The favorite weather conditions for many Chicago natives correlates directly to their personal climatic ideals for standing in long lines. Chicagoans are a patient lot. They’re used to standing in long lines, sometimes for as long as two hours…and that’s not to meet come of the city’s glitterati such as Oprah Winfrey or Mike Ditka. They exercise Job-like patience to buy a bag or six of Garrett popcorn. They stand in line in frosty air, in oppressive humidity and in turbulent winds. To paraphrase the US Postal Service creed, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays Chicagoans from the decadent devouring of their favorite popcorn.”
If you don’t think any popcorn is worth waiting two hours for (especially with lake effect weather pelting your face with icy sleet), you haven’t had popcorn from the world-famous Garrett Popcorn Shop. It’s probably not even fair to call it “popcorn” because it’s so much more than that. It’s ethereal in its decadence and gourmet in its sophistication. It’s the type of popcorn you crave and dream about. It’s the only popcorn to make it onto “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” an annual segment in which the mega-star shared noteworthy products with her audience.
Garrett popcorn launched its now storied operation in 1949. In addition to its ten Chicago locations (including one at O’Hare International Airport), Garrett has shops in Las Vegas and New York City as well as an international presence in Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong and Malaysia. For those of us unable to visit one of the shops, we can still order popcorn online or over the phone. My favorite location is the one just east of Michigan Avenue, queue length be damned. Within a block of the shop, you’ll start to smell the buttery, rich fragrance of freshly popped popcorn wafting toward you like a sensuous siren’s call.
There are many things which make Garrett popcorn unique. First, it’s all air-popped in small batches so it remains fresh and warm when you order it. No fats or oils are used in their patented popping process and Garrett even grows its own corn. Never mind the eleven secret herbs and spices. Perhaps no recipe is as closely guarded as the Garrett popcorn recipes. Blended with natural flavorings, the popcorn comes in four varieties: plain, buttery, caramel (with cashews, macadamias or pecans) and cheese. The shop’s best-selling popcorn (and Oprah’s favorite) is a mix of caramel and cheese popcorn, the “Chicago Mix.” By the way, don’t dare call it “caramel popcorn!” It’s CaramelCrisp, a trademarked name for popcorn that deserves to be distinguished.
The Chicago Mix is absolutely addictive, my very favorite popcorn anywhere! The popcorn isn’t overly sticky or clumpy. Instead you can pluck individual popped kernels from the distinctive bags or tins…and an unpopped kernel is as frequent as a validated chupacabra sighting. Nor will you find that annoying “cheese dust” on the CheeseCorn (also trademarked), which is buttery, rich and oh, so cheesy. It’s a wonderful contrast to the grown-up sweetness of the CaramelCrisp, a sweetness not smacking of sugar, but of a balance of caramel and salt. In combination, the CaramelCrisp and CheeseCorn are the best Chicago duet in town. It’s irresistibly delicious.
I suppose there are people somewhere who don’t like or appreciate popcorn and suspect it’s because they’ve been subjected to the barely edible movie theater variety or worse. A trip (or ten) to Garrett Popcorn Shop will make a believer out of any skeptic.
GARRETT POPCORN SHOP
625 North Michigan Avenue
LATEST VISIT: 5 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
BEST BET: Chicago Mix