Taste of Chicago

Photograph: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Chicago may no longer be able to tout “the world’s largest food festival,” if Alderman Bob Fioretti has his way.

He and a group of fellow Alderman submitted a resolution on Wednesday calling on the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation to hold hearings on the 33-year-old Taste of Chicago, asking specifically whether or not it should continue. According to DCASE, the food festival lost the city $1.3 million in 2012, prompting Fioretti and his supporters to question its viability.

Is the city ready to lose the famous fest? At Chicago magazine, we’ve been covering the event since the 1980s. The overwhelming response from our crew? Shut it down. Here’s why we’ve lost our appetite:

It’s touristy.
“Opening year. The whole lake front crackled with excitement and more and more folks drifted in all day until the “midway” and the park were packed with happy munchers. Fortunately, we staked out a little patch of grass early and claimed it for a personal picnic ground—with every course coming from the Taste. We took turns going on food runs. So much fun. You would think Elvis had come to town. Loved the Rainbow Cones and pizza and giant turkey legs. This was before chefs had become rock stars and being able to sample a ton of iconic Chicago foods in one day was about as good as it gets.

As the Taste grew bigger, my appetite for it lessened. Too crowded, too touristy, too loud, too predictable. I finally gave in a few years back, if only to confirm my lowered expectations. I walked around to take in the scene, bought a Rainbow Cone, and was safely seated at the movies at 600 N. Michigan by 4 p.m. in time to catch the latest foodie flick, Ratatouille. Seemed only right.”
—Penny Pollack, dining editor

It’s lazy.
“I went in probably 1987; the first TOC was in 1980. My memory was that it was truly the fulfillment of the premise: tasty samples from good new restaurants in the city (although, admittedly, who knows how good the restaurants were). The sad thing is that it’s hardened into canned cultural programming—slotting in the same vendors year after year.”
—Jennifer Tanaka, executive editor

It’s too drunk.
“I like the fact that they have gotten some bigger bands in recent years—Death Cab for Cutie, for example, and even some high-powered country acts—but I don’t find the food very adventurous, and there are too many drunk people. Also, the last time I was there I was very pregnant and the bathrooms were dis-gus-ting.”
—Cassie Walker Burke, executive editor

It’s a money pit.
“I’ll admit I haven’t been to the Taste since the mid-00s. Even back then I had the same complaints as current festgoers have: overpriced food that’s half as good as in the brick and mortar restaurants, huge crowds on hot days, not nearly enough low-cal or vegetarian options, etc. I’d be okay with the Taste continuing and just not attending, though, if it actually brought in money to the city. Turns out it doesn’t.
—Emmet Sullivan, senior editor

It’s not a true “taste” of Chicago.
“If I wanted any of that food, I could just go and get it without dealing with the crowds. There’s only so much you can eat after waiting in a long line in the burning sun, never mind finding a place to sit. It was great to go and see Jennifer Hudson last year. But I was underwhelmed by the food—which is supposed to be the whole point. I can think of five random Polish restaurants where you could get a better sausage any day of the year.”
—Kristina Vragovic, editorial intern