Garrett Popcorn Shop (Randolph)
The flagship Michigan Avenue store, from which long lines of tourists and locals queued for decades, lost its lease in spring 2008; the founding family sold out in 2005; and the new owners have opened shops in — gasp! — New York City; but Garrett's popcorn is still a hometown Chicago favorite.
Locals particularly love "The Mix," that oddly compelling combination of savory, salty CheeseCorn and sweet, crunchy CaramelCrisp. Nobody knows who first decided to toss these two seemingly opposing flavors together, or when, but it's been an addictive hit ever since. Even the ever-dieting Oprah Winfrey called it one of her favorite things. The company uses specially grown corn, air-popped, with proprietary secret recipes for its buttery caramel and rich liquid cheese coatings, supposedly unchanged from the original Garrett formula. You can mail-order it in tins, but it's at its best freshly made and hot from the bag.
The corn combo used to be called the "Chicago Mix," but perhaps due to expansion plans, current owner CaramelCrisp LLC, a Chicago-based partnership founded by real estate developer Lance Chody, seems to be de-emphasizing the Chicago-ness of the product. Garrett VP Scott Schroeder carefully noted in media interviews that the celebrated popcorn originated in Milwaukee in 1931. Mr. and Mrs. Garrett, whose first names have apparently been lost to history, brought their recipes to Chicago and set up shop in 1949 at 10 W. Madison Ave., just down the street from the current location. There are other downtown shops in CitiCorp Center and on West Jackson and two at O'Hare Airport.
—Leah A. Zeldes