A lot has changed since last year’s winter holiday season, a bleak stretch in the midst of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when families were discouraged from gathering and Chicago restaurants scraped through an indoor dining ban with takeout and delivery offerings.
This year, the city’s usual seasonal cheer is making a much-needed comeback. The pandemic still drags on and Chicago’s mask mandate remains, but there is much — including the recent approval of vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11 — to celebrate.
Luckily, Chicago is full of chefs, chocolatiers, writers, and artists with delightful and delicious goods to help us make each other’s seasons bright. Shopping for someone who loves food just as much as they love Chicago? Start with one of the following Eater Chicago-approved gifts.
Bonbon boxes from Sugoi Sweets
Pastry chef Elle Lei made a splash this fall with a special box of Halloween bonbons, earning hoards of fans with her colorful and immaculately crafted hand-painted candies. Lei is now offering her delicate and decadent delights in boxes of 12 and 24, featuring a range of flavors including yuzu, cotton candy pop rock, Mexican hot chocolate, and peanut butter and jelly. Fans can also explore her selection of caramels, dragées, marshmallows, and nougat.
El Jíbarito Print from Palante Works
Pay tribute to one of Chicago’s greatest food inventions with a reverent work of art from local designer and illustrator Grae Rosa. Born of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, the jibarito — a sandwich of thin-cut or shredded beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and garlicky mayo between two fried and flattened green plantains — is at once a cultural symbol and habit-forming meal. The print is part of Rosa’s Chicagotería: Chicago x Lotería series, inspired by the famous Mexican card game.
Trucker Hat from the Wieners Circle
Strike fear into the heart of all who surround you with this wearable advertisement for the Wieners Circle, Chicago’s legendary hot dog stand known for foul-mouthed service and late-night revelry. The infamous spot reopened in November after a major remodel that also added a back bar with draft beer and boozy slushies.
The Meat Project Box from El Che Meat & Provisions
Meat nerds can feed their bellies and brains with this unusual kit that includes a 48-ounce Tomahawk Ribeye, smoked salt, chimichurri, and a branded tote bag. What really sets this box apart is a special Meat Project zine co-created by chef John Manion (El Che Steakhouse) and food writer Maggie Hennessy, which features a series of essays, photo guides, tips, and techniques designed to help amateur chefs try out live-fire cooking at home.
The Weekend Package from Patronage Meats
There’s something comforting about having someone on the inside, someone with connections in the meat world willing to deliver precious cuts of beef on demand. That’s the feeling customers at Patronage Meats possess in ordering their choice of beef from an Iowa farm with full-blood wagyu cows. Patronage will text customers to alert them of that the monthly drop is ready and allow folks to feast on a feeding frenzy for whatever cuts (even ground beef) they desire. A text will then ask for a delivery time and the meat is delivery fully frozen. The weekend package is all wagyu and comes with two steaks, two roasts, 12 burger patties, and three pounds of beef.
Bandana from Orkenoy
Humboldt Park’s first brewery has embraced its location inside the Kimball Arts Center with an affinity for sleek design and playful merchandise. This sunny bandana can serve as a stylish accessory for humans or furry companions, bringing a bright pop of color to dreary Chicago winters.
Donate to Urban Growers Collective
Some of the best gifts don’t come in boxes, including donations to groups working to build a better Chicago. Among these is Urban Growers Collective, a local Black- and women-led non-profit that educates teens about eco-friendly farming and trains new farmers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Urban Growers Collective is a 501(c)(3) organization and all donations are tax deductible.
The Porthole from Crucial Detail
Fans of the Aviary, the innovative (and sometimes satirized) cocktail bar from the team behind world-famous restaurant Alinea, may recognize the Porthole — an “infusion vessel” with tempered glass windows for extra visual oomph. Ambitious home bartenders can aim to impress with aesthetically pleasing cold-infused concoctions of their own, from drinkies to oils, teas, dressings, and more.
Chicago Handshake Drinking Card Game
Jeppson’s Malort is the celebrated liquor that brings people together — for better or worse. Now the CH Distillery owns the city’s famous bitter spirit, the product ideas are rolling. Enter Chicago Handshake Drinking Card Game, something for true Chicagoans or the Schaumburg natives who aspire to be natives. There’s plenty of Chicago trivia written on the cards which are destined to be stained with mustard (never ketchup).
Everything Sauce from Mott St
Chef Edward Kim has earned legions of fans with his creative Korean-American hotspot Mott Street, so sometimes it can be tricky to land a table. Get a taste of Mott any time with Kim’s savory, habit-forming blend of soy sauce, jaggery, chili, ginger, and fish sauce, which appears on-site on its popular chicken wings.
‘Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries’ by Mia P. Manansala
Cookbooks are all well and good, but there’s a special thrill that comes with cracking open a sumptuous mystery simmering with humor and dramatic tension. Chicago-based writer Mia P. Manansala provides with her ongoing series, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries, divulging the exploits of Filipinx-American protagonist Lila Macapagal and her restaurant-running relatives who solve crimes in their spare time. Set in the fictional suburb of Shady Palms, Illinois, the series thus far includes two volumes: Arsenic and Adobo and the forthcoming Homicide and Halo-Halo.
Cozy beanie from Turner Haus Brewing
Keep Chicago’s blustery winter weather at bay with a snuggly beanie hat from Turner Haus Brewing, a Black-owned local craft beer maker with a shared taproom in Bronzeville and a stand-alone outpost on the way.
Everything Bagel Spice from Galit
Maximalists, rejoice: “everything” bagels and their more-is-more ethos remain wildly popular, but there’s no need to spend money at big grocery chains to get in on the fun. Instead, turn to James Beard Award-winning chef Zach Engel and his team at Galit in Lincoln Park for their version of the crunchy topping.
‘Cheese, Sex, Death: A Bible for the Cheese Obsessed’ by Erika Kubick
Former local cheesemonger Erika Kubick entices readers to join her in worshipping at the alter of curds in her newly released tome Cheese, Sex, Death. A freewheeling read that covers everything from the history of cheesemaking to the commandments of storing, serving, tasting, and plating, the book is described by Kubick herself as a testament to “cheese erotica.”