After living for a number of years in Chicago, I learned to tolerate the endless traffic congestion, the seriously high cost of everything and anything, and the howling blizzards-turned-to-brown-slush-in-the-streets quaintly termed “winter weather events” by a local cadre of grinning TV meteorologists in exchange for two significant benefits: living in the best sports town in the country, and the fabulous array of summertime street festivals in every neighborhood on virtually every weekend all summer long.
Consider a sampling of outdoor events across the city: The Ribfest in Uptown (not to be confused with the Ribfest Chicago); the Roscoe Village Burger Fest (self-explanatory); West Fest (a Near West showcase for neighborhood restaurants); Chinatown Summer Fair (food-centric street fair); Taste of River North (“hot food and cold drinks” — wink, wink); Bantu Fest (food from 20 different countries); Taste of Lincoln Ave. (swanky foodservice fare); and the Wicker Park Fest (food and music).
And that’s just July.
In addition to making sure the event is titled as a “fest,” not a “festival” — that’s mandatory — these outdoor celebrations center on the consumption of meat: barbecued pork, ribs, hot dogs, sausage, chicken wings, kebabs and other treats that can be stuck in a bun or skewered on a stick.
It’s truly one of the distinctions that makes the Windy City livable, despite the noise, congestion, crowded freeways, cost of living, lack of parking and the heat, humidity, snow, ice, sleet and slush.
Did I mention the traffic?
Most of these fests feature not just food, but fighting, as well. Not only can fest-goers sample all kinds of gourmet treats, there’s usually a group of chefs battling it out for supremacy and the chance to hang an oversized certificate in the entranceway to their upscale restaurant.
They’re culinary, yet competitive events, and that’s a big part of their mass appeal.
We love food, but we love a food fight even more.
Along those lines, a relatively new event in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex may have raised the bar for summertime food fests.
And it goes by a terrific name: Meat Fight®.
The event’s website described its origins thus: “In 2010, we started Meat Fight with a few friends and a keg in our backyard.”
Of course, a lot of “events” I attended during my college career had exactly the same starting point, but none of them evolved into a big-time fest that also raises money for charity.
Meat Fight did, and now the Texas barbecue celebration brings in chefs to compete in four categories: brisket, pulled pork, sausage and something called the “wild card.”
As the organizers phrased it, “In 2012, we brought the meats to the masses for the first time [with] 12 fancy Dallas chefs competing for barbecue glory, and they were judged by the best barbecue minds in the best barbecue state.
“We ate meat, we drank whiskey, and we raised $20,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.”
That’s the trifecta right there: Eat, drink and be charitable.
Words to live by.
Fast forward to this year’s Meat Fight, scheduled for the end of August, with advance ticket sales already underway. (Last year’s event raised some $175,000 to fight MS). Hundreds, perhaps thousands of barbecue lovers are expected to attend.
Among the entries in previous Meat Fights are such delights as a “Bacon Tower,” a Wagyu Frito Pie and something called the Meatlennium Falcon — which isn’t all that descriptive, but it’s as intriguing as it gets.
The Meat Fight organizers — CEO Alice Laussade, a James Beard Award-winning writer; Mike Laussade, an attorney and two-time winner in the pulled pork category; and Mike Cox, the event’s CFO and blue-ribbon winning rib master — are to be complimented for creating an event with a great name, terrific food and a worthy purpose, and it ought to be replicated in many other cities around the country.
The name’s trademarked, but the formula’s not.
Let the Fights begin.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.