In an attempt to bring back tourism to Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced yesterday a $10 million grant program with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to encourage the development of new festivals and tourist attractions for the end of 2021 and 2022. Grants will range from $10,000 to $1 million and will be distributed on a rolling basis until the money is gone.
There are a few strings attached: all grant recipients will require a local organization to match funds, and priority will be given to proposals that will encourage visitors to check out other local businesses, specifically hotels and restaurants. But otherwise, DCEO will entertain any application from any organization — for-profit or nonprofit, government- or privately-owned — for funds that will build or enhance an existing museum, cultural center, theme park, outdoor recreation area, or festival.
With the recent resurgence in COVID-19 cases throughout the state — and the ever-growing list of Chicago venues that require proof of vaccination — some may be wondering if this is the right time to encourage more tourism. Still, state officials are excited. “Our restaurants, hotels and small businesses are ready to safely welcome visitors back,” State Senator Sara Feigenholtz, who represents the North Side, said in a press release.
And in other news...
— Flavors of Albany Park returns on Thursday, August 26, where 50 local restaurants will show off the flavors of one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. Festivalgoers can pick up their passports at Noon-O-Kabab starting at 5 p.m. and then get to choose between three different routes — along Lawrence and Kimball, Kedzie, or Montrose Avenues. There will be an afterparty from 7 to 9 p.m. in the parking lot of Surge Billiards. Purchase tickets through Eventbrite: the cost is $30 for adults, $12 for kids 12 and under, and $25 for students (with valid ID) and seniors.
— In similar news, Beer Under Glass, or BUG, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild festival and fundraiser at the Garfield Park Conservatory, also returns this month, on Friday, August 27. Except this year, it won’t be under glass: in order to allow social distancing, everyone will be drinking beer outside. (Visitors will still be able to explore the conservatory, which will be kept open late.) More than 70 local breweries will be on hand; for a full list and to buy a ticket ($75), go here.
— Cobblestone, a bistro and cider bar in North Center — which reopened post-COVID in April — will start serving weekend brunch again this Saturday, August 14. Offerings from chef Michael McCloud include pecan pie French toast, schnitzel and waffles, and cider-based cocktails.
— In the Tribune this week, Louisa Chu wrote a glowing review of Baha, a new family-owned seafood restaurant in Belmont Cragin. “It’s inspired by a mix of seafood restaurants that we’ve been to in Nayarit, Mexico,” Oriana Mejia, the marketing manager, and also daughter and niece of the owners, told Chu. Baha’s signature dish is the Torre Sears — shrimp, crab, fish and mango piled around a central spire of cucumber.
No one is quite sure why the name is Baha instead of the more correctly spelled “Baja.” The idea came from Carlos Mejia, younger brother of owners Jose Humberto Mejia (Oriana’s father) and Gustavo Mejia. The three brothers, who immigrated here from Mexico as young teenagers, had planned to open the restaurant together, along with Jose Humberto’s wife Sandra, but Carlos died suddenly after an accident in February. “After five years of planning the restaurant, he planned on opening last year,” Oriana told Chu. “But then COVID happened, and then sadly, he passed away. That propelled my Uncle Gustavo and my dad to keep going and make my Uncle Carlos’ dream come true.”
— And finally, New Yorker cartoonist Asher Perlman — an alum of Chicago comedy club Second City — paid homage to the city’s disdain for ketchup on hot dogs with a drawing of two giant monsters rummaging through downtown, with one critiquing the other about putting the red condiment on its encased meat. Via Instagram, Perlman dedicates the drawing to Chicagoan Scott Goldstein, an investor at Daisies in Logan Square, the Chicago Athletic Association, and at Utopian Tailgate and Roots Handmade Pizza in Old Town (and a prominent figure in the city’s comedy scene). Goldstein tells Eater: “Asher is an incredible cartoonist, comedian, and human and it’s an honor to have a Godzilla with no taste named after me. Whether it’s on a Vienna Beef, or a human being, ketchup has no place on a hot dog. Also, a Godzilla is just a mutated dinosaur no matter what the haters say.”