion of roads and streets used by commuters in cabs, busses, and Mercedes are blocked off so a bunch of scene kids and hipsters can tear up the grass in Grant Park – but tearing up the grass to some of today’s best independent artists. If you have not already guessed from the title of this post, I am speaking (or rather clicking away at my keyboard in a Caribou in Lake Geneva) about the sensory overload known as Lollapalooza.
Thankfully, other than the senses of hearing (usually really delicious audibles, unless you’re near the stage known as Perry’s) and smell (typically unpleasant unless you’re near Chow Town or Green Street, where the scent of freshly-juiced wheat grass is particularly potent), the sense of taste is gloriously highlighted in a beateous realm know as Chow Town. Divided into two parts, Chow Town North and Chow Town South, Chow Town features a diverse taste of some of Chicago’s best restaurants disguised in skins of metal and tarp in a typical county-fair-esque row of food stalls. Chow Town is organised and arranged by famed Chicago chef Graham Elliot, owner of Graham Elliot Restaurant, Grahamwich, and g.e.b., a new and particularly intriguing restaurant (everything on the menu is composed of only three ingredients). For a full list of restaurants featured at this year’s Lolla, check out this link. Please take a moment to click on it, take notes if you like, but really, please, if you’re ever in Chicago, try some of these restaurants (Particularly Grahamwich and Chizakaya).
Great. Now that you’ve an idea about the diverse cuisines available at Lolla, I shall relay in detail our scrumptious experience. Ah, I might as well start out with Grahamwich. My wife and I wandered slowly through Chow Town, gazing in awe at each booth’s menu. The restaurants had managed to convert gourmet dishes and ingredients into delicious street faire food. Incredible. We stopped at Grahamwich and noticed two menu items: the lobster corndog, 10$, and the white truffle and pamesan popcorn, 5$. We approached timidly and asked if Graham was around. We were told he was somewhere in the park and if we came back later, there was a good chance we’d see him. We wandered a bit more, attended some shows, then returned to the booth for a snack. Since Kaitlyn and I are inherently cheap (and presently poor), we decided to go with the less economically detrimental option and purchase a sack of truffle butter popcorn. But not before I began to freak out; as I stared through the heads of attendees, I saw a white pair of glasses on a very large, meaty head: it was GRAHAM ELLIOT, in the flesh.
He was there.
We hurried in and got our popcorn, then stood and watched as two girls snapped a photo with him. I was freaking out. My heart started pounding, I continuously repeated the phrase “there he is!”, and Kaitlyn grabbed my arm and told me to chill out. We cautiously approached the booth, and Kaitlyn asked if she could ask him a question. He eagerly and graciously obliged. Kaitlyn asked him about food photography, and Graham replied with a line I will never forget: “You want the food to look like you stumbled upon it walking through the forest. It should look natural.” I then realised that I finally had a great view of his tattoos. Whenever I watch Masterchef, I try to figure out what the heck is tattooed all over his massive, burly arms. I stared at them as he talked about how to break into the food photography industry, and the only thing I could fully identify was a penguin attached to a propellor jetpack.
Kaitlyn thanked him, and we both shook Graham’s massive, rugged chef hand. He smiled at us, and it was over. We had met Graham Elliot.
We enjoyed the popcorn immensely. It was flavourful, salty, peppery, cheesy, and, best of all, crossover gourmet-to-street cuisine. It was beautiful, and it was popcorn.
We also purchased an Asian Pork Belly Slider from the booth owned by Chizakaya. It was four dollars for a few bites, but those bites were transcendent. My body stayed in Chicago, and my soul went to a realm somewhat like Tokyo, but with less overpopulation and more Masaharu Morimoto’s on LSD. The pork belly was tender and flavourful, accompanied by sliced scallions, an Asian barbecue sauce, fried garlic, and served on one of those white, soft, Asian buns. Those few bites changed the way I understand contemporary cuisine, particularly in the realm of gourmet-to-street cuisine, and in many ways defined it for me.
This little bun cost four dollars. When I finished eating it, I told Kaitlyn that I have a particularly pejorative reaction when I discover the food has a size:price ratio such as this. However, when we finished, I decided that it was one of the best four dollars I’ve ever spent.
We also ventured in to Green Street where we purchased a vegan hummus and sprout wrap and some vegan tamales in honour of the true roots of the avant-garde music and food scene. Gaze upon them for a moment.
You have just observed a digital image of a large amount of home-made vegan hummus and very developed bean sprouts wrapped in an all natural, whole grain tortilla-type-thing. I felt fifty years younger after snacking on this recrementitiously healthy roll of life.
This is Kaitlyn with the tamales. The tamales don’t look like much here, but they were very fresh, very healthy, and very pleasurable to consume. There’s not much more I can say, and honestly if you’ve read this far, I’m just as tired of writing this as you are of reading it (which means, of course, if you are not tired at all, neither am I. Shall we continue?).
That’s about it – the essentials of our Lollapalooza adventures in the sensory realm of taste. I would rather not brag about the wonderful bands we were able to enjoy (including, but not limited to, Sigur Ros and of Monsters and Men, visible below), so I shall refrain from doing so.
Of Monsters and Men.
Jonsi of Sigur Ros.
Alright, let’s wrap this up with a hasty closing statement. When Lollapalooza rolls around next year, I definitely suggest that you drop a month’s worth of rent and attend. Honestly, those business people need a nice good annoyance once and a while.
For more images and food photography, visit Kaitlyn’s blog here.