Foodie Spy: NRA’s 20 Most Delectable Brands

NRA 2017 hit McCormick Place over four glorious days with 2000 exhibitors showcasing the latest yummy and innovative new products. 

The National Restaurant Association Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show is the premier food service industry expo that brings together restaurant owners, big franchisers, proprietors, executives, chefs, farmers and innovators to learn, taste and make deals! Every inch of the north and south show floors, the Lakeside Center and the Bar Expo of McCormick Place was filled with vendors ready to entice. It was the Foodie Olympics where my palate did all the flexing.

Along with cool demos from pro chefs like Rick Bayless in the World Culinary Showcase, and delicious treats at the Bellevita Italian food and wine expo, NRA had great resources for farmers, chefs, restauranteurs and everyone in between.  The Start Up Alley  and Innovation Hub hosted cool startups, and Amazon Business GM Dan Park showed us how to Stay Ahead of the Crave.

Foodie Spy was on hand to taste and gander.

Here are my 20 favorite exhibitors 

1. Premier Proteins

The premier purveyor of American Kobe and Wagyu beef grilled burgers, sausage and steaks on the spot that kept a line around the booth. The level of succulence and quality tells me their cows are antibiotic and hormone-free and probably practice meditation.

2. Schuman Cheese Co. – The Parmesan Cheese Guy

There were thousands of vendors at NRA but this guy stole my heart. Among a literal circle o’ the finest Wisconsin cheeses, David McCarthy stood painstakingly carving away at the most delicious parmesan cheese I’ve ever had. Schuman takes their direction from Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers, certified with over 10 years on the ground, 3 years of studies and another 3 years of apprenticeship. They know their stuff!

Schuman Cheese Co. also makes these cool whisp cheese crisps – a fantastic chip made with cheddar, parmesan and asiago pepper jack cheeses. They’re 100% real cheese, gluten free with no preservatives. The cheese chips are great in soup, salad, chili and as bread crumbs. Find out more at

3. Lamb Bacon

The innovation award goes to Superior Farms for their amazing cured and harwood-smoked lamb bacon. It’s basically the yummy stomach of a healthy lamb. It’s great for me because I can’t eat pork. And it taste better than bacon.

Check out more at

4. Carla’s Pasta

Carla’s Pasta had a decadent display of dishes with an 8-part pesto bar and risotto made to perfection. Family owned, Carla’s Pasta grew from humble beginnings to a worldwide success.

Her brand is high-quality, handcrafted and exceptional. I tried the pesto pasta and the pesto risotto – magnifique. Find out more at

5. Powell & Mahoney – handcrafted cocktail mixers and flavored ginger beer

The BAR Show brought dozens of wine, beer and liquor exhibitors. Ginger beer is the hot new thing. Powell & Mahoney had the most delicious ready-made margaritas and some flavorful ginger beers – including the FABI award-winning Blood Orange Ginger Beer.

Check them out at

6. Truly Good Foods – a snack lovers wet dream

Truly Good Foods takes all the best chips, nuts, pretzels, exotic snacks and gummy bears and makes snack-size and bulk bar snacks. The Sienna Cream Crunch has raisins, milk chocolate drops, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, and dark chocolate raisins. And the Big Cheese has pretzels, cheese and crackers mixed with rye chips, sesame seeds and cheese wics.

Find out more at

7. Honey Smoked Fish, ready-made goodness

The all-natural honey-smoked salmon requires no cooking and is perfect for salads, pasta, pizza and just as a snack. The chipotle and cracked pepper salmon was so good I almost went back a third time.

Get some at

8. Life Support, hangover serum

The recovery shot can be taken before, after or during drinking as its own cocktail. There’s one with caffeine for a wakeup boost, and one without to drink before bed. The main ingredient is Japanese Raisin Tea Fruit, clinically proven to relieve hangovers. It’s available at convenience stores like 7/Eleven and Circle K. Find out more at

9. Royal Cup Coffee

Royal Cup Coffee had a Barista on hand with the flicka the wrist. He made me a delicious and very well-balanced caramel latte one afternoon that I drank like a shot of whisky. Check them out at

10. New York Brick Oven – Goodfellas Pizza

These two exhibitors were stuck together like the mafia so I’m not sure if it’s one company or extensions of one another – whatever. New York Brick Oven has a cool rotating oven. And the award-winning Goodfellas Pizza gives customers pizza making lessons like Kramer tried to do on Seinfeld. Find out more at

11. Total Cluster Fudge

Made with a ton of natural stuff that tastes great, this sweets company offers innovative treats with clever names.

With individual and bulk packaging, the sweets could be a major sin. But they are healthy in moderation – I hope. Get some at

12. Blanc de Bleu – Blue Cuvee

It’s a white cuvee infused with blueberries. The result is a tasty party drink and a conversation starter.

13. Frosé by Kelvin Slush Co. 

It’s so clever I wish I would’ve thought of it first. The cocktail syrup is available in 6 base flavors – Citrus, Tea, Ginger, Margarita, Pina Colada, and Frosé that when blended with ice make great summer drinks. Use the mixes for a great frozen margarita, daiquiri, Moscow mule, whisky sour, sangria and more. Check it out at

14. Maracame Tequila – the smoothest in the game

The 100% agave comes from a long tradition made in the highlands of Mexico. The award-winning Plata, Resposado and Anejo have an enduring slightly sweet flavor with a smooth long finish. It’s hard-hitting tequila that’s smooth as silk.

I stopped the booth a half-dozen times and each time was better than the last.

15. Mezze Magic – magical tomatoes

From slow roasted to confie, the tomatoes range in flavors and marinades, but they are all delicioso.

16. Fruitations – all natural, all good

The craft soda and cocktail mixers are pure fruit in a bottle with 4 flavors, cranberry, rio red grapefruit, tangerine and cherry. The mixers go great with champagne but can also be used to make flavored soda and smoothies – with liquor!

Try out their specialty cocktails like the Smash with whiskey and Fruitations Cranberry or Paloma en Fuego made with Fruitations Grapefruit and tequila. Check them out at

17. Whisky Elements – Time & Oak 

Thanks to Time & Oak a bottle of wine or whisky can be aged years in just 24 hours.

18. Rushing Waters Fishery Smoked Spreads

The exquisite smoked salmon and smoke trout spreads are an instant crowd-pleaser. Cop some at

19. Truly Spiked and Sparkling Water

The sparkling flavored water is 5% alcohol with 100 calories and just 1 gram of sugar. With favors like pomegranate, Colima lima, grapefruit, Sicilian blood orange and lemon yuzu they are great alone. But they're even better with a mixed beverage.

20. Chicago Sweet Connection Bakery 

This is the quintessessential high-end bakery right in the city. They create beautiful yummy treats whole and by the slice – even parfait cups, cupcakes and cookies!

Get some at

Honorable Mention 

I love liquor, I love sweets – so the Rum Chata Cheesecake is a home run. As was the Gin & Tonic Sorbet, both made by the innovative High Road Craft Ice Cream.

Find out more at |
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