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How to do the Taste of Chicago – with taste

From the Saturday, June 25, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

How to do the Taste of Chicago – with taste

The WISCH LIST

June 25, 2011

It’s been a tough week for the Taste of Chicago.

And the Taste just started yesterday.

First, on Tuesday morning, with the city still jittery about the recent rash of downtown muggings by so-called “flash mobs,” new Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was forced to hold a press conference in an attempt to soothe concerns about potential violence at the 31st annual Taste.

In addition to the city adding more video surveillance at the Taste, McCarthy told reporters that this year, “We are deploying more undercover officers. We are not going to tell you the numbers because that would imprudent for us to do that.”

While McCarthy was clamming up, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass was just getting started as he wrote on Wednesday that, “There aren’t alcohol wipes big enough for the Taste of Chicago.”

Kass went on to lament the food extravaganza’s sweaty masses, writing “I’ve just never been able to comprehend the lure of it all. It’s disgusting. Perhaps it’s the millions of people eating fried food, wearing fanny packs, sweating, trying out for ‘Jersey Shore.’ ”

While I agree that the Taste can indeed be a steamy boondoggle (I certainly avoid it on weekends), but it’s also not that bad. Not if you know what you’re doing.

And here are a few tips on how to enjoy the fest – and avoid its madness …

Where do I go?

Located in Grant Park, along Columbus Drive between Monroe Street and Balbo Avenue, the Taste runs through July 3. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day except July 3, when the fest closes at 6 p.m. Ticket sales cut off a half-hour before closing time.

What’s the price?

Admission is free. Food and beverage tickets are sold in strips of 12 for $8, with most Taste items costing between 2 and 12 tickets each. Credit cards are accepted at ticket booths, but the cash-only lines generally move more quickly.

How should I get there?

If you can use public transportation, do that. To get the latest RTA, CTA and Metra information, visit transitchicago.com. If you do decide to drive, your closest parking options are the Millennium Park garage, East Monroe garage and Grant Park North and South garages. Check millenniumgarages.com for information.

Parking is also available for $13 at Soldier Field in the Waldron Deck garage, where you can catch a free trolley to and from the Taste that runs from 10:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except July 3, when it stops at 5:30 p.m. You can pre-purchase parking vouchers at soldierfield.clickandpark.com.

When should I visit?

To avoid the craziest crowds, it’s best to visit the Taste midweek during the early-to-mid afternoon.

What should I eat?

You, of course, have your Chicago icons, including Lou Malnati’s pizza, Garrett Popcorn, Eli’s Cheesecake, Manny’s corned beef and more. But you might want to also try out Chinatown institution Lao Sze Chuan and the Brazilian-style steakhouse Texas de Brazil. Both are new to the Taste lineup and reportedly were quite popular during the event’s Daley Center preview earlier this month.

Who should I see?

The musical lineup at this year’s Taste doesn’t feature many big names, but you can catch popular 1990s band Soul Asylum at 5 p.m. today or see country music legend Loretta Lynn perform at 5 p.m. on July 1. For the full music lineup, visit explorechicago.org.

What else should I know?

Know that alcoholic beverages and glass containers are forbidden at the Taste and all backpacks, coolers, etc. are subject to search. As for those “flash mobs,” If you just stay alert and don’t stray off by your lonesome, you’ll be just fine.