Little truck, big dreams

Big World’s Tortas joins growing Aon food truck scene

His truck may be tiny — the smallest in the lunchtime brigade — but that doesn’t stop AJ Castillo, 26, from having Aon-sized ambition.

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Big World boss AJ Castillo (photo: Patton)

“I envision having my own restaurant, with a patio area and a food truck outside,” says Castillo, owner of Big World’s Tortas, which began serving up Mexican specialties outside the Aon Center in August. Big World’s is the latest addition to a burgeoning number of food trucks on an otherwise culinary barren strip of Columbus, from Randolph Street to the CVS.

Growing up near Midway Airport, Castillo says he was inspired by his father, who was both a police officer and Laundromat owner. Castillo’s space galaxy-themed truck, with its painted-on stars and picture of the Chicago skyline, represents what he calls the “in between” state.

“I’m somewhere in between Mexican and what’s around me — American society,” says Castillo, who claims he’s “100 percent Mexican” but was born in the US. “‘Big World’ was my nickname growing up — I liked to eat a lot, and was chubby.”

Two to three times a week — Castillo can’t always predict which days — Big World’s wedges itself in between bigger competitors like Bop Bar and Tamale Spaceship, where it dishes up five kinds of torta sandwiches. His number-one seller is the $9 steak sandwich, which smothers steak, sautéed onions, and tomatoes in between fresh bolillo bread from Nuevo Leon bakery in Pilsen.

Castillo admits it’s a “little messy,” but that sandwiches on Mexican-style French bread are a fun departure from typical desk-to-Pedway fare.

“I’ve never been an office guy, but I can imagine being stuck in the office,” he says. “Here, you aren’t going to get the same thing everyone’s used to. There’s always something new opening up.”

img_2837bTo Castillo and the city’s 54 other licensed food truck vendors, Columbus Drive represents new daytime opportunities — and challenges.

“The Aon Center isn’t a super developed truck stop yet,” says Castillo. “We want to start going there more often and building a customer base.”

“A lot of the businesses don’t know that the food trucks are down here,” added Deanna Liberty, manager of The Cajun Connoisseur, as she glanced upwards toward the Aon building at the end of a recent lunch hour.

According to CDOT spokesperson Susan Hofer, the city will put increasing pressure on the Loop’s major food truck zone to move elsewhere this fall, which could mean even brighter possibilities for local truckavores.

“A large dining space containing more than a dozen restaurant options opened on the west side of the block,” she said, referring to the 100 block of S. Clark. “We are working with the City Council to introduce an ordinance this fall to relocate the zone.”

— Tricia Parker, Community Contributor

Blackwood BBQ heats up Pedway

Have I been transported to Alabama? Or perhaps Kansas City? No, I’m still in the Windy City, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. That’s because I’m at the newly opened Pedway location of Blackwood BBQ, which features slow cooked barbecue from around the U.S. in one convenient stop. Blackwood BBQ is located in the Illinois Center (233 N. Michigan Ave) and replaces a shuttered Great Steak & Potato eatery. It is the Chicago mini-chain’s fourth location and joins other outposts in the Loop, West Loop, and Lakeview.

black001aThe 14-seat restaurant in the Illinois Center is open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. for breakfast and lunch and serves the BBQ joint’s signature smoked meats, according to Stephanie Simpson, a Blackwood partner. The Illinois Center location’s meat is smoked at a separate facility Downtown and trucked in multiple times per day, Simpson explained.

In terms of ambiance, Blackwood BBQ blends industrial and rural influences, with a mix of painted black and white woods adorning the walls; metal and exposed air ducts; as well as lighting wires above, overlaid with a sleek, big city shine.

The ordering system falls into the “fast-casual” assembly line style of food, popularized by Chipotle, with a focus on fresh ingredients that gives diners the ability to choose what they want as their food moves down the line. Speaking of lines …the ones at Blackwood can seem daunting during the lunch rush with guests often out the door. This was the case on my recent Friday visit; however, I was pleasantly surprised that it took only a few minutes to get through the ordering line and from there only about a minute to the cashier.

A key factor that ensures the line moves like a well-oiled machine is that Blackwood BBQ keeps it simple. Diners can choose from three meats: pulled pork, pulled chicken, or beef brisket. The brisket can be sliced lean, with fat, or in-between. The meat can be ordered as a platter (which includes one side), on a sandwich, or as a salad. The next step is to choose a sauce. These are regionally-influenced and include a signature Chicago style (a blend simmered with Old Style lager); a tomato-based Memphis style; North and South Carolina styles (vinegar- and mustard-based, respectively), and a spicy Kansas City style sauce, which I overheard one worker tell a customer is the spiciest of the sauces. Lastly, diners can add on pickles, some housemade sides, a drink (lemonade, sweet tea, or unsweetened tea), or a bottle of craft soda.

During my visit, I sampled the pulled pork sandwich ($7.49) with the Chicago style sauce. The pork has been hand rubbed and mustard brined, raised without antibiotics or hormones. The meat is very tender and has an authentic, smoky flavor that transported me from the heart of Chicago to a barbecue shack in the south. Unlike a lot of pulled pork sandwiches, this one wasn’t too messy. There was a good amount of sauce, although those who prefer their barbecue saucy might want to ask for extra when ordering.

The side dishes are served in cups, rather than slopped on the side, which makes to-go orders tidy. Corn bread fans will enjoy the freshly-baked honey cheddar corn bread ($1.29) studded with kernels of sweet corn. The three-cheese mac ($1.79) features a mix of aged gruyere and two cheddars, topped with a crunchy breadcrumb crust. The signature apple coleslaw added a refreshing touch to my plate. Other sides include smokehouse beans and an Elote corn salad.

Breakfast is another option at Blackwood BBQ. Served from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., breakfast items include a brisket, egg and cheese wrap; buttermilk biscuit sandwich; and briskets and gravy-a riff on the traditional biscuits and gravy. Catering is also available, with a minimum 30 minute call ahead required.

All in all, I was impressed with Blackwood BBQ’s focus on fresh ingredients, slow cooking, and straightforward approach to tasty, affordable barbecue. The aroma of smoking meat wafting in its storefront space can soothe even the longest lunchtime wait, and the convenience makes it a must for barbecue loving New Eastsiders.

Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Mon-Fri; 233 N. Michigan Avenue;
(312) 487-4802,
www.blackwoodbbq.com.

Dining out for Thanksgiving

Don’t want to cook the turkey this Thanksgiving?

Let the chefs of the New Eastside do it for you

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img_7752i-copyThanksgiving is all about traditions, and first among them is the custom of gathering around the dinner table with family and friends for a delicious feast. You could spend the week leading up to November 24 preparing the big meal, or you could let someone else do the cooking ­— and the cleaning up afterward.

Several New Eastside restaurants have special menus planned for Thanksgiving so you won’t have to travel far for a holiday meal. Even better, you’ll be back home in time for that other hallowed tradition — non-stop football on TV.

Stetson’s menu includes French onion or cream of mushroom & chestnut soup and two salad choices, the Plainville Farm all-natural turkey with Stetson’s mashed potatoes and gravy, chestnut herb stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts and cranberry relish. Dessert is a choice of pumpkin pie, Chantilly cream or cranberry compote.

151 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · (312) 239-4491

Hoyt’s Chicago will be open and serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal during dinner hours. Call for details.

71 E. Wacker Drive · 312-346-9870

McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks traditional holiday feast includes a variety of side dishes, desserts and plenty of TVs at the bar, all of which are likely to be airing football.

$26.50 – adults; $9.99 – children · 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. · Reservations recommended.
1 E. Upper Wacker Drive · 312-923-7226

Morton’s the Steakhouse will be the place for diners who prefer beef. The full menu, as well as a nearby TV, will also be available.

1 to 9 p.m. · regular menu · Reservations recommended.

65 E. Wacker Pl. · 312-201-0410

img_5256i-copyMing Hin Cuisine will serve their famous dim sum on Thanksgiving.  Regular Happy Hour discount will be suspended for the day, but the signature Asian cocktails flow until closing.

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. · regular menu · Reservations recommended.
344 E. Benton Place · 312-228-1333

The Palm at the Swissotel will present a three-course Thanksgiving dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. It begins with lobster bisque, roasted butternut squash bisque or a baby kale. It ends with New York cheesecake or pumpkin pie. Along the way, there are salads, sides and, of course, slow-roasted hand-carved turkey with dressing and giblet gravy.

$55 per adult; $24 per child under 12 · 4 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended.
323 E. Upper Wacker Dr. · 312-616-1000

Thanksgiving to go

If you want to dine at home but spend time with your guests instead of in the kitchen, you can get your Thanksgiving feast to go from two neighborhood favorites:

The Fairmont Chicago is preparing a Thanksgiving at Home that will be ready for pickup at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The roasted turkey meal with brioche stuffing will serve eight. Roast garlic and herb mashed potatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts and your choice of old pie are just a few of the additional courses and sides.

Call 312-565-7973 or email kristina.kline@fairmont.com. by noon on Monday, November 21 to place an order.

10 a.m. and 2 p.m. · $260 · pick up on level B-2 Thanksgiving Day. 200 N. Columbus Drive  · 312-565-6665

Mariano’s is offering a freshly roasted whole turkey or a fully cooked spiral-sliced ham, along with a number of side dishes and dessert for $65. Each dinner serves six to eight guests. Orders should be placed at least 72 hours in advance.

www.marianos.com 312-228-1349

Crazy for Krishna Lunches

$5 Karma-free meals come to New Eastside

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It’s the middle of a Wednesday workday, but K.C. Brown is all smiles.

“It’s a gorgeous day … and I like that I don’t have to think,” said the Cision manager, sitting on a waist-high pillar outside the Blue Cross Blue Shield building. “It’s great.”

As he squinted toward Randolph Street, a crowd built behind him — a pair of female coworkers, then bigger clusters of South Asian men.

img_0685awebSuddenly “it” arrived —the white Krishna Lunch van, carrying twenty-plus lunches, coordinator Rasika Manjari Dasi, and a monk named Navina Krisna Das. Delayed by a few minutes, Dasi jumped out of the van, her sea-green sari catching the sun.

“Hey, K.C.!” she called as Brown waved back, a sizable line snaking behind him. In an instant smiles appeared and the wait was forgotten — just the kind of positive atmosphere the $5 “karma-free” lunches aim to promote.

Started four years ago at area college campuses, Krishna Lunch expanded to the New Eastside this summer. As Dasi explains, the vegetarian lunches, offered as service of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), present an opportunity to put your karma back in the black.

“When you make [the lunches] karma-free, you’re not collecting [karma] for reincarnation,” she said.

The meals are “Sattvic,” meaning prepared with love and offered with gratitude to the deity Krishnam a satisfying concept for discerning diners.

“We are all crazy about it,” said Jenish Shah, a contractor with Blue Cross Blue Shield who admits he’s fussy about “micro-organisms not being in cheese.” According to Shah, the “tasty” meals “take care of a balanced diet.”

The boxed lunches are prepared each weekday at the ISKCON temple in Rogers Park and are served outside 300 E. Randolph Street for a brief but busy ten minutes from 12–12:10 p.m. The meals include generous helpings of rice, a vegetable, and a main dish. Menus are posted at www.iskconchicago.com/krishna-lunch, and meals can be ordered up to 10 a.m. the day of (though Dasi advises ordering as soon as possible, since the van’s maximimum capacity is 100 meals).

For the lucky diner who’s low on cash—as well as “good” karma—Krishna Lunch occasionally offers excess meals to stragglers.

“People are so happy to get the box,” said Tinu Puthenveetil, who eats Krishna Lunches about twice a week.

So far, ISKCON, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has provided more than 3.8 billion vegetarian meals worldwide through its Food for Life program. Proceeds from the Chicago Krishna Lunch program go toward area homeless shelters.

For information, visit iskconchicago.com or call (773) 973-0900.

— Tricia Parker

Tiny Hatt on the Riverwalk

Tiny Hatt bar and restaurant may be the first real neighborhood joint on downtown Chicago’s Riverwalk. The product of a budding union between Tiny Lounge and Big Hatt Gourmet, two of Lincoln Square’s most beloved establishments, it brings an upscale vibe and a friendly menu to an umbrella-lined stretch of the south bank between Clark and Dearborn Streets.

The venue’s Barrel Aged Cocktail list is a testament to the mixological finesse of Colleen Flaherty and Mark Johnson — two of the three partners — who began making specialty drinks at the Tiny Lounge long before the practice became a trendy staple.

“We were one of the first cocktail bars in the city, jumping into that sort of scene in the early 2000s,” says Ms. Flaherty.

At their new establishment, the most popular selection is probably the Subourban, a slightly dry and sweet blend of Jim Beam, Italian citrus liqueur Averna Amoro, Solerno Lemon, and Ginger Beer with a pinch of sugar.

The flavor and color compliment dusk on the river, when Ms. Flaherty most enjoys her job. “There’s nothing better than being able to serve people when they are ready to relax and their day is over,” she says. “They’re at their best.”

Beers include Rosa Hibiscus Ale from Logan Square’s Revolution Brewing, a pink-hued warm weather delight with a touch of the flower that gives it the name. The 5.8% alcohol content ranks in the middle of the potency scale, but that’s not the point, according to Mr. Johnson.

“It’s summertime,” he says. “We’re not trying to hit people over the head.”

It also reflects his customers’ tastes, which have changed significantly since he got into the trade at the Gingerman back when PBR was a thing in the 90s.

“It’s amazing to see how sophisticated the consumer has become,” he says. “They will think nothing of paying $12 for a beer. They might only have one of them, but they really appreciate the quality.”

IMG_7893webThe food at Tiny Hatt is exquisite, thoughtful, and easy to pronounce. The menu was created by Chef Craig Bell, a native Tennessean who started cooking in a small barbecue shop during high school.

Chef Bell studied at Chicago’s Cordon Bleu and worked in Spain’s Michelin-rated Zuberoa restaurant before launching Big Hatt Gourmet in 2009. He helped develop the Tiny Hatt concept with his future partners during a conversation in the Tiny Lounge.

IMG_7887webThe Tri-Tip Sliders feature thinly sliced brisket with pickled red onion, arugula, and basil Aioli on a pretzel bun. At two for $12, they’re tough to beat, but the Yardbird comes pretty close. A roasted chicken sandwich with Michigan black cherries, stone ground mustard, shallots, and arugula, it goes for $10. Other favorites include the Pulled Pork Sandwich and the Dr. Claw, a lobster roll with peppers, scallion, and lemon aioli.

All the beef and pork served at the restaurant is lightly smoked with apple and oak charcoal at Chef Bell’s kitchen facility on the north side. The process may take a bit longer, but that’s okay with the Tiny Hatt.

“Where I grew up,” he says, “barbecue and taking your time to eat and enjoying company was a social event.”

Cyrano’s Café in the River Walk

Every dish at Cyrano’s Café on the River Walk is inspired by a recipe that Chef Didier Durand learned as a child in France. From authentic quiche Lorraine to good old-fashioned hamburgers, each item hints at a flavor that dominated his mother’s kitchen.
“Great food makes people happy,” he says.

On a sunny afternoon, he likes to bring this philosophy to life.

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Chef Didier Durand. (photo: Daniel Patton.)

“Look what I’m having for lunch,” he says. “That’s a veal bratwurst with some caramelized onion, some sauerkraut — I love sauerkraut — and German mustard. It has a little sweetness and the bun is loaded with also caramelized onions on the top and the fries are, you know, hand cut. It’s beautiful. I’m going to bite into it.”

The bratwurst is one of many Midwestern favorites on the menu. Others include the roast beef sandwich and the mushroom Swiss burger. Although Chef Didier admits the items are “not what I had in France,” they do reflect his pioneering spirit.

Before opening Cyrano’s on the River Walk in 1999, one of the first venues in the area, he founded Cyrano’s on Wells in River North. Prior to that, he spent more than a decade cooking for some of the most popular French restaurants in Greater Chicago — including La Boehme and Yvette Wintergarden — as well as the world-renowned Michelle Garar restaurant in Southwestern France.

He came to America in 1986 to pursue a sous-chef position at Carlos in Highland Park, but was also motivated by the Hollywood Westerns he watched as a kid. “The movies inspired me,” he says.

“I was taken to a different world,” he remembers. “The country was so big, and the buildings… I love it at first sight and my love is still growing.”

At the time, American diners were expanding their pallets with a “gourmet mood” that Chef Didier found “quite exciting.” When Chicago banned foie gras in 2006, he continued to be “a big promoter” of the item and even suggested to Mayor Daley that the town be painted pink to celebrate the ban’s repeal two years later.

Today, his kitchen accommodates those with a taste for French cuisine by offering Salad Nicoise, traditional escargots and a trio of goat cheese with herbs.

In addition to the multicultural culinary enthusiasm, Chef Didier was also taken by the American work ethic. “If you want to work a little, you make a little,” he says. “You want to work a lot, hopefully you make a lot.”

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The garden at Cyrano’s on The River Walk. (photo: Daniel Patton.)

In keeping with that truism, he has fashioned Cyrano’s riverbank dining section to extend from a cluster of shade trees into a tent surrounded by flowers trained to grow those in Clade Monet’s garden. “That’s an English breed from the 1860s,” he says, pointing at a pink climbing rose. “He’s going to take over this space.”

The ambience has helped make Cyrano’s one of the most popular locations along the river. It is also a source of pride for Chef Didier, who insists that, “I’ve paid my dues.” But it is not the only reason that he has remained in the area for so long.

“I find my love,” he says. “I got married in 1990 to a nice Jewish girl from Highland Park.”

Chef Didier’s wife Jamey is a sommelier who handles Cyrano’s wine selection. “She has great taste,” he says. “We have about six rosés by the glass and wine in the bottle from all over the world: some from Spain and New Zealand, and some from Australia.”

She has also helped expand Cyrano’s workforce.

“We have a daughter called Simone,” says the chef. “She’s actually helping me with the business here.”

Simone is not only an excellent addition to the business, he explains, but also a natural-born Franco foodie.

“She loves rack of lamb. She loves oysters,” he says. “My God, she is not vegetarian.”

His mother would be proud. She taught Chef Didier the first recipe he ever cooked, an apple tart baked with a secret ingredient. “In the dough,” he says, “she was putting a little duck fat.”

Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Lunchtime cookout in the New Eastside

Conveniently located in the heart of the New Eastside at the courtyard just outside Mariano’s second floor, the Summer Patio Grill has become a popular lunchtime destination.

If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can enjoy the wonderful barbecue aroma from many blocks away. It is quickly becoming an event for locals and business folks who gather for lunch.

The atmosphere is alive and fun. Despite the restaurant’s popularity, the lines are never long because the grill specialist keeps things moving. Truth be told, waiting in line a little bit is not so bad, because you see your food cooking on the grill and you can smell that delicious aroma.

IMG_7600webThe grilling usually starts around 11:00a.m. and continues till 1:30p.m. every weekday (weather permitting).

To keep things interesting, the menu rotates throughout the week. Monday is cheeseburger day, Tuesday is grilled chicken, Wednesday is the steak sandwich, Thursday is Italian sausage, and Friday marks a return to burgers.

Condiments and trimmings are available and all sandwiches come with chips and drink included.

The patio seating is ample and loaded with lovely views of New Eastside greenery and people. Takeout is available for those on the go.

So next lunchtime when you are hungry, just follow your nose to Mariano’s Summer Patio Grill.

Jon Cohn | Community Contributor

Taste of Chicago returns to Grant Park

July beckons the return of Chicago’s largest food festival to Grant Park. The Taste of Chicago is a giant, sprawling smorgasbord, featuring an eclectic cross-section of the city’s culinary offerings.

When I first moved to Chicago in 2007, I was scared away from the festival by thoughts of standing in one long line after another in the heat, lost in a chaotic maze of food tents.

However, I have attended the last two Tastes, and I can happily report that the festival is well organized. Crowded, yes, but the lines move quickly and the servers keep the food coming.

There are also musical acts. The Roots and The Decemberists lead this year’s line-up, but the sheer magnitude of participating restaurants is the real draw.

cooked-chicken-clipart-chicken-food-clipartThe best part of the festival is the odd array of mismatched menu items. Every tent includes entrees and samplers. It’s like a bizarre tapas experience.

My meal consisted of bourbon chicken sliders, pierogies, churros, ox tails, pizza, barbecue, potstickers, gelato and ginger snap s’mores. I can’t think of a single restaurant in which that would be considered dinner, but at Taste of Chicago, it worked.

After a while, the restaurants become a blur, and I happily strolled from one tent to the next, wondering what peculiar culinary pairing I could pull off next. And when I was out of tickets, I stumbled back to nearby Lakeshore East in a delicious food coma.

The Festival is July 6 – 10. And I really hope those ginger snap s’mores are back.

Matthew Reiss | Community Contributor

Café Michelle on DuSable Harbor

New Eastsiders looking for a friendly new neighborhood haunt with tasty and comforting food and drink can rejoice! Whispers / Café Michelle, owned by Nimer “Tiger” Alia, recently opened in the charming and highly coveted space that Friendship Restaurant previously occupied.

Alia opens his café here after hosting countless loyal regulars at his famed “Whispers Café” in Mariano Park in the Gold Coast. His attention is now focused on becoming the place where locals pop in for morning coffee and breakfast afternoon gelato with a side of friendly conversation.

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Owner Nimer “Tiger” Alia

With a perpetual smile and a welcoming vibe, Alia’s dedication to the local crowd is obvious. “I really care for the neighbors,” says Alia. “I want to provide the best service I can, and make this place a neighborhood hangout.”

The menu boasts rich and bold flavors of creamy gelato. They’re all delicious, but you may want to try the Banana Caramel Praline or the Toasted Coconut Almond Fudge if you’re stymied by the many tantalizing options.

Opening at of 8 a.m. seven days a week, you can start your day with coffee or a healthy drink from the juice bar. “Everything is made fresh,” says Alia. “It’s all fruits and vegetables.” There is also an extensive food menu with fresh calamari, Philly sandwiches, and specials that appear every weekend. The café is open until 9 p.m.

Alia’s future plans include hosting a weekend brunch with an omelet station that makes everything from scratch. “Fresh ingredients,” he says, “And under twenty dollars.”

Café Michelle, named after Alia’s wife, promises to appeal to locals and visitors with healthy and happy food next to a stunning view of the lake and the bobbing boats in DuSable Harbor.

Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Island Party Hut adds a fleet of fun to Chicago River Walk

“When you think about it, there’s nothing like this in the city,” says Mark Stern, one of three founding partners of the Island Party Hut on the Chicago River Walk. “A tiki bar on the water. What a perfect thing to do.”

Now in its second year, the Island Party Hut is a bar and restaurant in a bamboo-topped yellow shipping container. It’s attached to a wooden deck, which is next to a riverfront lawn where guests lounge in Adirondack chairs and play outdoor games.

IMG_1757a“We’ve got giant checkers and we’re going to add bocce ball and the Bimini ring game,” Stern says. “It’s where you toss the ring and try to hook it on a hook. It’s very contagious.”

Besides offering a menu that includes grilled shrimp with tamarind cocktail sauce and the spicy “Rastafarian” Jamaican jerk chicken wrap, the venue also features live music. Regular performers include Vincent the Jamaican One-Man Band, who Jenny-the-bartender describes as “amazing,” and Samuel Wyatt, who fronts a group “that plays ‘Sweet Caroline’ and all those feel-good tunes.”

When it comes to rum, Mixologist “Z” transforms the spirit into a tropical daydream. After arriving from the British Virgin Island of Jost Van Dyke last year, he introduced the Painkiller, a specialty that was invented “in a little place called the Soggy Dollar.” A mix of dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and Coco Lopez, it’s topped off with ground nutmeg straight from the islands, adding a flavor that “Z” describes as “a cross between nutmeg and fresh cocoa.”

IMG_9394web2For those who like to get nautical, the Hut is also home to the river dock of Island Party Boats, the establishment’s sister operation. Founded in 2012 by the same partners who own the bar, it is a fleet of ten 6- to 65-foot pleasure cruisers available for rent.

This year’s additions include the Ohana, a 35-foot Gemini Catamaran, and the Island Time, a 65-foot, 90-passenger Skipperliner that includes two bars, a 58-seat dining room and enough space on deck for 40 people.

To maximize the good times without sacrificing safety, the company employs nearly a dozen captains who have earned 100-ton licenses. “I don’t think you can run a boat business without having someone who knows boats,” says partner Steve Majerus, who earned the captonial distinction four years ago. The expertise came in handy when the company transported the 65-footer on the voyage from its former home in St. Petersburg.

IMG_1798b2-01“We did one day of man-overboard drills and training on the boat and then we headed out,” says partner and captain Joey Koronkiewicz. He and a crew of five handled the first leg of the journey through the Gulf of Mexico, then switched out to allow the company’s other captains and crews to complete the 1,790-mile trek over four rivers and one lake enroute to Chicago.

For most of the trip, the seas were friendly, although they did kick up a storm in the Intracoastal Waterway near Pensacola. “There were like six to eight foot waves,” Koronkiewicz remembers. “She’s not meant for that, so we couldn’t power through it.”

After consulting a map, he says, “we heaved to and went to the nearest sand bar, which was breaking the waves.”

When the work was done, the crew relaxed with Skinny Pirates, a river worthy cocktail of Diet Coke and Captain Morgan.

Island Party Hut:
355 Chicago Riverwalk · (312) 600-0488 · www.islandpartyhut.com

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

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