Forget pork, cupcakes and even taco trucks. The next big Chicago food trend won't necessarily be about what's on the plate, but what's on the soundtrack. Music and food pairings have been gaining steam in the city, from the recent "Sound Opinions" dinner at Blackbird to Graham Elliot's installation as "food czar" at Lollapalooza. There's no better place to take the plunge than at the Taste of Chicago (June 25-July 4), where tunes and tastes are daily battling for attendees' attention. Here are some one-two punches to consider at the 30th annual event.
Salt 'n' Pepa Friday, June 25, 5:30 p.m.; Petrillo Music Shell
This one is almost too easy, what with all the salt-laden snacks and peppery plates available at the Taste. But we're going to take a slightly different route when it comes to these queens of '90s hip-hop, and march right up to Original Rainbow Cone
(Booth #38) to cool things down. There may not be any "Shoop"-approved "yum-yum chocolate chip honey dip" on the menu, but the cookie dough should come close enough. For those fans of the other old-school acts on display today, we recommend Polo Cafe & Catering
's (#33) pair of petite grilled steak sirloin sandwiches (because, as Rob Base knows, it takes two to make a meal go right) and Garrett's
(#53) mixed nuts (are we the only ones who see a strong resemblance between Slick Rick and Mr. Peanut?). For Bell Biv Devoe, you can pick your poison.
Gavin Rossdale Saturday, June 26, 5:30 p.m.; Petrillo Music Shell
You may not have realized it when you were singing along to "Machinehead" in 7th grade, but the former Bush lead singer is a proud British citizen. Even though he's well accustomed to the pleasures of America – including his lovely wife, Gwen Stefani –at this point, he probably misses the tastes of his homeland every now and then, and Abbey Pub
's fish and chips (Booth #11) are as good as it gets at the Taste (we're still waiting for the black pudding booth). As a bonus, the fat-free ice cream bar served up by this vendor could very likely contain some glycerine, a known thickening agent.
Los Lobos/Los Lonely Boys Tuesday, June 29, 5:30 p.m.; Petrillo Music Shell
You've got a few different Mexican options to choose from for munching on during this double dose of Latin rock, but only one of them truly fits the bill: La Justicia
(Booth #3), the Little Village spot known not only for its authentic enchiladas, tacos and fajitas but for its raucous live-music sessions on Friday nights. We could see either of these bands on stage at one these parties, and having a bit of the restaurant's classic fare in hand will make the big show feel that much more intimate. This is all assuming, of course, that you aren't able to smuggle a "big as your head" La Bamba burrito into Grant Park
Rob Thomas Friday, July 2, 5:30 p.m.; Petrillo Music Shell
You could be forgiven for thinking it's still the mid-'90s, what with all the nostalgia acts filling the Petrillo Shell stage thus far. But Thomas has actually accomplished much beyond his chart-topping role as lead singer of Matchbox Twenty – like the time he played Sinbad's rehab roommate on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." No, seriously ; the guy has been honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and continues to burn up the adult contemporary charts. In honor of his 2009 hit, "Give Me the Meltdown" (and not at all based on the cheesiness of his music), we suggest indulging in one of the many pizza options at the fest, whether it's Bacino's
(Booth #10), Connie's
(#16), Home Run Inn
(#25), Lou Malnati's
(#32), or Reggio's
Steve Miller Band Saturday, July 3, 3 p.m.: Petrillo Music Shell
All the pickers, grinners, lovers and sinners who set up shop in lawn chairs for this one will crave a treat that'll take them back to the days when "Fly Like An Eagle" didn't conjure up images of U.S. Postal Service commercials, and rhyming "taxes" with "facts is" was considered cool. We can't promise that BJ's Market & Bakery
's peach cobbler (Booth #27) will do that, exactly, but we can't think of any midnight tokers who would turn down a portion of the stuff. A few bites, and you'll be looking for a tree to shake.
Passion Pit Sunday, July 4, noon; Petrillo Music Shell
The biggest surprise of the festival lineup, this Massachusetts electronic pop act deserves an equally surprising accompaniment. Contenders include Garrett's Popcornsicle (Booth #53, cool last year) and Sabor Latino
's (#36) pork-filled banana dumpling, but the Bissap sorbet from newcomer Iyanze
(#2) is our choice. The frozen hibiscus leaf tea topped with a dash of whip cream will provide the cooling fuel you need to dance through the high-energy performance, without any greasiness weighing you down. If you think you can handle it, and want to pay tribute to supporting soul/gospel/jam act Robert Randolph & the Family Band, the equally eyebrow-raising collard-green egg rolls at C'est Si Bon
(#21) will hit the spot.
Side dishes (at the Illinois Lottery Taste Stage):
The Yolks (June 26, 5:20 p.m.): This local act updates classic, ‘60s-style rock and R&B – kind of like Vermilion (#6) brings a fresh take to a Fest standard with its grilled Tandoori turkey leg.
Joe Walega Happy Hearts Orchestra (June 28, noon): Nothing makes a heart happier than a Maxwell Polish sausage from Bobak Sausage Company (#1). Just keep in mind that you'll be heading right back here for a bacon-wrapped German frankfurter when Die Musikmeisters play at 2:40 p.m.
The Heavy (July 3, 4 p.m.): To pay tribute to the English neo-soul/rock act's oversize name, here’s the most decadent menu item we could find this year: Cheese fries topped with bacon and sour cream from Home Run Inn (#25).