The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sometimes, ribs are just OK

Chicago actually has more than one ribfest. There's the main one in Lincoln Square, the big one in Naperville, and the ugly stepchild going on right now at Lawrence and Broadway.

Yes, Windy City Ribfest, I'm talking about you.

The "fest" is tiny, with just 6 rib vendors, three of them in such close proximity that the lines get mixed up and people trying to walk down the street nearly step on dogs' tails crossing them. And of the 6 vendors, none is spectacular.

I tried two $8 samplers, one from Porky Chicks BBQ and the other from our old friend Chicago BBQ. They were both meh. Tasty, sure; but not as epic as the bones I had from Piggery last month, or Mrs. Murphy's. And the organizers are so disorganized they don't even have a website.

Parker and I attended really only because it's about a 15-minute walk from my house. Otherwise I would skip it, as I may do next year.

But hey, even mediocre ribs are tasty.

Ribfest 2016: Day two

Oy.

OK, I am completely ribbed out. Yesterday I had 14 bones, today 12, which I think exceeds a full slab by a few.

Five of those bones (two yesterday, three today) were from The Piggery, because they were my favorites yesterday. Today they had a tiny bit less magic. Still 3½ stars, but not the 4 from before. They're still my favorites from this year, though.

I also sampled:

  • Austin's Texas Lightning, who had a meaty tug-off-the-bone sample with some nice char. 3 stars.
  • BBQ King Smokehouse gave me a better-than-expected sample with a tangy sauce and smoked meat that fell right off the bone. 3½ stars.
  • Celtic Crown had a decent showing, but nothing that would drag me out there. Decent meat, but very sweet sauce, otherwise just OK. 2½ stars.

It's also 29°C with a gross dewpoint, and it was even hotter at the festival. That might have affected my scoring today. It was hot yesterday, too, but it didn't feel as sticky.

It turns out there are more ribs in my future, even this month. But I think I'll skip the fest tomorrow and have some light salads and fruit instead.

Ribfest 2016: Day One

Last year, as in five of the six years before, I only went to Ribfest once, owing to the 11 km round trip distance. This year I only live 1.8 km away, so dammit, I'm going all three days.

Here's the report from this evening. I went with a friend so we could split samplers, and try more of them.

  • Mrs. Murphy's Irish Bistro. Like last year, excellent sauce. Unlike last year, they kind of gooped it on mediocre bones. So they only get 3 stars for 2016.
  • Mr. B's BBQ. You'd think that, because they're right on Lincoln Avenue where Ribfest is happening, they'd have a better product. Nope. The sauce was meh, the ribs were gristly, and we were totally unimpressed. 2 stars.
  • The Piggery. These were my favorite today: nice charred molasses sauce on tug-off-the-bone meat. 4 stars.
  • Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse. They only use wood, which gives the meat a nice, smoky flavor. But their sauces were only good, not great. We tried both the default sweet sauce and the hot Texas sauce, which was better. 3 stars.
  • Q BBQ. Good, solid entry this year. Tasty meat, tasty sauce. 3 stars.
  • The Smoke Daddy. The meat was good but the sauce we just didn't understand: a bean-based (?) savory sauce, probably their Mustard Q, that we weren't really into. So 3 stars.

So that's 6 of the 15. There are a couple of vendors I have no real interest in trying again, and I will definitely go back to Q's offering. And it's only an 18-minute walk away. So I'm hoping for good weather tomorrow and Sunday, and very light lunches.

(Note: this entry has been corrected.)

Back at the Remote Office

Man, I have missed this:

I had lunch with a friend here at the Duke today (and I walked, getting me to 15,000 before noon), so why not stay and write some documentation?

I've also decided on a new rule. I gave up beer for February because I think there's a correlation between me drinking beer and me staying consistently 3 kg over my target. Well, not much changed, and I missed beer, so my New Rule is that I can have one beer per 10,000 steps (or fraction thereof). And I think I'll aggregate this over the week.

When the steaks were lower

Think Progress grinds through the history of Trump Steaks™:

Reporters from Home magazine, Gourmet magazine, People, New York Daily News, and Every Day with Rachael Ray showed up to the launch, which featured speeches by both Levin and Trump. Trump took the opportunity to boast of the steaks’ quality, telling reporters that the product was going to be a boon for the company, equivalent to Trump Vodka, which had launched just a year earlier.

The steaks were only available for mail order, and ranged from the Classic Collection, which cost customers $199 for two filet mignons, two cowboy bone-in rib-eyes and 12 burgers, to $999 for 24 burgers and 16 steaks.

But despite the rash of media attention, [Sharper Image CEO Jerry] Levin said, the steaks just didn’t sell.

Not all reviews of Trump Steaks were bad. Sharon Dowell, former food editor for the Oklahoman, called the steaks “tender, juicy and absolutely among the best-tasting steaks I’ve cooked on my home grill.” The New York Post gave them a 7.5 out of 10, noting that it was “an undeniably good steak” — but still three times the price of another steak that they gave a 7 to in the same taste test. Gourmet, in their taste test, were less effusive, calling the steaks “edible, but not particularly good.”

Martha Stewart, however, had perhaps the most unique response to Trump Steaks. In an interview with Joan Rivers, the lifestyle mogul and former Apprentice contestant replied “Too bad!” when Rivers said that the steaks weren’t actually from a slaughtered Donald Trump.

This person is the front-runner for leadership of the Republican party.

Craft distilleries expanding this year

Crain's lists five Chicago-area distilleries, including Few (my favorite), that have run out of room:

  • The West Loop's CH Distillery plans to build a 20,000-square-foot distillery in Pilsen on the site of the old bottling building of the long-defunct Schoenhofen Brewery. It aims to boost capacity to more than 100,000 9-liter cases per year, up from about 8,000 in its current distillery and tasting room. The two-and-a-half-year-old distillery, whose top products are vodka, rum and two types of gin, produced 5,000 cases last year, up from 2,900 in 2014.
  • Few Spirits in Evanston is seeking its fourth expansion in five years to meet demand for its barrel-aged products. The company doubled the size of its warehouse two years ago and is again running out of space. With production doubling last year, led by sales of gin and whiskey, Few is looking to expand again.

Local booze-makers are riding a boom in sales of craft spirits, which jumped 35 percent in 2015 to about 2.4 million 9-liter cases from 1.7 million in 2014, according to the American Distilling Institute's annual survey. That's after 42 percent sales growth in 2014 and a 50 percent spurt in 2013.

While figures aren't available for Illinois, the breakneck growth of CH Distillery, which distributes only in-state and has no immediate plans to do otherwise, offers a clear indication that the local market is just as robust.

I love Few's barrel-aged gin, which is as much a sipping spirit as a good Scotch or Bourbon. CH doesn't make all of their own stuff yet, so them opening their own distillery is good news.

Chicago leads in predicting food safety violations

Citylab reports that Chicago's open-sourced food safety analysis software has made our food inspectors much more effective. Other cities aren't adopting it, though:

Chicago started using the prediction tool for daily operations in February 2015, and the transition worked very smoothly, says Raed Mansour, innovation projects lead for the Department of Public Health. That’s because the department was careful to incorporate the algorithm in a way that minimally altered the existing business practices. Inspectors still get their assignments from a manager, for instance, but now the manager is generating schedules from the algorithm. The department will conduct an evaluation of the program after a year, and Mansour anticipates that the performance will meet or exceed the metrics from the test run.

But that was never meant to be the end of it. Back in November 2014, Schenk published the code for the algorithm on the programming website GitHub, so anyone in any other city could see exactly what Chicago did and adapt the program to their own community’s needs. That’s about as far as they could go to promote it, short of knocking on the door of every city hall in America. But the months since then have shown that it takes more than code to launch a municipal data program.

Chicago passed around the free samples, but a year later only one government has taken a bite: Montgomery County, Maryland, just northwest of Washington, D.C. The county hired a private company called Open Data Nation to adapt Chicago’s code for use in the new location. Carey Anne Nadeau, who heads the company, ran a two-month test of the adapted algorithm in fall 2015 that identified 27 percent more violations in the first month than business as usual, and finding them three days earlier.

There's a classic anti-pattern called "not invented here." That may be one of the factors. Another could be that the other cities' tech staff just aren't interested in trying new things. Chicago hasn't always been ahead of the curve, but I'm glad we've at least got the one guy.