Tasting notes by Amy Cavanaugh
There’s no shortage of super-cheesy or sugary popcorn around Chicago, but restrained, thoughtfully flavored corn is harder to find. Popcorn Asylum, a new Lakeview popcorn shop headed up by former lawyer Ben Zion and partners Tim Zion and Justin Platt, aims to do that. The shop is pretty bare-bones, with two racks holding bags of popcorn in a variety of sizes and a wall covered with paintings from local artists. Behind the counter, there's a dehydrator to dry fruit for flavors like strawberry balsamic popcorn or PB&J, which tastes pretty much exactly like the sandwich.
The menu changes weekly, but there are always four cheese varieties and a maple flavor, which is similar to the caramel corn we’re used to, but not quite as sweet. The cheese popcorns show us that sometimes the flavoring can be a bit too restrained, since the cheddar didn't taste like much more than plain popcorn. But the chili cheese, with housemade chili powder, has just the right amount of heat and cheese, and you won’t be able to put the bag down.
Another flavor we couldn’t stop eating was the lightly beery Temperance Porter, made with Temperance Beer Co.’s Root Down Porter caramel. It’s already gone, but they're considering other beer flavors for spring. Also in the works: banana popcorn and olive popcorn.