Highland Park gets it right with food festival
By Long Hwa-shu For Sun-Times Media August 25, 2013 2:23PM
Many food tents and an array of offerings were available at the Taste of Highland Park over the weekend. | TINA JOHANSSON~FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Updated: October 25, 2013 2:22AM
When it came to food, Highland Park did it in a big way.
An entire block on Central Avenue between First and Second streets in downtown was closed to traffic and turned into a gigantic dining area for the annual Taste of Highland Park over the weekend. Round tables topped with umbrellas filled the block with people milling around, eating and drinking merrily.
Nearly 20 of the city’s restaurants pitched tents selling their specialties — not just the familiar fare like burgers and pizzas, but something exotic like tapas, Spanish appetizers and snacks, and mojitos which is the traditional Cuban highball. There was pizza, but New York style. A tent selling gelato in 38 flavors had a sign proclaiming that ingredients came from Italy.
Going on simultaneously was the 30th annual Port Clinton Art Festival which brought more than 260 artists from across the country. The food brought people to the art festival and vice versa. Food and art apparently mixed well in Highland Park. There were live bands on stage.
Jeff Pryson of Evanston, munching on a pulled pork sandwich he bought from Real Urban Barbecue, pulled no punch when he said, “This is better than Evanston’s. I come here every year.”
“We’re very busy. There are a lot of happy people here,” said Max Freed, Real Urban manager as he took orders from an endless stream of customers. On the menu also were pulled chicken and the “Home Recker,” a combination of pulled pork and Texas sausage.
Tim Gill came with his girlfriend Pam Hendzel from Frankfort for a show later in the day at Ravinia Park. So, they went to the food festival and ordered Pippiranna de Buey — grilled skirt steak with onion topped with a blue cheese sauce.
“We never had any Spanish food before. This is delicious,” he said.
Lynne Malone of Evanston sat on a bench by the sidewalk eating a cheese burger after visiting the jam-packed art festival.
“I came here every year. It’s a great festival and I always find something to buy,” she said, wearing a cap and sunglasses to ward off the blazing sun with temperatures hovering in the mid 80s.
Stephanie Merchant, Chicago market manager for Sparkling Ice, and her team were giving out samples of the naturally-flavored mountain spring water in several flavors. There were plenty of thirsty takers.
“We’ve given out over 10,000 samples so far,” she said looking at her watch. It was about 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The fair would end at 10 p.m. She acknowledged that only 2,500 samples were handed out the day before.
Many fairgoers cooled their heels at Blue Cat Café on Central Avenue at Second Street overlooking a dizzying display of metal sculptures of oversized roosters.
“We got a lot of business because of the festival,” said manger Beth Herz.
Among customers were Bob Dorfman of Highland Park and his wife Amy. They moved here from New York in 1995.
“This is a wonderful event. We look forward to this event every year,” she said.
Out on the street, a man donning a hat made of balloons, was blowing balloons and twisted them into a variety of animals to the delight of children.
Rose’s Café & Bakery had a tent selling gluten-free sandwiches and wraps and Sunset Foods’ $1 mini-fish tacos were in great demand. And Michaels offered something unique: barbecue chips made with quinoa, known as the “super” nutritious grain. The hottest-selling gelato flavors at Frost were said to be sea salt caramel and chocolate. Overall, food prices were quite reasonable, perhaps one reason why the Taste of Highland Park was hugely popular.