For a festival in which food is not the primary focus, or even the secondary focus, Lollapalooza puts out a pretty good spread.
The Chow Towns, as they're called — lines of side-by-side booths clustered along Columbus Drive just north and just south of Congress Parkway — present more than 25 Chicago-based food vendors. And if a few of them belong in the who-let-that-guy-in category, the majority — as selected by chef Graham Elliot, Lolla's culinary director for the last four years — are solid, even innovative, performers.
And like the Lollapalooza music lineup, there are food performers you might never have heard of but are going to love (Salsa Truck, Chubby Wieners), well-known headliners who somehow manage to keep it fresh and interesting (Franks 'n' Dawgs, Bar Toma) and nostalgic acts that have been around so long (Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Original Rainbow Cone) that your parents know more about them than you do.
Kuma's Corner is absent from Lollapalooza for the first time in four years, leaving the "Lolla's Best Burger" title available. I'll award it right now to Edzo's, for its Wisconsin-bacon-cheddar burger ($7) with Ketchapeno (another Chicago original), which I liked better than M Burger's cheeseburger ($5) and way better than Robinson's No. 1 Ribs' painfully dry burger ($7).
The most expensive item is the wild boar sausage ($12) at Franks 'n' Dawgs; it's worth every dime. The well-seasoned sausage comes on a toasted lobster-roll bun and is topped with brie cheese, spicy aioli and blackberry compote. Traditionalists will appreciate the Chicago-style dog (they even remembered the sport peppers) at Chubby Wieners, an especially plump hot dog with a natural-casing bite.
Among the bargains, you'll pay just $6 for two plump, savory or spicy bao (Chinese steamed buns) at Wow Bao; $6 also will buy you a couple of steak tacos, nicely flavored with onions, cilantro and lime sauce, at The Salsa Truck. A hefty, lime-glazed old-style doughnut from Glazed & Infused is just $2. And the $6 root beer floats at Gale's Root Beer (famed pastry chef Gale Gand was in attendance Friday) feature great root beer and two fist-sized scoops of vanilla ice cream; the last time I had Gand make me dessert, I was dining at Tru and it cost me a week's rent.
Pulled-pork sandwiches ($7) from Smoke Daddy, baked-on-premises pizzas (via a trailer-mounted brick oven) from Bar Toma ($8 and $10), mustard-fried catfish ($7) from BJ's Market & Bakery — no wrong choices there.
Though all the booths were doing brisk business during Friday's lunch rush, the longest lines could be found at the Bar Tents, the Lolla fans apparently understanding the importance of hydration on a warm summer day.