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Taste-testing and rating Lollapalooza’s hipster fare

A row food tents called 'Chow Down South' feeds concert goers LollapaloozFriday August 5 2011 Grant Park Chicago. | John

A row of food tents called "Chow Down South" feeds concert goers at Lollapalooza Friday, August 5, 2011, at Grant Park in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 7, 2011 12:39AM

As much as fans rave about Lollapalooza’s rich buffet of hip-hop, old school grunge and hard-to-categorize bands, the food scene at the annual three-day concert has become something of a headliner itself.

For a second year, local chef and restaurateur Graham Elliot has been the curator of Lollapooza’s “Chow Town,” a melange of restaurants, catering companies and regional farmers who make this event feel like a hipper version of Taste of Chicago.

For vegetarians, this must be paradise (edamame with soy cumin hemp seed vinaigrette anyone?)

On Friday, Elliot said the heavy meat-free offerings are not so much about a spike in vegetarians heading to the show as it is chefs and consumers craving more seasonal, locally sourced foods.

“It’s fresh, it’s in season and it tastes really good right now,” he said of peak season summer fruits and vegetables.

“It’s not just about being healthy, it’s become part of public’s consciousness to eat locally sourced food.”

And it’s also light sustenance as the mercury climbs.

For the carnivores out there, fear not. Kuma’s Corner — the Northwest Side gourmet burger joint served with a side of Iron Maiden — and Franks ‘N’ Dawgs are ready and waiting.

As the opening bands hit the stages Friday, and some of the 90,000 music lovers began descending on Chicago’s downtown lakefront, the Sun-Times found a nice picnic bench in the shade and enjoyed an assortment of offerings from some of the 32 vendors as rapper Ryan Leslie took to one stage and bluegrass fiddler and singer Ruby Jane took another.

What a mix! It’s true, just a few of the offerings we tried were pitch perfect (Four Notes / ) but others were tasty (Three Notes) while some dishes and noshes were more intriguing than yummy (Two Notes or less). Without further adieu, a look at Lollapalooza’s chow business:

† Edamame with soy cumin hemp seed vinaigrette (above) is the creation of Carol Wallack and her inventive North Side eatery Sola, making a debut performance in the Chow Town lineup. The hemp seed was added to give a nutty taste, Wallack says. But the soy in the vinaigrette seemed to rule this dish, as did the cumin once you got to the bottom of the bowl. But the crowds seemed to be intrigued by the $5 dish with hemp, a relative of the marijuana plant: “I thought I’d have it for the hippies,” Wallack said. Rating: 

† “Scallop explosion with torched ponzu aioli” from Bonsoiree is absolute perfection: three lovely scallops, dressed with a mixture of ponzu, an Asian citrus soy sauce, and aioli and bruleed. The result is a tender, buttery trio of scallops, served in a shell. Seafood is often a no-go at street fests, but this is a winner on all fronts. Rating: 

† The “Brunch Dog” from Chicago sausage purveyor Franks ‘N’ Dawgs is a splurge at $10 and well worth it. Housemade pork loin sausage, cob-smoked bacon, scrambled egg (the city said they couldn’t serve the traditional fried egg) and maple mayo served on an East Coast-style lobster roll (think Texas toast) that mimics the lightness and airiness of French toast. Great morning, noon or night — with or without the tunes. Rating: 

† The cactus tostada from Blue 13 was quite possibly the best dish going at Lolla. A light tostada that kept its crunch even as we lingered — all this eating is tough work — was topped with strips of cooked crisp tender cactus and tomatoes, also cut in strips. The chipotle salsa had a kick, balancing nicely with the queso fresco and cilantro. The cost: $6. Rating: 

† The mixed berry (blueberry and raspberry, right now) smoothie from Michigan’s Seedling Orchard is a staple at the Green City Market, but it’s a nice offering in this steamy setting. The lovely berries are mixed with Seedling’s popular, thick cider. It means you can still taste the berries without sugar overload. Cost $5. Rating: 

† The lobster corndog from Graham Elliot’s Grahamwich returns and it’s ... OK.

While this deep-fried meal on a stick, with a drizzle of lemon aioli, looks gourmet state fair fare on a stick, the lobster was a bit bland — dry even. Maybe we got one that was overcooked. Price: $9. Rating: 

† The Benevolent Burrito from Crescent Foods, a local concessionaire, is a meal and dessert all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. Sure the black beans, brown rice, lettuce and homemade salsa are nice and light, but it’s the sweet potatoes that give this offering some heft — and needed sweetness. Price: $6 Rating: 

† The Neurosis Burger, from the heavy metal foodie joint Kuma’s Corner, is a “slider” version of the burger normally sold at the eatery and bar on Belmont. At what appears to be half the size, it’s also half the price at $6. To eat it is to know it’s simple greatness: a burger served on a pretzel roll with swiss and cheddar cheeses, horseradish mayonnaise, caramelized onions. Rating: 

† The pork rinds dusted with the Indian spice mix known as vadouvan curry, served up at the Gage and Henri stall, tasted, well, like pork rinds with a little heat. Would probably go nicely with those tall Budweisers being sold at the show. Price: $3. Rating: 

† The jalapeno watermelon popsicle from Elate was kind of an interesting idea. Frozen Heat. While it’s the color of the lovely milky pink pulp of a watermelon — an air conditioner on a stick, right? — the powerful heat of the jalapeno is the only thing you can taste, leaving the eater wondering: Am I refreshed? Or do I need milk or something sweet to cool my tongue. Price: $2 Rating: Zero Notes

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