Home again… munching on chicken nuggets and fries from Wendy’s and reflecting on the three days I just spent eating my way through the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. In past years, I’ve only had enough time on the Show floor to stop by a few major booths, but I extended my stay in Chicago this year, and as a result am able to take you on a tasting tour of the Show.
Sunday, May 17
Arriving at the Show around 11 a.m. sans breakfast, I began sampling at the Ghirardelli booth with a chocolate chip cookie. Unsurprisingly, the cookie was deliciousâ€”moist yet crisp with a balance of flavors that really allowed the chocolate to shine. (In retrospect, possibly not the most nutritious way to jumpstart the day, but tasty nonetheless.) I immediately moved on to Joseph’s Pasta Company where I tested fried cheese ravioli filled with a melted yellow cheese (kind of a Cheese Whiz or Velveeta texture, but more sophisticated taste), and non-fried ravioli filled with braised beef, which was unexpected but flavorful.
At the Calavo booth, I sampled guacamole so fresh it would have been hard to believe it came out of a bag if I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes.
Next I grabbed a piece of margherita pizza from Little Lady Foods, which I liked most for its crustâ€”just the right thickness with a bit of a crunch (I hate soggy pizza). I finally took a break on the couches at the Tyson booth, snacking on the new Tyson Chicken Twists, which I could eat by the basket.
I only tasted one product that I chose not to finishâ€”a pretzel with spinach and feta that was so unimpressive I can’t even remember where I picked it up; my main complaints: lack of flavor and mushy texture. My only additional negative was the challenge of staying hydrated on the Show floor; I picked up flavored lemonade from Torani, and though it didn’t quite quench my thirst for water, it was a deliciously sweet and tangy substitute.
Monday, May 18
I started the day back at the Tyson booth for a lunch of Chicken Twists (what can I say, I’m a sucker for handheld chicken productsâ€”nuggets, fingers, fries, etc.).
In need of sides I ventured to Cavendish Farms for regular potato fries and to ConAgra Foods for waffle fries, both of which were hot, crispy, and perfectly seasoned. I sampled an excellent cheddar-stuffed pretzel at J&J Snack Foods; however the real stars of the J&J booth were the funnel cake fries. Imagine the indulgent flavor and texture of a funnel cake without the messâ€”it’s ingenious!
I moved on to Sweet Street Desserts where I tasted an orange mousse and a key lime pie bite. Though I was disappointed not to find any of the cupcakes I had sampled the previous night at the Share our Strength BBQ, the mousse was so deliciously light and frothy, I had to return to try the lemon flavor. Next was a hunt for ice cream or gelato, arguably my favorite type of dessert. Starting at the Dreyer’s/Edy’s booth, I tasted perfectly cool and crisp mint chocolate chip ice cream (I must admit, I ate my full serving plus a coworker’s). My last stop was Talenti Gelato for a sample of white chocolate raspberry gelatoâ€”the chaos of the Show did not exactly offer the same atmosphere as visiting a gelateria on the streets of Italy, but the gelato itself was right on.
Tuesday, May 19
My last day at the Show, so I had to start by revisiting a couple of my favorite booths. I returned to Little Lady Foods to try a different flavor of pizza, and was not disappointed with a buffalo chicken pizza that had just the right amount of sweetness and spice. Back at Calavo, I sampled the avocado hummus, but must admit I like their guacamole better. Though tasty, the avocado hummus just couldn’t compare to the zest of guacamole or the garlic essence of basic hummus. To cleanse my palate, I grabbed a bag of fresh, crisp grapes from HMC Farms, and moved on to Crepini CafÃ© where I sampled a portabella mushroom crepini. Though I am not an expert in savory crepes (when I spent time in Paris, I was addicted to banana and chocolate crepes), I was impressed with how the slight sweetness of the crepe balanced the rich, earthy flavors of the mushrooms. Of course the day would not be complete without Tyson Chicken Twists and fries from ConAgra Foods and Cavendish Farms, and then back to J&J Snack Foods for more funnel cake fries and to Dreyer’s/Edy’s to try the dulce de lece ice cream.
At Sweet Street Desserts, they were out of my favorite mousse, but a super-helpful staffer brought us lemoncello shots of layered cake and filling that were absolutely phenomenalâ€”kind of a combination of my previous two obsessions, J&J’s cupcakes and mousse.
We ended the day at McCormick for grilled shrimp that were extremely messy but well worth the effort, and light, refreshing key lime cheesecake from Lawler’s Desserts.
This guest blog was submitted by Nicole Lierheimer for The Food Channel.