Hound's limited-range guide to the Taste

CHICAGO It's a little overwhelming for our food reporter. So he decided to stick to a limited-range plan this year.

I'm not a huge fan of crowds, and jostling for a giant turkey leg or cheesecake-on-a-stick isn't really my idea of a pleasant night out.

With the aid of a Taste map and some eating research, I concentrated my efforts and my stomach on just one patch of land.

Here's the problem with Taste: you spend so much time navigating the crowds and jostling for position, you rarely get a chance to take in the breathtaking skyline and majestic Buckingham Fountain.

Few people realize there's a patch of grass right next to the Fountain, perfect for a picnic. But there's no way I was going to step back into the sea of people, so I had a plan: why not set up a base camp, then limit myself to food booths within a 50-foot perimeter?

My first stop: O'Brien's, for freshly-shucked corn that's dipped in butter, and some modest pulled pork sandwiches.

Next door, Costa's from Greektown, offering sliced gyros on pita with tzatziki sauce, and some intriguing Greek sausage with a hint of cumin and coriander.

Next to them, a Ukrainian Village legend: Kasia's Deli, where they definitely have pierogis. This Taste Portion contained perfectly cooked potato versions, but their kielbasa is a sight to behold: tucked into a sturdy bun with grilled onions, jalapenos and a pickle spear, it's a riff on the Chicago classic. Their thin potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce also hit the spot.

"You know, it's what we eat. It's pork, it's sausage… and potatoes - the basics," said Olivia Karas, Kasia's Deli.

Finally, there's dessert. And there's no better place than Franco's Ristorante from Bridgeport. Their stracciatella gelato (that's chocolate chip) is crazy good, and their homemade lemon and watermelon ice will really hit the spot on a hot day.

"My husband's been making the ice cream since he was 17 years old, with the old fashioned Taylor machine. It is special; our lemon is the most popular; the watermelon is the most popular down here, back at the restaurant people love the lemon," said Jeanine Ruffolo, Franco's Ristorante.

Taste opens at 11 a.m. each day. They stop selling food and beverage tickets at 8:30 p.m., except on the 3rd and 4th, when they extend it to 9 o'clock.

Booths I visited within 50 feet:

O'Brien's (booth 49)
Franco's Ristorante (booth 50)
Costa's (booth 52)
Kasia's Deli (booth 53)

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