South Australia is known as “the festival state”, and indeed, during my time living there I encountered at least one festival just about every other weekend. Festivals for wine and for Koreans, festivals for cheese and for Italians, African festivals, food festivals, the Festival of Ideas–these Aussies seem to throw a party every time someone sneezes. But I loved it because it gave me a chance to experience how different people in different parts of South Australia celebrated, how they ate, what they drank, what sort of music they liked. It really was a great way to experience the local culture, and, you know, have a good excuse to double fist a few sausages and beers. Chicago may not have amazing weather year-round like South Australia, but they do more than their fair share of festivals over the summer months. I would almost venture to say that Chicago does just as many festivals as South Australia does every year, except that Chicago has to cram them all into a three month time span or chance the wrath that is a Chicago winter (which, if you haven’t heard, is really an 8 month season here in Chicago). Every weekend from June through August, there are at least five different festivals to choose from, each one ready to fill you up with their favorite unhealthy food and alcohol of choice.
Welcome to Ribfest in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, where you can eat ten different kinds of rib in one setting and not feel bad about it. In fact, if you stay long enough, you might even come out smelling like a rib. And really, is that such a bad thing? So the concept is pretty simple. You show up, give a man some money, and get tickets that work as Ribfest cash. Because honestly, we aren’t killing enough trees with the napkin consumption rate alone at a rib fest, we need to waste just a bit more paper. God forbid we pay with real money.
So we took our Ribfest cash and headed over to the nearest delicious-smelling booth, which was Calvin’s BBQ. Now, there are several ways to cook ribs. Some chefs smoke them for many hours, some boil and then bake, some just grill them, and some smoke and then grill. All of them had bbq sauce slathered on them. Score.
But I can’t tell you how Calvin’s ribs tasted…because we ended up getting the beef brisket sandwich. I know. How anti-climatic.
It was okay…the meat didn’t taste as though it had been smoked at all, and the sauce was good, but not great. I know, I know. We should have gone with the ribs. So we moved on to Cy’s.
Cy’s is a steakhouse in Lincoln Square/North Center, and I’ve heard great things about their steak, so I was excited to try their ribs. And hey, what do you know, they’ve won the past five years in a row! It was really the perfect rib to start with.
The ribs were juicy, tender, and had the perfect amount of char on the outside from the grill. The sauce was great, tangy, sweet, but not overly so, and perfect for getting all over your face and into odd places that you are pretty sure the ribs never actually came near. Or maybe that is just me. And then we saw the hummus lady. And the words FREE in giant letters. The ribs, once again, were put on hold.
Normally, I wouldn’t waste time on a free sample booth at a festival, but this was actually quite a clever little marketing campaign. Sabra hummus was giving away free samples of their hummus, but they also had a little salad bar of ingredients that you got to pick to go on your hummus, and you also got tiny bags of pita chips or Sun Chips. It wasn’t a generic, come try our product sort of sample, but more of a come customize our product to your liking, which I appreciated. Plus, I am sure it gave people a few more ideas as what to do with hummus.
But back to the ribs. We hit up the Gale Street Inn for their ribs.
And also Robinson’s, a restaurant based out of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and my old favorite place to eat ribs.
The Gale Street ribs were pretty good, not quite as much char as Cy’s, but I wasn’t a fan of a sauce (I think Amy was, so clearly, it was just a matter of taste). Robinson’s, while better than Gale Street, just didn’t do it for me either. Their sauce was a bit too sweet, and their ribs didn’t taste like they had been grilled or smoked at all. The meat had the least flavor of the three different ribs we tried. Cy’s had our heart at first bite. Now, of course, are the obligatory chow down shots of everyone mowing down their ribs.
~LTG *********************************************************************************** Calvin’s BBQ 2540 W Armitage Ave Chicago, IL 60647 (773) 342-5100 http://www.calvinsbbq.com/ Cy’s Steakhouse 4138 N. Lincoln Chicago, IL 60618 773-404-5800 http://www.cysteak.com/ Gale Street Inn 4914 N. Milwaukee Chicago, IL 60630 773-725-1300 http://www.galestreet.com/ Robinson’s #1 Ribs 655 W Armitage Ave Chicago, IL 60614 (312) 337-1399 http://www.ribs1.com/