The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The other Ribfest

Ribfest Chicago, with its 10 (mostly-)local vendors, its dog-friendliness, and its proximity, is one of my favorite Chicago street festivals of the year.

Then there's Naperville's Ribfest, which, in the tradition of suburbs everywhere, dwarfs Chicago's festival in every way except accessibility. Chicago's takes over a city block; Naperville's, a huge park. Chicago has booths and people crammed in at maximum density; Naperville has a huge park. Chicago has 10 rib vendors, 8 of which are local restaurants; Naperville has 17, most of them just festival vendors (they travel the U.S. going to outdoor events everywhere). Parker and I walk to Chicago's, while I had to take an hour-long train (to avoid a 90-minute drive) to get to Naperville.

Another thing: Where Chicago had standard-size, 3-bone taster portions for $6, Naperville left it up to the individual vendors. All four that I tried were more expensive and larger than in Chicago, so much so that I split three of them with the friend who met me there. (Thus, the limit of 4.) All of them were good; only one was really great, but I have no idea how to get them again. I sampled (in descending order of satisfaction):

  • Texas Outlaws BBQ, Elizabethtown, Ky. Someday, I may take a road trip to Central Kentucky. If so, I'll make a point to stop in Elizabethtown. At the very least, I'll look for this vendor again next year. They gave me 4 big baby back bones with some tug and a nice char. They explained that they grill them over smoke chips with their hot sauce and then glaze them on the way off the grill with (too much) honey BBQ. After scraping off the excess sauce, I thought they were some of the best ribs I'd ever had, almost as good as my brother's.
  • Desperados, Huxley, Ohio. Festival-only vendor. OK ribs: fall-off-the-bone style, just a light glaze in grilling with a pretty decent traditional sauce on the side. (I also tried the sweet smoky sauce, but found it too sweet.)
  • Uncle Bub's, Westmont, Ill. The only local, non-chain vendor I found (right off the Westmont Metra stop, it turns out). They had cherry-smoked, St. Louis-style ribs, with a sweet-smoke sauce that wasn't bad. I might stop in to try a full slab, and I'd recommend them to people who live out in the suburbs.
  • Porky-n-Beans, Parma, Ohio. Another festival-only vendor. They had St. Louis-style spareribs with a sweet, sweet sauce. Too sweet, in fact. The meat was good, a little pull of the bone, good but not great.

In all, a good day, aided by nearly-perfect weather and the proximity of the festival to Metra.

What I did on my summer vacation

A friend called me up Friday night and asked if I wanted to go on a brewery tour of Southern Wisconsin the next morning. Here's the result: 578.5 km in a little under 7 hours, with Parker, and four breweries (plus a Heidi Festival).

We started around 9 in the morning from Lincoln Park, and by noon we'd arrived at the New Glarus Brewing Co.. For $6 each we got three, 90 mL samples, a self-guided (i.e., wander and look) tour of the brewery, and (for another $5 each) pint glasses. We kinda-sorta liked the beer (I preferred the Fat Squirrel, my friend the Hop Hearty), but we weren't in awe, so we ambled off to the town of New Glarus just down the hill.

Did you know it was Heidi Festival time? As in, Heidi? After a quick snack of bread and cheese for the humans (and half of a charred hotdog that someone dropped on the sidewalk for Parker), we decided to go. We hope the annual play went well for the kids.

We drove a quick 50 km up the road to Madison and the Capital Brewery, where an actual person gave a group of 25 a 15-minute tour of the facility. Plus samples, some free, some not. The brewery is most proud of its Island Wheat right now, but my friend and I both preferred the Pale Ale, for the simple reason that we both have a hop bias[1].

Next stop: Whole Foods in Madison, where the beer distribution cartels of Illinois have no power. Four six packs and much swapping later, we trundled on to Ale Asylum where we heard they might have dinner. And beer.

It was at this point that Parker regressed about two years and, in the oddest canine freak-out I've ever seen, attacked the hop vine growing along the brewery's patio fence. I think he was just anxious that I was on one side of the fence and he was on another, but at the time he started eating hop leaves I was standing next to him wondering why he was eating hop leaves[2].

Again, my friend and I liked the beers we sampled—Ambergeddon and Hopalicious—and again we liked them differently. What to do? Buy one six-pack of each and swap two of them. Problem solved.

By now it was 7pm, Parker was beyond tired and behaving like a beyond-tired 3-year-old, we were tired, and a thunderstorm loomed to the west. So we headed east down I-94 and got about ten minutes from Madison before deciding, what the hell, Tyranena is just off the highway in Lake Mills, so why not do one more?

Talk about the last shall go first. Mmmm.

For $10, we got a 9-beer sampler of everything they make. We sat outside in a big tent, big enough to shield us from the rain when it finally found us, sipping these delightful beers, while Parker slept almost soundly[3] on the grass next to our table.

We're probably going to go to Tyranena again. They have a do-it-yourself attitude towards everything but the beer, including a grill patrons are welcome to use and a laissez-faire attitude towards dogs and food.

Which beers, though? Bitter Woman Ale, certainly; and Bitter Woman in the Rye, their current "Brewers Gone Wild" selection. We both really liked the Chief Blackhawk Porter and Rocky's Revenge brown ale, with the usual caveats about my friend's IBU floor lying just a scooch below my IBU ceiling. The Stone Tepee left us confused, the Fargo Brothers Hefeweitzen didn't get finished somehow, and we agreed that the Three Beaches Honey Blonde exists only so that people who think Coors Light is beer will have something to drink when they get dragged to Tyranena[4].

So: sometime in July, we're going back on the road. If to Wisconsin, we may again plan to end the day in Lake Mills. Otherwise, it turns out that Western Michigan has a bucket load of breweries....

[1] Actually, I have a bias, she has a fetish. But don't tell her I said this.

[2] Hop leaves aren't harmful per se, but actual hops themselves are very dangerous to dogs. If your dog ever gets into your brewing supplies, make sure you call your local emergency vet line or poison control. If your dog goes on a rampage and eats a few dozen hop leaves without eating any buds, just bring an extra bag on your walk the next morning.

[3] Somehow, though, he managed to notice every bit of pretzel that landed near his nose, almost as if he had an automatic tongue. He wouldn't even twitch his ears or open his eyes when one landed near him, he'd just extend his tongue and the pretzel would disappear. Dogs are amazing that way.

[4] Three Beaches is, however, a real beer, so we did finish the entire sample. It just wasn't our favorite of the nine we tried.

Where's Paul Simon when you need him?

Kodak is discontinuing Kodachrome:

[T]he Rochester-based company announced today, it has ceased production of a household name, Kodachrome, its oldest color film, that it manufactured for 74 years.

... Photojournalist Steve McCurry's portrait of an Afghan refugee girl, shot on Kodachrome, appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. At Kodak's request, McCurry will shoot one of the last rolls of Kodachrome and donate the images to the George Eastman House museum, named for the company's founder, in Rochester.

I have about 3,000 Kodachrome slides. They still look great; here's one:

Of course, you're looking at it on a computer. And I haven't shot anything on Kodachrome since 1999. That's the problem. It's a sad milestone, but business is business.

Ribfest

Parker has slept soundly most of the day after he and I walked up to Ribfest yesterday. The round-trip took us about 2 hours (not including stops) and 12.8 km.

We sampled five restaurants. Parker didn't give me any notes, so these are all mine, in descending order of enjoyment:

  • Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln. Tasty. Tug-off-the-bone, not too much sauce, tangy KC-style, good lean ribs.
  • Irish Bistro, 3905 N. Lincoln. An Irish pub with ribs? Yes. And not too bad. Fall-off-the-bone style, with a "whiskey marmalade" sauce that had a good bite.
  • Chicago BBQ (no address) certainly had the most entertaining sign (see below). Parker kept trying to bolt out of line because of the smoke their cookers put out. Tehir meat tasted good, and I liked both their "sweet and sassy" and chipotle sauces. Good smoke flavor. Apparently, though, I'll just have to wait for the next rib festival (Naperville this summer?) to try them again.
  • Fireplace Inn, 1448 N. Wells. This was my favorite last year. This year, though, they phoned it in. I still liked their sauce the best, but this time the dazed-looking kid at the booth just gave me some random meat and bones with way too much sauce.
  • Hickory's BBQ, 1234 N. Halsted. Not bad, but nothing special: tender but just OK meat, grilled dry with sauce added after. The sauce was tangy but not interesting. I couldn't tell what it needed, but somehow it just fell a little short.

Unfortunately, both Parker and I experienced some discomfort in fairly short order after leaving the festival. He had a tiny bit of every sample I had, so I'm pretty confident either one of the ribs wasn't all right or possibly a sauce was off. We are both undeterred, however, and we'll be back next year.

Baffling usability

The following photo shows a programmer, a usability expert, and an IT manager struggling to figure out how to add players to a bowling game using AMF's scoring software. I don't even remember the sequence we had to go through, but I do remember thinking (a) on average, we were sober; and (b) software that makes something so simple take so long should be punishable...in some appropriate way.

On the other hand, one doesn't go to a bowling alley because of the software they use. On the first hand, however, bad software makes everything less fun.

And yes, Virginia, Bengt (right) is wearing a custom-made bowling shirt. One of the other bowlers gave it to him for his birthday, which is how I came to be at a bowling alley, and sometime later that evening, at a seriously hard-core karaoke bar. Tambourines were involved, I recall...

More beer taxes?

There are apparently proposals out there to make beer drinkers sad:

In Congress, the Senate Finance Committee has raised the possibility of a 150% increase in the federal tax on beer to help pay for health care reform. And about three dozen states, including Illinois, have called for alcohol tax hikes to offset budget shortfalls.

The federal government hasn't raised the beer tax in nearly 20 years, but legislators are considering increasing it to the same level as spirits. An equalization of alcohol taxes would be a huge problem for brewing giants such as MillerCoors LLC, which will move its headquarters to Chicago this summer. The tax hikes would raise prices and drive many customers to buy cheaper brands or switch to spirits, beer industry insiders say.

But wait! Turns out, MillerCoors is wrong: the tax increase wouldn't lead people to cheaper beers (as if such existed), it might actually lead people to better beers:

Small brewers would be exempt from the taxes, giving the fast-growing microbrew segment another boost against giants like MillerCoors.

The [Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group] estimates most people would pay little extra if taxes were increased on alcohol because 20% of drinkers consume 85% of the alcohol in the U.S.

In marginally-related news, hoppy beer in San Diego is booming:

A dizzying variety of small breweries are lapping away at the dominance that mild, light-colored lagers have enjoyed since Prohibition, and some of the best-regarded are in North County, short on history and long on the bitter herbs known as hops.

... North County breweries have racked up their share of accolades. The Brewers Association named Port Brewing as the nation's best small brewing company for 2007. The association named Alesmith Brewing Co., in San Diego's Miramar neighborhood, as the best small brewery last year. Beer Advocate magazine called Stone the "best brewery on earth" in December and rated five Stone beers among its top 25. Food & Wine Magazine's June issue dubs Highway 78 a "near-mystical" route for visiting breweries.

So, it the beer tax doesn't seem that bad, especially in Southern California.

May 25th has some history

As we wake up today to news that North Korea has reportedly detonated a 20-kiloton atom bomb (first reported, actually, by the United States Geological Survey), it's worth remembering two other major news events from previous May 25ths.

In 1977, Star Wars came out. (I saw it about a week later, in Torrance, Calif. My dad had to read the opening crawl to me.)

In 1979, American 191 crashed on takeoff from O'Hare, at the time the worst air disaster in U.S. history.

And now we add to that a truly scary development in Asia. And it's not yet 8:30 in Chicago...

Not quite what Van Halen had in mind

Via Cele|bitchy, one more instance of a person confusing fame and infamy:

Mary Kay LeTourneau, who was imprisoned as a 34-year-old teacher for raping a sixth-grade student, will host a "Hot for Teacher" night this weekend at a Seattle bar, KOMO-TV and the Associated Press report.

"It's turned into sort of a love story," says [Mike Morris, owner of the Fuel Sports Eats & Beats bar]. "I realize it had a sick twist at the beginning, but they're both adults now. They're both married by the state of Washington. So, it’s just go and have fun on a Saturday night — and if people are looking to have some fun, just come check us out."

Just...ew.

Bunch of weenies

I'm sweltering in 31°C stickiness at the Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters, because the painter is doing the office windows. Apparently they're much easier to do off the rails than on, and he objected to working around the air conditioner. Tomorrow it'll be 15°C in Chicago, but he's here today, so.

So while the IDT International Data Center barely hangs on (servers hate temperatures over 25°C), and while my hot dog pants on the bathroom floor, apparently Kraft Foods and Sara Lee Corp., two Chicago-area companies, are embroiled in a lawsuit about other hot dogs:

Sara Lee, maker of Ball Park franks, said that Northfield-based Kraft Foods Inc., purveyor of Oscar Mayer hot dogs, is running ads that claim one particular Oscar dog trumps the taste of Ball Park's entire line. One of those ads appeared in Wednesday's USA Today in conjunction with a giveaway of up to $1 million in Oscar Mayer hot dogs.

The full-page USA Today ad claimed that Oscar Mayer Jumbo Beef Franks beat Ball Park and ConAgra Foods' Hebrew National hot dogs in a national taste test. But in a footnote, the ad notes that the Oscar Mayer Jumbo Beef frank is being compared to the "leading beef hot dogs" made by its rivals.

The Sara Lee suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, says the ad is false and misleading because in large type it implies one Oscar Mayer dog bested the taste of all Ball Park dogs. But the footnote, "in very small type," says that Oscar Mayer compared its hot dogs to "the leading beef franks" of its main rivals.

Parker and I will investigate the competing claims and report back soon.