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Free sliders nothing to carp about at later and smaller Taste of Chicago

This year's Taste Chicago running July 10-14 will feature 35 food vendors 14 food trucks seven pop-up restaurants. | File

This year's Taste of Chicago, running July 10-14, will feature 35 food vendors, 14 food trucks and seven pop-up restaurants. | File photo

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Updated: August 13, 2012 1:54PM

Carp burgers — no, that’s not a typographical error.

Instead, the bite-sized fish sliders, made from invasive Asian carp and handed out free of charge, were one of the star attractions at this year’s downsized Taste of Chicago, which kicked off Wednesday.

While a handful of dubious diners kept their distance, plenty were brave enough to sample the fishy snacks.

“It’s great!” a slightly surprised Jennifer Kopka, 25, said after trying a bite. “It doesn’t get much better for free.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources teamed up with North Side fishmonger Dirk’s Fish Gourmet Shop to give away 750 of the grilled carp burgers.

Served with a dollop of spicy jalapeno tomato chutney and flavored with garlic, nutmeg, lemon zest, olive oil and a healthy dose of salt and pepper, the samples were intended to give Chicagoans a fresh look at the fish invading the Great Lakes.

More than 1 million pounds of the bony carp have been removed from upstream of Lake Michigan in the last two and half years, and the DNR says it wants to find alternatives to dumping the remains in landfill.

“This is one fish we should be overfishing,” said Terry Fucik, who came up with the burger recipe and deboned the carp in a grinder.

The free burgers were all snapped up by mid-afternoon and won’t be available for the remaining four days of the Taste, which was scaled back from 10 days this year.

Though the number of vendors was fewer than in previous years, diners still have plenty of options, including 40 concessions serving everything from churros to Vietnamese sandwiches, plus a selection of one-day-only “pop-up” restaurants.

The crowd didn’t seem disappointed by the cutbacks. Though thousands — including many downtown office workers — came out to enjoy the food in the sunshine, many said it seemed there was more room to move between concessions this year, making the heat easier to handle.

“I only comes once a year, so the shortened schedule didn’t really bother me,” said Tarick Loutfi, of Oak Park, an attorney, 52, who visited the Taste over his lunch hour.

But others were disappointed that a perennial Taste favorite is not on offer this year.

“I can’t believe there are no turkey legs this year,” said Gretchen Goer, 29, as she made do with a sample of chicken vesuvio from Pazzo’s, a South Wacker Drive restaurant making its first appearance at the Taste.

Despite the security concerns and handful of violent incidents at previous events, police reported no arrests or problems as of early Wednesday evening. Security guards were checking the bags of everyone entering the Taste for weapons and other banned items, but police were maintaining a low profile presence.

“It feels safe — nothing bad is happening,” said Taste regular Stephanie McGill, 53, of Calumet Park. “Everyone should come out and enjoy summer in Chicago.”

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