June 29, 2006


 Taste of Chicago    "This year Taste of Chicago will be more family friendly than ever," Mayor Daley said during his welcome speech at the preview party for Taste, which opens Friday and runs through July 9 at Grant Park. My family and I have been going for years and we wouldn’t miss it.   At the preview party, I was lucky enough to get a special interview with Mayor Daley, who said his favorite part of the Taste was "seeing families come together and enjoying food and live entertainment." His tip to families with children: "Come early in the morning and use public transportation." If using public transportation is not an option for you, there are a few parking garages near the festivities.

Admission to Taste of Chicago is free, however, the food and beverages are not. They can be bought with tickets purchased at the Dominick's ticket booths located throughout the grounds.  Tickets are sold only in strips of 11 for $7.

There’s no charge for the entertainment, however. Check the schedule for the Fun Time Stage, which will feature kid-friendly acts such as the U.S. Customs & Border Protection Canine Unit and Megan Waltman. The Chicago White Sox will appear there on July 6 with a speed gun to test your pitching, and a meet-and-greet with White Sox coaches and players. I would also recommend checking the schedule for the Family Village, which will offer free family bingo and face painting for kids. You can get the show schedule in a booklet that is free at the Dominick's ticket booths, or online at www.tasteofchicago.us.   There is also a Ferris Wheel, water flume ride (which I suggest you do on your way out because you can get soaked!), carousel and the Extreme Team High Divers. The high dive show is truly amazing, and most kids that I have seen at the show through the years have really gotten into it.  There is a lot of positive interaction between the cast and the audience. 

Make sure that you come up with a family meeting spot. We learned this through experience the year we brought my grandmother and got separated in the crowd. (We were only able to find her with the help of the Chicago Police Department.) Also know where the Lost Child facility is. For parents bringing small children, there is a Parent Helper Tent located next to the Dive Show.

I tried food from a variety of restaurants at the preview and all of them were very good. However, my clear favorite main entrée was the chili glazed blackened tamarind ribs from Vermilion. This is definitely a dish worth trying for adults, and I think that most kids would like it if they are willing to try something a little out of the ordinary. Vermilion is only at Taste on July 7 as part of The Gourmet Food Tent, a place where one restaurant features a few of their menu items each day. Another restaurant that will be featured there is La Strada, which will be serving awesome crab cakes on July 3.

Here are other yummy main meals for kids: For thin crust pizza, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria; for thick crust pizza, Bacino's Pizza; for cheeseburgers: Billy Goat Inn, and for hot dogs, Vienna Beef/Gold Coast Dogs. For kids who love traditional ribs, Fireplace Inn offers an amazing BBQ boneless rib sandwich. It’s always the first thing my family and I eat each year.

Jim Law, director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, said the most kid-friendly foods at Taste are cheesecake and pizza.    Save room for dessert because a new restaurant called Chicago Chocolate Company is the place to go. It will be featuring chocolate-covered fruit kabobs, chocolate-covered strawberries and chocolate covered Rice Krispie Treats. This is definitely one-stop shopping for the whole family.   Other booths also featuring dessert are Aunt Diana's Candy Makers, which has delicious chocolate-covered bananas. For Italian ice, try Mazzone's Italian Ice, and ice cream lovers should stop at the Original Rainbow Cone. (Make sure that you ask for your rainbow ice cream to be placed on the cone very well, as I had a bad experience with three of mine falling off and onto the sidewalk a few years ago!)

For cheesecake, Eli's Cheescake is always a popular choice. Owner Marc Schulman told me the most popular item with children is the dippers, frozen cheesecake on a stick. They are handheld and easy to eat. He estimates about 40,000 dippers are sold at Taste of Chicago each year.   Look for booths offering a Taste portion size available for some dishes. They cost half the price of the main entrée and are half the size. This is a great way for everyone to experience many foods, especially younger children and people looking for a "taste" of a meal. Allie Sakowicz, 12

26th Annual Taste of Chicago. Grant Park, Downtown Chicago. Monroe Street to Balbo Avenue and Michigan Avenue to Lake Shore Drive.  (312) 744-3370, www.tasteofchicago.us.

The Late Great Nocturnal Night at the North Park Village Nature Center

My family and I quickly realized that the North Park Village Nature Center lives up to its name: “Sanctuary in the City.” This 46-acre nature preserve, nestled in the northwest side of Chicago, is a welcome oasis in this busy urban area.

Upon our arrival, we headed into the nature center building where we were greeted by a friendly volunteer who invited us in to visit with Skypoke, an injured green heron that resides at the nature center. Much to our delight, Skypoke put on a little show for us, making it clear, as his caretaker explained, that he was interested in eating again. The building also housed a remarkable array of fossils and shells that can be picked up and examined. A large table filled with several interesting specimens including a turtle shell, an opossum skull and a partial deer leg kept my son enthralled. The center offers many opportunities for children to touch, explore and learn.

Although the nature center is open only until 4 p.m. on most days, it stays open until 8 p.m. the last Friday of each month for Late Great Nocturnal Night. We attended last month and the evening included a visit from four raptors from the Spring Brook Nature Center. We got an up-close view of these fascinating animals and even got to see what raptors do with their prey after they have ingested it.

All the activities in the nature center building were a big hit with my 8-year-old son. He especially enjoyed the hands-on activities and the interactive displays. He had an opportunity to make a bullfrog-calling device and try it out at the pond. His best efforts to serenade some frogs did not prove successful but he sure had fun trying.  

Our evening concluded with a self-guided walk around the preserve. The trail winds through woodlands, wetlands, prairies and savannas. It is a very manageable and stroller-friendly walk. We spotted several deer, some turtles and various birds along the way. However, the big treat of the evening came at the conclusion of our walk, when we observed a mother deer with her fawn at her side.

We loved our visit to the North Park Village Nature Center. It was the perfect balance of hands-on activities and quiet reflection in the natural surroundings. The Late Great Nocturnal Night is a fabulous opportunity to see the preserve at a quieter time of day and get a peek at those animals that are more active as night approaches. Maureen Robst

“Late Great Nocturnal Night.” June 30. North Park Village Nature Center. 5801 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago. 4-8 p.m. Free. (312) 744-5472. www.chicagoparkdistrict.com.

 “Movin’ Out”

"Movin' Out," the high-energy song and dance show in town for two weeks, is perfect for fans of Bill Joel's music, Twyla Tharp's choreography and generally anyone over age 18. In short, this is no place for kids, even before you get to the scene with the whip-wielding dominatrix and the bikini-clad transvestite.   We took three kids, ages 10, 12 and 17 to opening night on Wednesday. The only reasons they didn't give the show a failing grade were: the piano player (the 12-year-old) and the dancing (the 10-year-old) and the music (the 17-year-old, a musician).   We adults, however, are Billy Joel and Twyla Tharp fans and enjoyed the show very much (when we weren't sneaking glances at the kids to see how they reacted to the S&M scene).   Singer Darren Holden did a dead-on send-up of Billy Joel and the band was tight, although it was frustratingly difficult to hear the words Holden sang. Principle dancers Rasta Thomas (Eddie), Elizabeth Parkinson (Brenda), Keith Roberts (Tony) and Laura Feig (Judy) were amazing. (The singer and principle dancers share their roles with another crew who perform in the Thursday and Saturday matinees and Friday and Sunday night performances.)   If you like Joel and Tharp, head on down to the Auditorium to catch this Tony-Award-winning show. But get a sitter for the kids. Cindy Richards and Susy Schultz   "Movin' Out." $18-$80. Through July 9. Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Roosevelt Road, Chicago. (312) 012-1400. www.BroadwayInChicago.com.  

Kids Eat Chicago

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