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New Food Fest to Celebrate Classic Chicago Pizza, Italian Beef, and More

Da Best Fest is from Baconfest Chicago’s organizers

An Italian beef sandwich and fries on a wooden board
Italian beef is classic.
Shutterstock

Baconfest Chicago will be different when it returns in April as organizers of the annual tribute to pork have created an ancillary event to celebrate Chicago’s iconic dishes. Da Best Fest is a one-day event scheduled for Friday, April 17 — the day before Baconfest — at UIC Dorin Forum. Much like how Baconfest attracts some of Chicago’s best chefs for creative gourmet dishes laced with bacon, organizers want chefs at Da Best Fest to highlight Chicago classics like Italian beef, pizza, and shrimp DeJonghe in fun ways.

Organizer Seth Zurer’s experienced a good dish example in October at the Ramen Expo USA held in suburban Rosemont. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises was an exhibitor, and showcased food inspired by Ramen-san, its Japanese restaurant with locations in Streeterville and Fulton Market. Its cooks subbed slices of Italian beef for chashu pork (ramen’s traditional accompaniment).

A drawing of a Chicago-style hot dog.
The classics don’t go out of style.
Da Best Fest/Sarah Becan

While that wasn’t inspiration for Da Best Fest, that ramen provides inspiration and opens the door for some serious Chicago culinary creativity. Another example is West Town bakery Hoosier Mama Pie Co., which infamously used Jeppson’s Malört in a pie. But that just scratches the surface of the festival’s potential.

“Malört is beloved — it will be interesting,” Zurer said. “Maybe we’ll get some high-end pizza puffs.”

Zurer and his crew started Baconfest 12 years ago. He said the group has had many events simmering on their back burner for years. With Da Best Fest, they saw a chance to try something new with the fanbase they’ve built up over more than a decade. They envision Da Best Fest as a way to celebrate the city’s holy trinity of deep-dish pizza, Italian beef, and hot dogs. The Puerto Rican-inspired jibarito is another item that could be the basis for a fun riff. Other hometown favorites include rib tips and Korean-style chicken wings. The lollipop wing versions Pan Asian restaurants including Great Sea in Albany Park and Landbirds in Logan Square serve are a Chicago invention.

A colorful illustration of a Chicago-style tamale in a wrapper, and one unwrapped in a corn husk.
The tamale has historic roots in Chicago.
Da Best Fest/Sarah Becan

No matter the number of Michelin stars Chicago restaurants earn, the city has a soft spot for its classic street food, exhibiting an irrational amount of civic pride and culinary tribalism. That explains why a two-year old article that claimed Chicago was the best food city in the country went viral over the weekend. Chicagoans are special because they aren’t snobby.

“They get excited about both things — Vito and Nick’s [for thin, tavern style] and Middle Brow Bungalow doing pizzas in the Great Lake style,” Zurer said.

If tickets sell well, Zurer could see Da Best Fest grow into a standalone event. Baconfest is now one day this year, and ticket bundles are available for both festivals. Prices range from $75 to $240. Chefs interested in participating can contact event organizers via the website or email. Zurer hopes to release a chef lineup in January.

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