The summer fest season winds down the next couple weekends, and last Saturday Best Fest Buddy Tom and I made our annual trek to one of our favorites – the Umpteenth Annual Chicago Beer Society Picnic.
We wore our black Utilikilts, because what else would you wear to an event held in a forest preserve? And wearing black is thinning. It is how I dropped 20 pounds this summer.
Tom had the idea to don apparel that’s part Carhart, part Scot and part Village People.
Tom thought the light breeze would feel good where it counts on the nice sunny day. His beard, t-shirt from a Portland area microbrewery, kilt, cigar, even his romanesque sandals made him look like a hipster’s dad or a mall Santa slumming it before the ‘tis the season starts.
I know this bucks tradition, but being the chicken I am, I left my underwear on underneath my kilt. I had an unnatural fear of somehow getting bitten by a dog where it counts.
Truth be told, we wore knockoff Utilikilts. I visited the Utilikilt boutique in Seattle this summer, and those things start at $260. Neither one of us owns a single piece of clothing for which we’ve paid that much money. Tom hits Goodwill. I typically bargain rack it at Kohl’s.
Tom made prosciutto pinwheels for the picnic. That’s to say, he took the dry-cured ham, cheese and pesto, a pesto to which he added kale, wrapped it inside big whole wheat tortillas and cut the creations into bite-sized pieces held together by toothpicks.
As a side treat Tom brought along goat cheese on which he drizzled honey and adorned with blueberries.
It was fancy but frugal fare, as Tom bought most of the stuff on sale at Butera in downtown Elgin – not at the freakin’ Whole Foods in Stepford-perfect Naperville.
At the CBS picnic it’s customary to take part in the various categories of food competitions held in conjunction with the myriad types of beer made available.
Tom didn’t enter the goat cheese. Wasn’t Enter the Goat Cheese a Bruce Lee movie made in Greece? The prosciutto pinwheels, though, took part in the Other Meat category.
The top Other Meat turned out to be a Korean beef bulgogi, followed by a whole lamb, slow-roasted on a spit over coals.
“I like to think that I am a fair cook,” Tom said (and wrote on Facebook, which I copied and pasted). “There are some fantastic cooks out there.”
There are also some people so dedicated to their craft, to showing off their culinary skills at the picnic, that they and their crews or families head to LaBagh Woods around 7 a.m. to set up what they need to prepare bulgogi, lamb, ribs, rib tips, chili, Italian sausage, Polish sausage with sauerkraut and partridge served with pears. Okay, I made up the last one.
We did learn that kale appears to hold magical powers over a certain demographic. The mere mention of the trendy cabbage brought an “ooh kale,” from many a woman – and a few guys – before they tried one of Tom’s treats.
Kale was a bigger sell than me saying we picked the pigs we used for the prosciutto ourselves, on a trip to Italy with our model wives. Or that the cheese was from goats raised on my organic farm in West Dundee.
Either way, Tom’s other meat lasted less than 90 minutes. I should dispel the rumor that Tom now brings kale with him wherever he goes, in the hopes of finding romance. Keeping it real, his theory was some people took the pinwheels because they needed the toothpicks to dislodge pork from their choppers.
My own favorite eats included homemade pistachio ice cream topped with whipped cream and served on a bed of graham cracker, the aforementioned oh-so-tender lamb, pickled garlic and some grilled-to-perfection rib tips.
Tom made enough cartoon character faces while eating and drinking, you could tell he had reached a gourmand’s state of nirvana. Or that the breeze under his kilt felt even better than he thought it would.
Whatever your belief system (but for vegan), the picnic would make for a good heaven. People getting along, wandering about, curious to discover what there is to eat, laughing (at my dumb jokes, even), kids milling about with Frisbees, 80s college rock in playing the background, the smorgasboard of smells wafting from grills, pots and woks.
That’s not to mention beer appealing to us Celts in kilts including Robert the Bruce, Goose Island’s Murphy’s Law tapped from an oak barrel and a 13 percent alcohol brew that had been aged in an islay whisky barrel.
Plus, our buddies Jen and Chris and Tom’s son Shane were along for the fun.
If that’s not paradise – if just for an afternoon – our t-shirts summed it up pretty well.
Tom’s read, “Beer Excellent to Each Other.” Mine said, “IPA Lot.”