From Ribfest to Oktoberfest, we at Centerstage just can't get enough of festival season. (Don't believe us? Check out our ridiculously over-informative festival guide.) We are especially delighted by any excuse to spend a weekend in Grant Park, soaking up the sun, staring down the cityscape and reveling in the knowledge that nobody books a music festival as well as Chicago. In fact, the only thing we take issue with is standing in lines; at the entrance, to get another 312, to go to the port-o-johns. But we've resigned ourselves to the fact that queuing up is a necessary evil; except when it comes to chow time. Instead of dutifully joining a long and winding line to get our grub, we sneak out to one of these Grant Park-vicinity restaurants:
Frencheezie at Old Timer's Restaurant and Bar
Sure, you could wait in line for a Chicago-style dog at one of the Grant Park vendors, but when one of the city's best frencheezies is just a stroll away, why would you? Old Timer's, the quintessential old-world haunt that set up shop downtown in 1967, boasts the lengthy Greek-American menu you'd expect from a place with wood-paneled walls and dirt-cheap domestic beers. You'll find plenty of old-man grub here (liver and onions, anyone?), but don't be silly; You're here for the frencheezie ($6.99). After all, how could anyone resist a gigantic fried hot-dog filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon? Yeah, it might kill you before you get back to the park, but you'll have bragging rights for the rest of the day.
Green Curry at Thai Spoon
No one has mastered the art of eating on the cheap quite like the students at Columbia College. You're guaranteed to find in-the-know co-eds traipsing from the summer's festivities in the park back to their home turf at Thai Spoon. The comfy digs call to eaters from all walks, but the clientele leans toward the artsy side. While it's tempting to stuff your face with the huge maki selection, opt for the green curry (small $6.50; large $8.50) to stave off your hunger. An earthy blend of spices go into this curry paste, which is then infused with coconut milk and served with basil, bamboo shoots and aromatic jasmine rice. In the grand tradition of Thai restaurants, you can choose your protein (beef, chicken or tofu) and specify how hot you want your meal.
Hackneyburger at Hackney's
Few things bring on a burger craving like the timeless marriage of summer heat and amplified music, but if you're wise enough to steer clear of fast-food chains, mile-long festival food-stand lines and the Billy Goat during the height of tourist season, you'd be smart to head over to Hackney's Printers' Row. This family-owned Illinois chain only has six locations, all local, so you'll be doing a good deed to bring them your business. But make no mistake, as rewarding as supporting local businesses might be, the famous Hackneyburger ($8.95, add $.95 for cheese) is infinitely more satisfying. "Classically" prepared since 1939, this burger is made from fresh ground beef that's never hit a freezer, dark rye bread baked fresh daily, raw onions and your choice of swiss, american or cheddar cheese. Served with house-made cole slaw and fresh-cut fries, this is the happiest meal in stomping distance.
Deep-Dish Pizza at Exchequer Pub
While all the out-of-towners are waiting for a table at Giordano's, Gino's and Uno to experience Chicago-style pizza, you (the savvy local) will already be on your second beer at Exchequer. Located in the heart of the Loop, just a stroll away from the screaming masses at Grant Park, this downtown pizza joint has been serving up deep-dish since 1969. The menu skews Italian, but the decor is pure Chicago; complete with local flavor like sport-clippings as decor and an Al Capone backstory (the OG used to dine here when it was the 226 Club). Because Exchequer has four enormous dining rooms, you'll be able to get a table in no time. If you're with a party of four, opt for the 14-inch deep-dish pan pizza ($14.75); the price can't be beat for this buttery crust, anchored by inches of gooey cheese and tangy tomato sauce.
Corned Beef at Ada's Famous Deli and Restaurant/14 Karat Lounge
If you're one of the many locals who can't shake the association of a heaping corned beef sandwich and a trip to the Loop, may we remind you that Ada's Famous Deli and Restaurant is a comfortable distance from Grant Park? This classic downtown institution has a ton of seating space, and is run with such precision that you'll rarely find yourself waiting for a place to enjoy your meal. And what meal would that be? Why, a heaping corned beef sandwich, of course. Ask them to make it into a club ($9), and you'll get a hefty triple-decker take on a Chicago classic. Three layers of savory corned beef on wheat toast served with creamy slaw and a crispy pickle; so good, you won't be surprised to learn that Ada's goes through 200 pounds of corned beef a week. Bonus: You can sidle up to the bar at the adjacent 14 Karat Lounge and order anything from Ada's menu, including breakfast.