Monday, August 24, 2009

Uncommonly delicious

I went over to Uncommon Ground tonight to sample their tasty Uncommon BLT appetizer!

Here it is, two perfectly toasted pieces of bread with homemade herb aioli, crispy organic pork belly, two thick slabs of heirloom tomato and a little heap of unbelievably fresh herbs (basil, parsley and chives, I think) on top. The flavors complemented each other so perfectly-- the richness of the pork belly and the aioli was well balanced with the bright, fresh tomatoes and herbs. It was exactly what I was hoping for on a nice summer night!

My first bite.. carefully including every ingredient! (Those are their sweet potato fries in the background, served with goat cheese fondue-- also worth a taste.)

I'm a proud member of the BLT clean plate club.

This BLT app. is available for $10 on the dinner menu at Uncommon Ground. It is very good-- especially when paired with one of their unique cocktails, like the zippy Palmer on the Porch (Ginger-infused vodka, flowering fruit iced tea and lemonade). Check it out!

Second Annual TomatoFest Potluck Supper!

In conjunction with the HoneyCoop, Slow Food Chicago and Candid Wines, TomatoFest is pleased to announce the speedily approaching second annual Potluck Supper! This event will celebrate the end of tomato season, and help you use up all the tomatoes from the seedling heirlooms you bought from Candid Wines and Uncommon Ground earlier this year. We invite everyone and anyone to come and bring their favorite dish (tomato-centric or not). There will be organic wine from Candid Wines, Goose Island craft beer, fun events, nice people and lots of delicious, home-cooked food!

Where: Chicago HoneyCoop, 3740 W. Fillmore
When: September 10th
Tickets: $10 for HoneyCoop or Slow Food Chicago members, $15 for non-members. They can be purchased here. (All proceeds will benefit Slow Food Chicago.) Children under 10 get in free!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tomato-Fennel Sauce for February

I met Jenny Borchardt at a New Year's Day party this year. We connected over a bit of aged Foie Gras, and I have to admit that I paid far too little attention to the fact that she and her husband are organic farmers up in Wisconsin. Happily, we reconnected recently at the Uncommon Ground Farmer's Market where she had all of her wares on display. Holy cow, Harvest Moon, in just its second full year, is a serious farm. Their produce is stunning in appearance and flavor and I can not recommend a share in their CSA highly enough.

Imagine my delight when at the end of Friday's market Jenny asked what I'd like to take home for myself, and then proceeded to fill a massive box with onions, fennel, peppers, a melon, leeks and some of her Amish neighbor's pickles. In the few moments that Jenny's generous hands needed to fill the box, my Saturday plans crystallized in my mind. It's time to make a Tomato Sauce to freeze for the coming winter.

Tomato - Fennel Sauce,
featuring organic onion and fennel from Harvest Moon and tomatoes from my garden.

I used smaller tomatoes that I have in abundance right now. Principe de Borghese, Thai Pink Egg, and Pearly Pink are featured.

The juice and seeds are seperated to control the level of liquid in the sauce.

Onions from Harvest Moon. 1.5 lbs each!

Fennel seed, fresh from a plant outside. At this stage, they are full of bright flavor and will add some nice oils to the base of the sauce.

We roasted the flesh of the tomatoes on a bed of fennel fronds. I am not convinced that this adds lots of flavor, but it keeps the fruit off the hot pan, making for easier extraction. Plus, it's beautiful and it smells good.

Did I mention that it smells good?

The juice from the tomatoes is strained and poured into the caramelized onions.

The blended onions, tomato juice, and fennel seeds meet the roasted tomatoes.

A quick saute of rough chopped fennel and some more tomatoes.

I intentionally kept the pieces large. I want big bites of bright summer flavors when I eat this over the winter, and rustic style seemed appropriate. I am thinking this might go over some roasted chicken. Perhaps Jenny's neighbor, who also does eggs, will have some for me at that point.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Socca's B.L.H.T is here!

Socca launches the Bacon, Lettuce, and Heirloom Tomato Pizza! Nice work, Roger!

Socca has a thriving fan community on Facebook. Find them here.

Pizzeria Via Stato BLT Sales increase 830%

With the arrival of locally grown heirloom tomatoes and their delicious use of Slagel Farms bacon, Pizzeria Via Stato has seen sales of their BLT lunch special increase by 830% since the Old School BLT Bonanza began as compared to average sales of their BLT in July.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Carnivale's BLAT in pictures

Becker lane organic pork belly, Spring Valley Green Zebra Tomatoes, Kinnikinnick Farms oragnic Arugula, and avocado all for $10? I think I have a man crush of Chef Mark Mendez of Carnivale...

Up close:

A tour of the kitchen revealed 200 lbs of local tomatoes:

Including these beauties:

The menu:

As I left, Chef Mendez said he was psyched to be part of the event because "I am a freak about tomatoes". Holding a box of Klug Farm blackberries, which he identified as being "ridunkulous" he added "Well, I am a freak about a lot of things". Indeed. Thanks for a great addition to the lunch time offerings of our Old School Blt Bonanza.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spotlight on Uncommon Ground

Chef Brian Millman over at Uncommon Ground has taken it upon himself to create two BLT variations for the Bonanza-- both featuring crispy braised pork belly from Slagel Family Farm! The $13 Uncommon BLT is a delicious sounding sandwich available for lunch, using heirloom tomatoes from their very own rooftop gardens or Harvest Moon Organics, and put together with Green Acres arugula, herb aioli and sourdough bread! For dinner, a tasty $10 BLT appetizer is available, made with that crispy pork belly, heirloom tomatoes, herb salad, crostini and e.v. olive oil. Delicious and accessible. Sounds phenomenal to me.

Plan Your Meals Accordingly

A huge shout out to Heather Sperling, over at The Tasting Table Chicago, who put together a fabulous BLT Bonanza Map with her great article on the event! Check it out!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spotlight on Cafe Spiaggia: Double the BLT Deliciousness

Chef Sarah Grueneberg has truly risen to the TomatoFest challenge, serving two wonderful variations on the BLT at Café Spiaggia. The first is a lunchtime BLT pizza-- or rather, a PLT, with the P standing for house-made pancetta. The pork is tastily organic, hailing from Becker Lane Organic Farm in Iowa. Those irresistible heirlooms (cherokee purples, sungold cherries, orange blossoms and black princes) come from Nichols Farm. For dinner, Grueneberg will bust out the PLT crostini, featuring Capriole goat cheese and arugula.
I, for one, cannot wait to try these treats out. Congratulations to Chef Grueneberg: creator of the BLT Bonanza double feature!

Monday, August 17, 2009

And our poster contest winner is...

"The Plant" Congratulations to Emily and Paul, over at PoppySeed Heroes. If you are looking for young artistic talent to design a logo, a tshirt, or perhaps paint a potrait of you for your mantle piece, we bet they can do something clever. Come to think of it, if you are interested in a portrait for your own mantle piece, you might want to head somewhere else. These folks are far too down to earth for you, but I digress.

Thanks to everyone who submitted posters!

Look for "The Plant" at restaurants participating in our Old School BLT Bonanza!

Eat Old School BLT's & Win Free Wine!

Ladies and gentlemen, start your stomachs and bring your camera phones...

Beginning today and going until September 20th, some of the best area restaurants are featuring Old School BLT's. Snap a picture of your favorite and you might win a free bottle of wine from Candid Wines and The Green Grocer Chicago! We are giving away 1 bottle to the first person who tweets a picture of an Old School BLT, and another chosen at random at the end of the week. Get moving!

Need a high class, but affordable business lunch? Head over to Blackbird for a sandwich at the bar from Executive Chef Mike Sheerin. It will be cheaper than you think, but just as good as you hope. Want to enjoy great views of the city? Take the elevator up to Sixteen in the Trump Tower for Chef Frank Brunacci's sandwich, or go all the way up to The Signature Room at the 95th in the Hancock Tower for Chef Patrick Sheerin's take. (Chef Pat and Chef Mike are brothers, our only fraternal pairing). Need a few sandwiches for an office party? Green Grocer Chicago is offering City Provisions' Old School BLT's to go, and the list goes on, including Cafe Spiaggia, Carnivale, Webster's Wine Bar, Osteria Via Stato, The Gage, Publican, Avec, Socca, Lockwood, and more coming soon.

We want to know what you are eating and where, and we'll give one luck winner a bottle of wine. Simply photograph your Old School BLT at one of the participating restaurants and Tweet, mentioning the farm that grew the tomatoes, the restaurant, and @tomatofest. One winner will be chosen at random on Friday afternoon, and you can select any bottle of Candid Wines currently in stock at the Green Grocer Chicago!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

BLT TwitPic Contest!

Tomorrow is the big day-- the very first in a month of Old School BLTs!

To celebrate, Damien has cleverly offered a bottle of some excellent wine from Candid Wines to one lucky winner of the BLT TwitPic contest. Simply visit one of the participating restaurants, order that BLT, snap a photo of it from your trusty camera phone and tweet it with "@tomatofest" in your text. The winner will be chosen at random.

Looking forward to seeing you all enjoying those tasty sandwiches!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Old School BLT Poster Contest Finalists

Help us select the winner of our poster contest. Some creative and cool entries came into Chicago TomatoFest headquarters from art students around the city, and we have selected two finalists. Both posters might be tweaked, but we want your opinion as to which artist should be the winner of the First Annual Chicago TomatoFest Poster Contest Winner! Please leave comments below to help us decide.

Our first finalist is a collaboration between Chicago based artists Emily Szopa and Paul Slayton. There is something about the bright colors and folksy feel they have evoked that seems to scream "grow something!"

Finalist # 1 : The Plant

Our second finalist is from freelance artist Debi Nafis ( Look carefully at this one. We found it creative and rich in texture, and we loved the subtle inclusion of the Chicago skyline. Well played!

Finalist # 2 : The Sandwich

So what do you think? Please tell us quickly as we are deciding by Sunday, August 14th at noon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sixteen's Frank Brunacci joins bonanza fun!

Yes, it looks like Chef Frank Brunacci of Sixteen is also a BLT fan and has signed up to participate in the Bonanza! In this interview, Australian-born Brunacci says, "Chicago, to put it bluntly, is definitely in the top three in the country for dining. Chicago has got the cosmopolitan aura of San Francisco but the sophistication and city life of New York, with a Midwest mentality... I’ve been in the United States for 10 years, and this is my seventh state, and it is the first time I’ve felt at home since I’ve been here." A great observation-- I agree that the grounded, Midwestern attitude is wonderful to encounter in an urban space (especially when you're a Chicago newbie, like I am!). And what better way to repay the city's kindness than to help promote local agriculture?
Welcome aboard Chicago TomatoFest, Chef!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

BLT Bonanza Poster Contest

Calling all burgeoning artists: Chicago TomatoFest needs your help!

We invite you, local design student/art enthusiast/amateur photoshop whiz, to create our official Old School BLT Bonanza poster. The winning poster will be put up in some of the finest restaurants around the city to indicate their participation in this event. The winning designer will have their name on the press release and opportunities for future freelance jobs, too.
It is important to the participating restaurants that the poster looks clean and sophisticated. Chicago TomatoFest would like it to evoke fresh food, health, sun, summertime, sustainable/local agriculture and the space of Chicago. Please read our mission statement for a better idea of our perspective!
The logos of our partners, Slow Food Chicago and WBEZ's sister station Vocalo should also be incorporated into the design as well. Vocalo is more liberal with the use of their logo, so it can be adapted for the poster, but Slow Food has asked us not to change theirs at all. The logos are:

The Vocalo representation can just be the :V part of the logo.

Posters must be submitted in PDF format and emailed to by Friday August 14!

Text that must be included:

Chicago TomatoFest’s Old School BLT Bonanza

This restaurant is a proud participant in Chicago Tomatofest’s Old School BLT Bonanza, Slow Food Chicago’s celebration of heirloom tomatoes and the people who grow, cook and eat them. Check the menu for a unique variation on the classic American BLT, featuring produce from farms near you.

August 17th-September 20th

For more information, including a list of other fine restaurants participating, please visit:

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Gage and Carnivale sign up for the BLT Bonanza!

It's our pleasure to announce that Mark Mendez of Carnivale and Dirk Flanigan of The Gage have agreed to participate in the Old School BLT Bonanza as well! They are also on the 312 Dining Diva's list of favorite local restaurants. We welcome them to our quickly growing list of BLTers and can't wait to taste their dishes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Phillip Foss & Lockwood join the BLT Bonanza

We asked the 312 Dining Diva to name a dozen chefs that had to be part of anything as fun as our BLT Bonanza and she gave us some of the best in town. The first results are in and we are thrilled to announce that Phillip Foss of Lockwood is joining forces with Chicago TomatoFest.

We can't wait to see which farms he'll use, which varieites of heirlooms he favors, and of course, what he'll create as a BLT.

Chef Foss has a wonderful blog over at : Check him out! The restaurant is here:

Harvest Time! (For Chefs' Pledges)

The tomatoes are coming! Chefs who are considering signing our pledge should do so asap to ensure a spot in our outreach, including email blasts to 3500 + Chicago foodies next week. Join Roger Herring of Socca, Pat Sheerin of the Signature Room on the 95, Chef David DiGregorio at Osteria Via Stato, and Paul Kahan, among others for the Old School BLT Bonanza. Here's the pledge chefs have to sign:

Chicago TomatoFest 2009


The Old School BLT Bonanza

August 17th to September 20th 2009

In conjunction with the Chicago TomatoFest, we are seeking Chicagoland restaurateurs who will present their own unique take on the classic BLT sandwich, featuring Heirloom and Ark Varieties of tomatoes and pigs, if the chef chooses to use Bacon. Our restaurant partners will agree to promote the local farmers and the varieties they grow in an effort to increase the general public’s awareness of the local bounty we enjoy here in Illinois. To participate, sign this pledge:

The Chef’s Pledge:

From August 17th to September 20th, the height of the 2009 local tomato season, my restaurant will serve our take on the BLT Sandwich as part of Chicago TomatoFest's BLT Bonanza. I agree to the following:

1) I will feature locally grown heirloom tomatoes in my BLT. My staff and I will communicate to our customers the names of the varieties we have selected and the farmer or farmers who grow them. If I do not have enough local heirlooms, I will not offer the special.

2) If I decide to use bacon in my BLT, I will use locally grown pork, ideally from a heritage and / or Slow Food Ark of Taste breed. My staff and I will communicate to our customers the variety we have selected and the farmer or farmers who grew the pork we will serve.

3) If and when I am contacted by local media, I will do my best to explain the meaning of heirlooms and to promote the local farmers from whom I am buying the ingredients for my BLT.

Chef’s Name: _________________ Restaurant (s) Name (s): __________________________________

In recognition of restaurants’ efforts, Chicago TomatoFest’s Sponsors, Slow Food Chicago, Candid Wines, and The Chicago Honey Coop, agree in turn to promote the event and the participating restaurants through all relevant media channels, increasing exposure and supporting Chicago area chefs who agree to “The Chef’s Pledge”.
You can download a copy here. For more info, please contact Alana Cuellar at

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Osteria Via Stato Summer's Eve Dinner!

The BLT Bonanza will begin with a bang at Chicago's own Osteria Via Stato, on Sunday, August 23rd. Executive Chef David DiGregorio has put together an incredible menu of tomatoey/baconey delights, including mini-BLTs with applewood smoked bacon, caprese salad with hand-pulled mozzarella, house made tomato focaccia, and baconcello (bacon infused vodka!). Candid Wines will be providing excellent wine, and special guest David Cleverdon of Kinnikinnick Farm will give an informal chat on the midwest tomato season.
Tickets are only $35, and part of the proceeds will benefit Slow Food Chicago! This will be a great evening with wonderful food and interesting discussion, so contact Osteria Via Stato's Events Manager Allison Galese at 312-642-8450 for reservations, or go here for more information.


This event sold out in 48 hours! Stop by Osteria Via Stato for a taste of their Old School BLT's. From the OSV website:

Pizzeria Via Stato is a proud participant of the 1st Annual Slow Food Chicago Tomato Fest and Candid Wines Old School BLT Bonanza.

Here's Executive Chef David DiGregorio's version of the classic

Chef David also suggest a glass of Seedling Farm Hard Cider ($7.00) as a perfect pairing.

(BLT Bonanza is for lunch only & only available while locally grown heirlooms are ripe!)

Chicago TomatoFest Closing Ceremonies at Socca!

The closing night of the BLT Bonanza promises to be beautiful and elegant at Socca, the "sleek but homey" bistro on 3301 N Clark. Chef Roger Herring and Chicago TomatoFest have invited some favorite BLT chefs (who will be serving their delicious inventions) and farmers. This September 20th event will benefit Slow Food Chicago, and will be a wonderful opportunity for farmers, chefs and food lovers to kick back and enjoy the last tomatoes of the summer!
More details on purchasing tickets to follow shortly.