River North spots offer flavors from the past

ABC7's food reporter says a pair of River North hot spots are attempting to conjure up flavors from the past, especially in the sweets department.

Everyone remembers that box of Cracker Jacks, caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts and a little prize. How about a giant wand filled with gloriously sweet cotton candy that our parents - and dentists - told us to stay away from?

Now adults of all ages can indulge those sweet memories at a pair of swank spots downtown.

Who doesn't love a box of Cracker Jacks? For adults of a certain age, the Cracker Jack has made a comeback of sorts at Blue Water Grill in River North, where they're making their own, and featuring it in a sundae.

"We pulled apart the flavors of the Cracker Jacks and made them into ice cream. We have butter peanut and salted carmel," said Nathaniel Meads of Blue Water Grill.

Meads begins by laying down a thin layer of caramel sauce into a high-sided bowl; then the homemade Cracker Jacks, and a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream. He then scoops out some homemade butter peanut ice cream followed by a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. To top it off, Meads adds some rich peanut butter sauce that hardens on the ice cream, forming a shell. The combination is wickedly addictive, and since Cracker Jacks are involved, Meads adds a tongue-in-cheek 'prize' as well.

"I love Cracker Jacks and I think any way I can give away a prize...it works out to my benefit," said Meads.

Just a few blocks away, over on West Erie Street, Martini Park attracts bar-goers over 30. Drinks are obviously part of the appeal, but so are the small snacks, such as the cotton candy.

"Well cotton candy is kind of like...it takes you back to those days, went to the playground for adults kinda stuff. It goes back to the old fair," said Joshua Hauer of Martini Park.

They're in-house cotton candy machine takes up a lot of space back in the kitchen; it's made the same way it is at the County Fair: pour in the sugar, then wait for it to heat up, slowly gathering it as it swirls around the inner ring. Plating couldn't be simpler: just shove it into a giant ice cream cone, and you've got nostalgia on a plate for $6.

"It's kind of one of those things that's an eye-grabber. Everyone you see has a good time with it. It goes with our fun drinks, fun atmosphere. Stuff like that," said Hauer.

Even the Brownstone Tavern in Lincoln Square is trying to get in on the retro-upscale dessert wagon. The spot offers a deep-fried snickers bar, garnished with whipped cream and sauce.

Blue Water Grill
520 N. Dearborn Ave.

Martini Park
151 W. Erie St.

Brownstone Tavern & Grill
3837 N. Lincoln Ave.

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