Chicago has been making a lot of money with its tourists recently. A record number of people visited last year – more than 55.2 million – a 2.5 percent elevation from 2016 visitors. This was up significantly from 2010 when there were approximately 39.25 million visitors.
It’s possible that this elevation in “leisure travel” – as suggested by the Mayor – could be due to Bon Appetit’s recognition of Chicago as “Restaurant City of the Year.” And what this means is the economy is benefiting as more jobs are created. As Mayor Emanuel said:
“By continuing to set new tourism records and bring millions more people to Chicago every year, we are generating economic opportunities that reach every Chicago neighborhood. The combination of record-setting growth in leisure visitors accompanied by record-setting results from the major conventions that choose to meet here is an outstanding barometer for the overall success of Chicago as a thriving destination.”
Agriculturally Illinois is doing well. Apple growers in the region encountered an excellent crop. According to Curtis Orchards in Champaign, orchard grower Randy Graham: “It was a good apple crop overall. I’ve been talking to a lot of growers … and everyone’s been fairly strong across the state. A lot of people have been saying they are about 80 to 85 percent of last year’s sales, and last year was a stellar year.” The success of the crop was due to correct weather conditions despite several rainy retail weekends.
Wings, wings and more wings…Chicago is definitely known for its Buffalo wings and has some of the best ones nationwide. This was recently ascertained in a Daily Meal ranking, which found the Windy City to be home to America’s top 25 wing establishments. Three of those included in the list were: Superior and Wabash (no. 15), Buffalo Joe’s (19) and Bird’s Nest (20).
For Chicagoans looking for more of a nighttime activity, whereby cocktails and food are served, there is Point & Feather, run by restaurateur Adolfo Garcia. So much more than an eatery, there are 12 dart boards in the restaurant but it is not set up as an arcade or an official dart bar just “a really cool hangout that has darts machines blending in with elements of design.” Vis-à-vis the food, the main elements are typically American and plate-sharing-encouraged. Items include: short rib, burger, white fish, pork belly and cocktails go under names such as Queen of Thorns, Espadin Dreams and Twilight in Amsterdam.
Of course, for those looking for something that just spells out ‘Chicago,’ Schaller’s Pump is the city’s oldest restaurant and bar. Established back in 1881 it has become quite the local legend, telling classic political and historical stories about Chicago and the White Sox. Old-school food with no-frills booze, it’s a must-see for tourists and a “Cheers” type bar for locals.
The food industry is “beefing” things up in Chicago. One example of this is the work by ex-Obamas’ chef, James Beard Award recipient and celebrity chef Rick Bayless who is attempting to help Chicagoans realize their dream of becoming a restauranteur.
Bayless is doing this via the culinary training program he has established for Chicago’s low-income students. For a minimal fee, students will learn cooking skills, and be placed into internships in top eateries in the region. This will be beneficial to both restaurant owners and students.
Meanwhile, Garfield Park Community Council member Angela Taylor, is one of the community leaders who is involved in the development of a new food industry incubator which will ultimately create jobs in the region. Opening a 67,000 sq. ft facility for the purpose, it will house the local farmers market and, within its first year will create at least 150 jobs.
From July 5 to 9, Taste of Chicago (featuring 67 local food vendors) will take place at Grant Park. While this is 2 less of the 2016 event, there are various new vendors including: Lawrence’s Fish & Shrimp and El Patron.
This year – for the first time – Taste of Chicago is collaborating with Humana (an insurance company). The main goal of this partnership is to be able to provide vendors with the option of offering healthier foods, as opposed to the traditional heavy-calorific items.
This year there are six new food trucks at the festival also which is somewhat political since many owners of these trucks have taken up issue with the restaurant association and the city authorities feeling that they are being forced out of Chicago.