NRA Show 2016

Although we’re now only 15 days from #RTXVI we still have a ton of fun things planned here in Chicago over the next couple weeks. Fortunatly I feel like we’re at the point in the preparation now where we really could leave at any time. There are some loose ends to tie up, but nothing too big or time consuming left. Our fun in this city began this past weekend with the National Restaurant Association show, one of the highlights of the year for Molly and me. The show is an unbelievable visual spectacle, it fills the North and South Halls of McCormick Place as well as the adjacent Lakeside Center. Every single thing even tangentially related to the restaurant industry is represented there: ovens, bakeware, plates, floors, shoes, menus, tables, decor, reservations, and much much much more. But even with all the visual appeal the reason we continue to attend year after year is, of course, the food.

The vast majority of the space is filled with companies hawking their latest culinary innovations in an attempt to get them placed in restaurants around the world. To tempt potential clients samples of every type of food are available for the tasting. We sampled foods ranging from the delicious and innovating (avacado honey ice cream topped with pork belly, chocolate pop rocks, strawberries, and micro-cilantro) to the location-centric (amazing gulf shrimp for Louisiana, Vienna Beef Chicago style hot dogs; Belgian fries) to super specialty (small batch bitters) gyros (yeah, there are so many this gets its own listing) and absolutely everything in between. We both strategized from the beginning, taking only the most tempting looking items and only eating half of each one. There really is an unbelievable amount on offer, I don’t think it would be humanly possible to try everything, even if you did attend all four days.

Over the years we’ve figured out that the best way to do with show is to start at Anheuser-Busch for some beer samples and then to frequently return for more beer samples. I think the lady in charge of the IPA taps was on to us pretty quickly this year. The Elysian Space Dust was great, but who could blame us for wanting to make sure it stayed good all the way to the bottom of the keg?

As we were testing another of AB’s finest we happened across the USPS booth (see, EVERYTHING even remotely related to restaurants was here). Each year the USPS booth features a video game contest. Last year Molly crushed me in a mail version of fruit ninja, so I was thrilled to discover I had a chance for revenge this year as the game appeared to be roughly Tetris-esque. We watched a couple other people play as I devised what I thought would be the best strategy to fill the semi with packages in the most efficient way possible. After 90 seconds of frantic arranging I looked at the score board to see I was in third place for the day, and only 8 points out of the lead! I knew immediately that I was on a mission to win the day’s biggest prize – these promotional quality bluetooth headphones. As I completed the 4 bonus stations (really mandatory stations if I was going to win) I talked more strategy with the helpful USPS employees.

Before making a second attempt at the game we had to return to AB for another round, it seemed obvious even then that beer would improve performance in a game where quick thinking and even quicker reflexes were the key to success. We also won some stuff at the potato booth! Then it was time for round two. I stepped up to the controls with a plan in mind. I had gone too fast the first time, filling the truck with a few seconds to spare so I resolved to take it a bit slower. I had the truck about half loaded when I discovered that packages could not be rotated if the were near the edge of the truck. I panicked. I desperately tried to move the package over, rotate it, and move it back to sub-optimal results. Fortunately, I was able to stay calm and somewhat recover. In fact, I topped my previous score and moved into second place, but was still 2 points behind the leader.

We took another lap, drank another beer, ate some more gyros, and returned for round 3. This time the game was no match for me. I had learned all its secrets and was able to expertly exploit them. At the end of 90 seconds there was nothing between me and the biggest win of the day. There was nothing left to do but make another lap, drink another beer, eat some more shrimp, and head out for (what else?) a stay at Kimpton’s Hotel Allegro.

As I mentioned in a previous post Allegro, in our past experience, has been fairly low on our list of favorite Kimptons. Part of the Kimpton game though is to visit 10 unique properties within each calendar year. We’ve got a bit of a jump on this since there are 4, soon to be 5 right here in Chicago. Additionally though, this weekend marked the one year anniversary of our very first Kimpton stay, which happened to be at Hotel Allegro. I’m happy to say that the Karma worked its magic this time, they must have remembered our anniversary too. We were super excited to walk into a beautiful suite on the 18th floor. We sipped on prosecco throughout wine hour and returned to Knob Creek bourbon, Chicago style popcorn, and the best flourless chocolate cake topped with pistachio whipped cream and ringed with fresh berries. It is pretty ridiculous how much we love this brand, but they just do everything perfectly right.

The next morning after enjoying our coffee and newspaper we headed back to the show. Although I had left the previous day feeling good about my high score there was still an hour of the show left and I was anxious to find out if it had held. We stopped by AB to grab a beer but they hadn’t opened yet so we made our way to the USPS booth. As I made eye contact with the MC of the event he stopped mid-sentence, called me up on stage, and awarded me my prize.

This post is already getting long but I feel like it would be wrong to leave out my other big project of the weekend: #BunsVSGuns. On Friday I was watching the #NRAShow Twitter feed to see if there was anything to be sure we didn’t miss. Oddly, the posts were half about food and half about guns. Although it may seem like this should have been obvious, this is actually the first year since we’ve been attending that both NRA’s have had their major events on the same weekend. The clash of NRA’s on Twitter was a such a bizarre juxtaposition that I knew I had to get to work to exploit it. I have been running the twitter handle ZAKFacts off and on for years and this was just too amazing a coincidence. I’d encourage you to head over to twitter to read them for yourself!


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