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Garrett Popcorn Shops

November 26, 2014

In preparing to go to Chicago for the long weekend, my mom mentioned that she had heard about a chain of popcorn shops in Chicago that was supposed to be really famous.  As soon as she mentioned that, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.  I, too, had heard of these popcorn shops and had briefly thought about looking into them.  It wasn’t until my mom mentioned it though that I remembered how much my mom likes popcorn.  My mom, mind you, is not a sweets kind of person at all and doesn’t like to snack.  But, I’ve always noticed that when it comes to things such as popcorn, whether it’s the butter popcorn you get at fairs or caramel corn, she’s a sucker for it.  So, I should have known that she’d be interested in popcorn from Chicago that had a certain reputation.  For me, and especially for my husband, it’s just popcorn.  How could it really be special or really any different from popcorn you get anywhere else?

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Garrett Popcorn Shops, a Chicago Tradition since 1949, so says the sign on the storefront.  According to Garret Popcorn Shops what makes their gourmet popcorn stand out from all the rest is that they only use the highest quality ingredients sourced from local producers for their fresh popped popcorn made continuously throughout the day in their various shops in copper kettles.  Using hot air to pop their signature blend of corn kernels in the copper kettles, the popcorn is then combined with their handed down secret family recipes to churn out the popcorn that people stand in line and flood the stores over.  It’s this commitment to making hot, fresh gourmet popcorn that brings the crowds, local and tourists alike, back to Garrett Popcorn Shops.

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Before we left Chicago, we had the opportunity to visit the Garret Popcorn Shops location at the famous Navy Pier.  Even in the middle of the afternoon, the line for popcorn was out the door and down the corridor.  The store had set up guard rails outside the storefront location to help control the line up that they knew they’d have nonstop.  This doesn’t count the line that snakes inside the store once you make it to the front door.  Through an open glass window, you can see the workers in the back of the shop continuously making the gourmet popcorn of all flavors.  Each new batch was immediately brought out front to the display cases that always seemed to be running on empty as they were scooped up into bags to fill orders of customers waiting.

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As you entered the store, you saw a menu board with the various flavors of gourmet popcorn you could pick up and the prices of the various sized bags and tins you could order.  You would step up to the register, place your order and step off to the side.  Now, it was time to patiently wait as the workers behind the counter filled each order by hand as it came in.  The popcorn was constantly being popped in the back kitchen, and as soon as it was brought to the front of the store it was scooped up and handed out to hungry customers who couldn’t wait to get their hands on this stuff.  It was a crazy operation.  You knew that each bag of popcorn you ordered was fresh out of the copper kettle it was popped in.  There were, essentially 6 different flavors of gourmet popcorn to choose from: the Chicago Mix, cheese corn, buttery, plain, caramelcrisp with nuts and caramelcrips without nuts.  For the caramelcrisp with nuts you could choose from pecan, cashew or almond, or a mixture of all three nuts together.

My mom, myself and my husband all decided to indulge in a little bit of gourmet popcorn.  Not surprisingly, all of us were interested in different flavors.

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My husband decided to try the famous Chicago Mix which is a hand mixed combination of the caramelcrisp and the cheese corn.  I guess it’s a bit of the salty and savory combined together into something that is uniquely Chicago.  Supposedly, it’s one of these things that looks odd, sounds weird, but you’ve got to try it to see how great it is.  Luckily, my husband is game and figured that since we were in Chicago he should give the Chicago Mix a try.  We got a small bag of Chicago Mix, and though my husband had questions as to whether it would actually be anything amazing, he was surprised to find that he really liked the mix, much more so than he ever thought he would.  For me, I gave the Chicago Mix a try and I didn’t like it at all.  The cheese corn was really cheesy and salty and trying to put that together with the sweetness of the caramelcrisp really seemed to offend my tastebuds.  But for my husband, he took a handful and then another handful and next thing I knew, the bag was gone.  He polished off the whole thing!  Wow.  I never thought he’d like it that much.

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For my mom, who is an inherent lover of any kind of nut, she choose the caramelcrisp with nuts.  When asked if she wanted the pecan, almond or cashew or the mix of all three, she couldn’t resist.  She had to take the caramelcrisp with all 3 nuts combined together.  Again, she was a big fan of the popcorn as well.  When I looked inside her bag, I was surprised to see that Garrett’s doesn’t skimp on their nuts.  There was a huge mix of whole-sized nuts in the bag with the caramelcrisp.  It wasn’t a mish mash of small broken nuts.  I could see whole cashews and almonds and pecans and that’s what my mom appreciated as well.  I think she was rather happy with her selection.

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Myself, I’m not a nut lover, but I do love the sweet so I chose the caramelcrisp with no nuts.  Just give me a small bag of caramel-coated popcorn and I’ll be a happy camper.  The caramel had a nice sweet flavor to it without being over the top and overpowering.  I also loved that the caramel was thick and rich and coated the entire popcorn in caramel, not just some thin coating.  However, with the caramelcrisp, perhaps more so than other flavors, this is popcorn that really does need to be enjoyed fresh.  Fresh out of the kettle and into the bag and into your mouth makes it sweet, crunchy and crisp.  The longer the popcorn sits without being devoured, the heavier the caramel coating becomes and the crunch gets lost in the popcorn.  I can see now why Garrett Popcorn Shops fresh pops their gourmet popcorn continuously throughout the day.

Garrett Popcorn Shops turned out to be a bit of a pleasant surprise for us in Chicago, especially for my husband.  My husband grumbled when we dragged him to Navy Pier and stood and waited in line for the gourmet popcorn, because to his mind, popcorn is popcorn, what could be so special?  Surprisingly, in the end, I think his Chicago Mix popcorn got the better of him and he enjoyed the popcorn more so than either my mom or I did.  I’m not sure my husband would actually wait in line just to get a bag of popcorn if we were to go back there again, but I have no doubt that if the popcorn was sitting in front of him for the taking, he’d be the first person to take up the offer.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather Morrow permalink
    November 26, 2014 8:11 am

    LOVE Garrett’s Popcorn. I like the Carmel, the best. I even cheated on my diet when I was in CH and had a small bag as a treat.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Love,

    Heather

  2. November 26, 2014 9:34 am

    Did you hear about Garrett’s getting sued by Candyland in Minnesota, who claims they invented Chicago Mix? It was all over the news here this summer. Not sure what ever happened with that…

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