CHICAGO (WLS) -- Food lovers are enjoying one of the city's most famous summertime traditions Wednesday, as the re-imagined Taste of Chicago To-Go gets underway.
Taste of Chicago To-Go runs until July 12 and features a number of free public events including online cooking demonstrations, virtual music and dance events, and a series of "Community Eats" meals from neighborhood restaurants and food trucks.
You will not need any tickets this year, just your appetite because the portion sizes are no longer only for a taste.
"It is just a critical time to show up in the community and not just be there as far as a brick and mortar but show the residents that we are there to meet their needs," said Felicia Shakespeare, co-owner of Surf's Up.
Offering seafood with soul, casual mini-chain Surf's Up in Bronzeville is one of 42 local restaurants and food trucks participating in the effort that runs through Sunday.
This year would've marked the South Side restaurant's first appearance at the Grant Park food fest, serving traditional, grilled and vegan options.
"Local restaurants make up the backbone of our neighborhoods - and we're finding creative ways to support both them and the communities they serve while prioritizing health and safety," said Mark Kelly, DCASE Commissioner. "While this year is different for all of us, the spirit of Taste of Chicago lives on with community meals and virtual events showcasing Chicago's diverse and legendary culinary, music and arts scene."
Organizers are encouraging would-be festival-goers to order from participating establishments.
"Just like the Taste before it, Taste of Chicago To-Go will ensure that all Chicagoans - no matter their circumstances - will get the change to savor and experience the culinary talent our city has to offer," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday.
The city is also expanding the festival's "Community Eats" program, which deputed last year and encourages eateries to host a free community meal for first responders or a community organization.
This year the program extends to 21 meals for Advocate Trinity Hospital, Care Kitchen Chicago, Farm on Ogden, La Casa Norte, Lawrence Hall, MADO Healthcare - Douglas Park Center, Mt. Sinai Hospital, New Covenant Community Development Council, The Night Ministry, The Port Ministries, Salvation Army Freedom Center, South Shore Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital, West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council and Westside Health Authority.
The husband and wife team that owns Cynthia's Gumbo Express provided lunch for workers at St. Anthony Hospital.
"We have five different gumbos and they went through all of it," said Terry Yette.
Cynthia Boyd-Yette said, "We really looked forward to it. This would have been our first year."
While most restaurants have struggled because of COVID-19, lifelong Chicagoan Fred Shakespeare and his sister are confident this summer will be one to remember.
"We just hope everybody will come out and help us restaurants stay alive," Shakespeare said. "Come out and enjoy yourself and come together in the city of Chicago."
A local dining guide showcasing this year's 42 participating eateries is available online, along with the schedule of events at TasteofChicago.us.
Online Cooking Demos|
The Taste of Chicago To-Go online cooking demonstrations will stream each day starting at noon on the city's YouTube channel.
Each demonstration will feature popular local chefs, including Carlos Gaytan of Tzuco, Maya-Camille Broussard of Justice of the Pie, Jessica Romanowski of Care Kitchen Chicago, Darnell Reed of Luella's Southern Kitchen and Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde, sharing how to make one of their favorite home dishes.
"SummerDance in Place"|
"SummerDance in Place," invites Chicagoans to plan smaller, socially distant dance parties in their homes and backyard, on front porches and elsewhere with up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors and connect via the broadcast or social media.
On July 8, the theme is Bollywood & Bhangra with a 30-minute dance lesson by Bollywood Groove, followed by music by DJ iLLEST. The lesson starts at 5:30 p.m. and will be streamed on YouTube as well as on WTTW Prime (11.2).
The "Millennium Park at Home" music series will include performances from The Braided Janes and Jon Langford on July 9. The show will begin streaming at 6 p.m. on the city's YouTube channel.
For more event information, visit TasteofChicago.us and join the conversation on social media using #TasteofChicago.
Taste of Chicago and Taste of Chicago To-Go are produced by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.