It's easier to get by a bouncer at a hot Rush and Division club than it is to score popcorn at any one of the Garret shops. The natural inclination is to walk by the interminable lines of people camped out on Madison St. or Michigan Avenue and out of jealousy deride them as clueless tourists. But should you get a whiff or taste of this magical corn, fording the velvet rope and biding your time in line will become a professional adventure.
This certainly isn't health food. In the Michigan Avenue store, you used to be able to glimpse the back kitchen where pots of caramelized sugar for the caramel corn bubbled away. Every few minutes an employee will throw a batch of corn kernels into the rotating bin of the hot iron roasters. The perfume of fresh roasted corn will roil in your nostrils and induce an addict-like jonesing for more popcorn. Employees scoop the newly popped kernels into buckets filled with vats of cheese or caramel and a fresh pound of butter until the kernels glisten with flavor.
In the middle of winter, the store's front windows are beaded with condensation from the heat of fresh batches of popcorn. There's no better local tradition than scoring a fresh warm bag of caramel corn, strolling down the street, grabbing a the gooey steaming bunch from the wax bag, and licking your sticky fingers as the frost from your breath fills the cold air.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Nagrant