August 4, 2012
To sum up Lollapalooza's food lineup in terms of its musical headliners, this year's Chow Town roster is less Black Keys (currently hip) and more Ozzy Osbourne (nostalgically hip).
Curated for the last three years by chef Graham Elliot, Lollapalooza's Chow Towns — the name given to the food-vendor areas — have gone from being a cool, cuisine-focused version of Taste of Chicago to, well, Taste of Chicago. Indeed, one-third of this year's participants are current or former Taste vendors. And many of the other vendors, working Lolla for the third straight year, offer more familiarity than excitement.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Lou Malnati's $3 pizza slices are still the best value on site, and I hope Franks 'N' Dawgs (serving a monstrous "Pork of July" hot dog topped with pulled pork and cherry-bourbon barbecue sauce) and Kuma's Corner (where the waits are 20 times shorter than you'll endure at its location at Belmont and Francisco Avenues) never leave. And with weather this hot, who could object to the sight of Original Rainbow Cone?
But to see so many usual suspects out there — including Bacino's, Connie's Pizza, Robinson's No. 1 — is to wish for more fresh faces.
More booths, please, like Australian Truffle, a showcase for Frank Brunacci's truffle import business that's selling truffle-topped corn ($5) and a grilled ham and truffled-brie sandwich ($12), both excellent. An exclamation point for Chizakaya's yummy pork-belly sliders (on bao buns, $4) and a big question mark for its bizarre octopus beignets (six for $5), a soft-outside, rubbery-inside puzzle. Take Mercat a la Planxa's steak sandwich ($7) over the one offered at Gibsons ($15); both disappoint, but Mercat will disappoint you for less.
And make sure to venture over to the Farmer's Market, where Brunkow (a Wisconsin cheesemaker) is serving fried cheese on a stick (try the bacon and pineapple-chipotle syrup version, $3) and Puffs of Doom is dishing up chilled cream puffs (varieties change daily, $5).
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