A taste of the Taste

By Evan Minsker

Unless you’re a superhuman who lives in Grant Park, it’s impossible to cover all the bases of the Taste of Chicago. It’s a festival that brings together an odd amalgamation of things: Barenaked Ladies, Independence Day and fried dough, for example.

So as Chronicle photographer Lenny Gilmore and I set out on expedition to the Taste of Chicago, we decided we would go straight for the weird stuff. That’s right-no deep-dish pizza, no Chicago-style hot dogs and no cheeseburgers.

But before I tell you about the different foods that we ate, I should give you a little bit of background about my personal preferences. First of all, I’m a vegetarian. Therefore, any opinions on foods with meat in them are exclusively those of Gilmore.

But enough background information. Here’s what we had.

Food: Sweet potato cheesecake

Restaurant: C’est Si Bon!, 5225 S. Harper Ave.

What it is: Exactly what it sounds like-the unspeakable marriage of vegetable and cheesecake.

Our thoughts: Not good. On first taste, it tastes a lot like pumpkin pie. But the after-taste was bitter and unfortunate. We both wondered why this was our first decision on a hot, muggy day.

Food: Alligator sausage

Restaurant: Blue Bayou, 3734 N. Southport Ave.

What it is: It’s a Cajun-style sausage made of gators.

Our thoughts: I watched on as our brave photographer took his first bite. He chewed it a bit, looked confused, and then I saw the disappointment wash over his face. He told me that it tasted over-spiced and that the meat wasn’t that great. After he ate it, he immediately shared his regrets for his risky choice.

Food: Vegetarian BBQ twist

Restaurant: Soul Vegetarian, 205 E. 75th St.

What it is: Soul Veg is a restaurant that focuses solely on creating soul food that is entirely vegetarian friendly. This was essentially like a meatless rib concoction on a stick.

Our thoughts: I loved it. Although I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly two years now, I’ve been longing for some decently prepared barbecue. This really hit the spot. I’d recommend it to a carnivore in a heartbeat.

Food: Zeppole

Restaurant: The Chef’s Tent at Taste

What it is: It’s like a French cruller, but it had a creamy filling and a cherry on top.

Our thoughts: Over all pretty flavorless, but it was oddly refreshing when compared to our respective barbecue and sausage experiences. I wouldn’t go for it, though. Try something that promises a bit more flavor.

Food: Watermelon Italian ice

Restaurant: Franco’s, 300 W. 31st St.

What it is: It’s shaved ice with watermelon flavoring.

Our thoughts: Again, it was refreshing, but ultimately lacked any flavor or incentive to continue eating. Next!

Food: Maduras (sweet plantain wedges)

Restaurant: Las Tablas, 4920 W. Irving Park Rd.

What it is: Fried plantains (think mini-bananas) that are sweet and chewy.

Our thoughts: These were really rich. I mean it was definitely a nice treat, but it’s a good thing we only ordered the smaller portion.

Food: Pork-filled banana dumpling

Restaurant: Sabor Latino Restaurant, 3400 W. Fullerton Ave.

What it is: The grand finale. It’s a deep-fried banana dumpling filled with pork.

Our thoughts: While the alligator sausage garnered a slow-burning reaction of disgust, the pork-filled banana dumpling captured our resident meat connoisseur’s immediate disgust. Gilmore described the dish as “crunchy pork mush,” “pizza crust that’s been soaked in pork,” and said that it completely lacked any taste of banana.

So do we have a recommendation? Soul Vegetarian was certainly a pleasant surprise, but otherwise, it’s probably best to stick to the greasy and delicious devil you know.