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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, December 2

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« The second running of the Lincoln Square Thaiathlon I Would Dye 4 U »

News Sun Mar 25 2007

Airport Woes

I read this article in last Saturday's Tribune with great enthusiasm. Author Sandra Jones lamented the absence of local businesses from the Mag Mile area, and that mega-retailers like H&M, Nike and Gap, who currently have prominent spaces on Michigan Avenue, are "more interested in building their brands than building local character." I couldn't have agreed with Ms. Jones more, having just returned from a the Memphis airport, where I ate the best barbecue in years while waiting for my flight home.

No one expects airport food to be delicious or affordable. In this security-conscious era, however, the days of sneaking in an apple and a bottle of water in your backpack to tide you over until you reach your final destination are very over. The traveler who doesn't pack in a five-course meal before heading to the airport is in for a flavorless $14 turkey sandwich at a sports-themed bar located in Terminal 5. Tragic.

So this past weekend, I was waiting out a ninety-minute layover at Memphis International Airport. While figuring out where my flight to Chicago was departing, the strong, sweet aroma of barbecue sauce smacked me in the face. I followed the scent to an outlet of Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue, a well-regarded barbecue restaurant based in Memphis.

The place was packed, so I went to a separate takeout window located at the end of the restaurant, which was also packed with travelers and airline staff waiting for food. I ate a chipped pork sandwich that was so great that I barely remembered the plane ride back to O'Hare, I was so drowned in barbecue goodness.

When we landed at O'Hare, the buzz wore off as I walked down the terminal towards baggage claim. I saw every chain restaurant ever made lining the hallways of the airport.

According to my research, O'Hare houses a small group of local restaurants (e.g. Billy Goat, Lou Mitchell's) sprinkled among the larger food stalls, however, I would have had to walk the airport equivalent of three time zones to find them. For an airport that reportedly had 76 million visitors in 2006, you would think that the PR-hungry city would place more local flavor in its hallways, especially given the competition for the 2016 Olympics. In comparison, Midway Airport's array of local food offerings (Lalo's, Nuts on Clark) makes them look like a Benetton ad.

In the end, a tourist may be spending a short time in O'Hare as they go from one terminal to another, but if we're starting to complain that Michigan Avenue has become a desert of local culture, perhaps we should start branding an image of the real Chicago when the plane lands.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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