Taste of Chicago survived without fireworks, but can it survive without turkey legs?
Sad but true: The barbecued turkey leg, arguably Taste's most iconic menu item, will be missing from this year’s festival.
There will be no long lines of patient turkey-leg aficionados, no clouds of fragrant smoke rising from those grills. No adorable photos of 10-year-olds nibbling tentatively at the oversized, sauce-drenched hunks of meat.
Tim McGivern, the Man-Behind-the-Drumstick since Taste’s earliest days, is sitting this year out.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve had health issues; my knee and spine are not good. My doctors more or less advised against it.”
McGivern, who will turn 63 this summer, introduced his bbq barbecued turkey leg at Taste in 1981, as the then-owner of Great Godfrey Daniels restaurant in Skokie. When that restaurant closed after the 1996 Taste, McGivern partnered with Helen’s Restaurant from 1997 to 2009, then with Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen in 2010 and 2011.
Regardless of the name over the Taste booth, the turkey legs were always McGivern’s domain.
“I’ve spent half my life down there, cooking turkey legs,” McGivern said.
This year, however, McGivern is facing surgical repair of his right knee (he had the left knee repaired more than a year ago) and complicated back surgery. Even so, he didn’t decide to hang up his barbecue tongs right away.
“This wasn’t an overnight decision,” he said. “I almost pulled the plug last year, and didn’t, and I paid for it physically. But you know, it’s very enjoyable. When you’re really cranking and you’re doing well (in sales), it’s like being involved in a ballgame you’re winning. You just want to keep going. Especially the last few days, when you’re going neck-and-neck with your competitors, asking, ‘How’d you do?’ at the end of every day. I’ll miss that a lot.”
The ever-optimistic McGivern won’t rule out a return in 2013 (is there an award for Comeback Griller of the Year?). But this year, Taste will try to get along without him.