A Little Taste of Chicago

This weekend’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal, a little belated (I was out of town for a wedding, sorry) …

A Little Taste of Chicago


Oct. 24, 2009

For my (Mayor Daley-taxed) money, there’s no better street in America on which to lose yourself during an autumn afternoon than Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

So, this past Sunday on the Mag Mile, that’s precisely what I did.

I enjoyed a picture-perfect day. I people watched. I window shopped.

I dodged panhandlers.

I generally lost myself in the crowd.

And then I found what I was looking for.

For the better part of two years when I was working downtown, on my way to work, I’d stroll past 670 N. Michigan Ave.

Every time, without fail and no matter the weather, I’d find people at that location standing 15- to 20-deep outside the door, patiently waiting to squeeze into the tiny shop just so they could buy a bag of popcorn.

And bask in its aroma.

Garrett Popcorn has been a Chicago institution since 1949. It is said to have famous fans with some big names, such as Katie Holmes, Halle Berry, Pamela Anderson and Salma Hayek.

The franchise has five locations in the city, including one at Navy Pier and two at O’Hare. But none were as popular as the bustling flagship store on Michigan Avenue, which in 2008 closed after 25 years to make way for the ongoing construction of the Ritz Carlton Residences.

During my days downtown, I never had the time to pop in to Garrett. After all, showing up to work late and smelling like caramel corn wasn’t really an option.

(Although, had I seen Salma Hayek waiting in line I might have made an exception.)

Last week, though, Garrett Popcorn made its return to the Mag Mile, opening a new shop at 625 N. Michigan Ave. And so, Sunday, I returned.

To finally find out what all the fuss is about.

I walked down Michigan Avenue on Sunday, turned east on Ontario Street (where the new Garrett’s front door is actually located) and came upon the shop.
There wasn’t a line streaming out of the store, but inside more than 20 customers snaked back and forth beside a sign that read: “Patience. Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.”

After a few minutes of listening to the man behind me debate with his friend how much popcorn he could pack for his flight back home, I reached the counter and ordered a bag of Chicago Mix, a concoction featuring both Garrett’s CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn.

The mix wasn’t cheap (a small bag set me back nearly $5), I have to say it was worth it. The CaramelCrisp is very good, the CheeseCorn, great.

As I walked back outside, my Garrett’s bag drew covetous looks from hungry passersby all the way to the pavilion outside Chicago’s historic Water Tower.

And it was there, among the pigeons, that I sat down, dug in and developed my lone complaint about Garrett Popcorn.

They didn’t give me a napkin.