So much happening on the Chicago food scene this summer! Openings aplenty, epic food events on the horizon, craft beer and wine dinners and so much more to talk about.
Evanston was devastated when Dominick’s closed, but thrilled to hear about the future replacements planned. The future is here! A hearty welcome to Valli Produce International Fresh Market  (1910 Dempster St., Dempster Plaza, Evanston, 847-866-6100), which brings a much-needed grocery store back to this neighborhood, and an anchor for Dempster Plaza. And there was much fanfare on the North Shore last week when the giant Whole Foods finally opened its doors at 2738 Green Bay Road, right on the border of Wilmette. And with two other WFs in Evanston already, it’s clear that this third location is intended to serve not only Northwest Evanston, but also Wilmette, Winnetka and Kenilworth. You can even enjoy a glass of wine while you’re there. Yay!
Other new spots to check out: The Simple Greek (478 Central Ave., Highland Park, 847-748-8285), a fast-casual place in the style of Chipotle, but with Greek ingredients instead (think Greek pita, salad or rice with gyro meat, chicken, lentils or pork souvlaki, and of course feta and tzatziki sauce!); Windy City Pie  (415 Fourth St., Wilmette, 224-408-2460), a charming stop near the Linden Street El station for pies savory and sweet, large and small; and Beth’s Little Bake Shop  (1814 Central St., Evanston, 224-999-7595), which inhabits the tiny corner store near the Central Street Metra stop. It’s filled with adorable cookies, tarts and more.
Two more Evanston openings, both involving Curt’s Cafe , the nonprofit restaurant run by Susan Trieschmann, where you “can enjoy great food and help the community at the same time,” according to their website. Curt’s provides job training and mentoring to juvenile offenders to prepare them for a job in the food service industry. They’ve opened a second location Curt’s South (1813 Dempster St., Evanston, 847-563-8883) just across the street from the new Valli store. The original location (2922 Central St., Evanston, 847-868-8385) is partnering with Lake Bluff’s Chef John des Rosiers of Inovasi fame to transform nightly into La Taqueria, serving great tacos, salads, quesadillas and the like. Stop by and enjoy something new!
Fun Foodie Events
Summertime in Chicago means lots of outdoor food events, and this year is no exception, although the weather has not always been cooperative! The really big food event on the horizon comes at the end of September, but sadly, much of it is already sold out. We had an amazing time at Bon Appetit’s Chicago Gourmet in Millennium Park last year; if you are interested in attending this year’s on events Sunday, Sept. 27, tickets can be purchased here . Watch out for tickets to the super fun Sept. 25 kickoff event, The Hamburger Hop, too
The good news is that this year there’s a pre-event that promises to be a winner, and tickets are still available to the “Mod Mex & Mod Mix ” weekend events, to take place Saturday, Sept. 12 at Kendall College (900 N. Branch St., Chicago) and Sunday, Sept. 13 at Topolobampo (445 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-661-1434). The Kendall event pits four chefs cooking different styles of Mexican food in a “friendly face-off,” along with tequila and wine tastings, food sampling, cooking demos and more, all emceed by Catherine De Orio of WTTW’s “Check, Please!” The cost for this event is $85 per person; it will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Topolobampo event on Sept. 13 is a bit pricier ($195 dinner/$275 dinner and VIP reception), but what a special treat. The five-course “Mod Mex” dinner is hosted by Chef Rick Bayless and features guest chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark (Parachute, Chicago), Javier Plascencia (Misión 19, Tijuana) and José Ramón Castillo (Que Bo!, Mexico City) and mixologists Jay Schroeder (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo), Eryn Reece (Death & Company, NYC) and Erick Rodriguez (Almazecalera, Mexico City). The one-hour VIP reception features a cooking demo by Bayless in his test kitchen. Best of all, the proceeds from this event benefit students studying the culinary arts at Kendall College.
The Chicago History Museum’s 3rd Annual Hot Dog Fest  takes over Lincoln Park this weekend (August 7 – 9) and features great eats (including dogs from Abbey Pub, Cookers Red Hots, Select Cut Steakhouse and Wishbone), hot tunes (live music all three days, ranging from blues to reggae) and speakers waxing on provocative topics (“Ketchup: The Condiment of Controversy” and “Adventures in the Weiner City” to name a few). You’ll also find family-friendly crafts, face painting and rides. Admission is free, but food ticket packages will be available online and at the festival. Hot dog…what fun!
Also coming up: the Taste of Greektown  (400 Halsted St. at Van Buren, Chicago) returns to the West Loop for the 26th year Aug. 22 and 23. You don’t have to be Greek to love the food from these participating restaurants: Artopolis, Athena Greek, Greek Islands, Mr. Greek Gyros, 9 Muses Bar & Grill, The Parthenon, Roditys, Santorini, Spectrum Bar & Grill and Zeus Restaurant. Enjoy Greek bands and family entertainment. Admission is free, and the festival is open from noon to 11 p.m. both days.
And mark your calendar for the Evanston Chicago/Dempster Business District’s 2nd Annual Charity Wine Walk on Thursday, September 17. Over 30 businesses will join in the fun, pouring Chilean wine samples, serving appetizers and showing off their fabulous merchandise. Each $30 ticket includes a bottle of wine and a free raffle ticket. Purchase tickets online or at Vinic Wine (1509 Chicago Ave., Evanston). The best part is that two local nonprofits will benefit from the event: The Woman’s Club of Evanston  Annual Grants program; and JJ’S List, a program of disability service organization Search, Inc.  Isn’t it fun to drink wine, shop and help others at the same time?
I can’t wait for the upcoming “Tale of Two Houses ” wine dinner on Wednesday, Aug. 19. It pairs the food of James Beard Award nominee Chef Tanya Baker (The Boarding House, Chicago) with Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos (Bohemian House, Chicago) for a “whole hog heritage dinner” featuring wine pairings by Napa Valley’s Failla Winery. At $95 all-inclusive per person, that’s a bargain. The event will be hosted at Alpana Singh’s The Boarding House (720 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-280-0720). Maybe I’ll see you there.
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