To say I have a love-hate relationship with Fresh Farms off of Touhy Avenue in Niles might be a little too harsh. I love everything about it. The hate comes because I really can only ever get there on a weekend when it’s pure chaos. However, this is a true one-stop international market with one of the best fresh fish selections I’ve ever seen. So you might want to do a little mediation and park as far on the outskirts of the parking lot before going in, because you’re food mind will be blown.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Park far away, take a deep breath, and grab a cart on your way in.

I decided to feature Niles’ Fresh Farms sooner than later for two reasons. The first reason is because the fish selection is just insane – quality and prices are out of this world. Thick, sushi grade wild ahi tuna steaks for $14.99 a pound? Yes, you read that right. The second was a Facebook challenge. A friend wrote he could never truly appreciate Men At Work until he could try some Vegemite. If anywhere in Chicago would have Vegemite, it had to be Fresh Farms in Niles. Grocery Gal was on the hunt!

While this Fresh Farms is a sister store of the one in Rogers Park, it’s a true international market catering to all different ethnic backgrounds. I seem to be the only person there who’s native language is English – and it’s not limited to one continent or region within the continent. It’s a true Grocery Gal store.

I first learned about Fresh Farms through a random text I received from my dad. My dad is awesome; he’s 71 going on 35, but not big in the world of texting. A picture of fresh fish appeared on my phone. A lot of fresh fish. All for sale. I replied back “Where is that??” but of course there was no response. I had to wait to get the answer in person.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Fresh fish as far as they eye can see. Turn around for more!

Fresh Farms has a great location somewhat off the Edens, which could be why it’s packed all the time. I think the Jewel across the street has felt Fresh Farms’ impact. I’ve made the mistake shopping on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and any Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still worth it. I’ll just grab a sample of wine to help me make it through the masses. If you’re able to make it during the week at all, your sanity will thank you.

You’re welcomed into Fresh Farms with an amazing, but chaotic, produce selection. It’s a true variety o produce, each appealing to the different ethnic palettes shopping there. The quality is outstanding. The prices for Grocery Gal are fair. I can’t do everyday shopping here, because I know where I can get it a little cheaper. But by no means is Fresh Farms overpriced. I usually come here for one thing: seafood. Then I grab whatever else I’m missing, along with a handful of choice finds, while I’m there.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Fire up the grill for calamari and octopus

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Oysters

My family is crazy for blue point oysters. At 75¢ each, who wouldn’t be?

There’s always a lot of samples to try, but they’re pretty strict on doling it out. There’s usually an older gentleman cooking up some fish with a lemon/garlic coating on it. They give you tips on how to cook the fish, and the quality and prices are unheard of. Afraid of a whole fish? They’ll clean it, remove the head and filet it for you, if you ask. But why waste it? The cheeks have yummy meat you’ll miss out on, but it’s ok to stay away from the fish eyes. I’ve never bought a bad piece of anything here. I get their emails that highlight weekly specials, just tempting me to come in… even on a Saturday.

Grocery Gal Chicago Fresh Farms

Oooh! Mussels on sale this week? Break out the vino and grab some fresh bread!

After making it through the produce and seafood areas, the place seems like a traditional grocery store – except each aisle is like it’s own ethnic specialty store. This is great when you have wasabi powder, jerk seasoning, olive oil and fresh ricotta all on the same grocery list. Normally, that would be 3 Grocery Gal pit stops, but at Fresh Farms I’m finding the same brands (no sacrifices here) all under one roof. Since that saves me time, I’m fine dealing with slightly more expensive produce and the crowds.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Greek cheeses made from goat and sheep milk

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Dried dates and figs from the Mediterranean and the Middle East

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ukrainian style pierogis

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Canned clams and sardines from Spain

So on this trip I was on the hunt for Vegemite for Brian. I was on my third grocery stop for the day, so I although I was a little tired by this time,  I still zipped through the aisles in searching for Vegemite. No dice. This makes me think it either is unavailable in the Chicago area – or I missed it. But I did find some nice finds I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Croatian Section” which usually just consists of Vegeta, Ajvar and Kras wafers, I saw they also had Cedevita, the Tang-like drink I’d have every morning at my Aunt’s house.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ready for a Croatian breakfast?

But don’t worry, my Austrian heritage is well represented, too. Milka Chocolates originally come from the Vorarlberg province of Austria, where my mom was from. The company has since been bought by Nestle and then Kraft, but I grew up with those purple cows. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t like milk chocolate, so I’ve never been a fan of Milka. Doesn’t mean it’s not tasty to everyone else, though!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Milka comes in pallets to Fresh Farms

Some of the other things I buy from Fresh Farms is their olive oil. They have a nice collection of Greek and Tunisian olive oils, also at unbelievable prices. It feel like the Greek brand is somehow owned by the family owning Fresh Farms; they’re always pimping it out. I love the organic one, but each time I go I still try a sample with some fresh bread, even though I already know how good it is.

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

They also have a great selection of items you don’t think of, like pot stickers and fillo dough. The fillo doughs are from the different Mediterranean regions, so you can choose which brand you prefer based on country of origin.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

So many fillo choices to choose from

Items I haven’t touched on that are also great are their bakery, butcher shop, prepared foods, deli and, well, just about everything. They have a small liquor section to pick up wines, but the beer selection has some opportunity to improve. So while they don’t carry Vegemite (I’m convinced it’s just outta stock…), it’s probably one of the best grocery stores in the entire Chicagoland area. Don’t let the crowds scare you. They’re just all on to a really good thing.

Fresh Farms International Market. 5740 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-779-7343. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.myfreshfarms.com

 


Looking for more heavy duty grocery shopping, but don’t want to go as far west as Harlem Avenue to hit Caputos? If you live west of the Kennedy in Chicago, A&G Fresh Market might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

From Belmont, A&G looks small, but the main entrance is off Major Ave.

I’m not quite sure how originally I stumbled across A&G. Perhaps it was from a weekly mailer or an ad in the Nadig Newspaper, a great local newspaper that shows up mysteriously at my door every few weeks. A&G is pretty nondescript when you see it on Belmont, west of Central Avenue. But once I drove around back, I saw a huge parking lot with a more formal entrance. There’s often a sweet older lady helping with getting the carts back into the corral. They have the European-style carts that cost a quarter to “rent,” so before I even made it inside I had some high hopes of what was going to lay ahead.

A&G is as large as Caputo‘s and most old school grocery stores before they became the size of mega-malls. When I first came in I saw the bakery on the right with lots of fresh bread baked in-house alongside bread from local vendors. The breads weren’t as heavy on traditional European styles; think more French and Italian style breads.  At first glance it seems as if half of the store is filled with their produce selection. Later on, you realize there’s a whole other half of the store with traditional grocery store goodies. Produce here is of good quality at good prices. It’s a mix of traditional, European and Latin vegetables. Sure, they sell watercrest instead of watercress, but I couldn’t tell a difference!

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I judge many markets by the quality of their radishes, and their watercrest

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I could’ve shopped for my juice cleanse here for half the price!

A&G is a great spot for one-stop shopping. A busy deli counter with fresh ricotta, feta and mozzarella cheeses, smoked sausages, and good quality deli-meats. They carry a good amount of vacuum-packed smoked meats from local European markets in Chicago, like Bende and Andy’s Deli (both comin’ soon!).

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Prepackaged smoked meats from local Chicagoland markets

There’s also a fresh meat and seafood counter alongside a prepackaged meat (fresh) and seafood (frozen) area for those in a rush.

grocery gal a&G fresh market chicago

Who wants fajitas tonight?

There are two main staples I buy every time I come to A&G. Like I wrote, there’s an entire area for traditional groceries, but there’s also two different side areas: one for Latin foods, and one for Eastern-European ones. Both have lots of goodies in them!

First off, I’m a HUGE fan or Rick Bayless’ skillet sauces. My hands-down favorite is the New Mexico Red Chile sauce. We use it to season tofu for some mega yummy tofu tacos. Second favorite is the enchilada green sauce. I highly recommend both of them. They always have a good selection here, and often it’s on sale (bonus). I also beeline over to the refried bean aisle. Yep, there are so many choices, it seems to have it’s own aisle. About a year ago I tried red refried beans for the first time. There’s no lard and they’re from Guatemala. I go between two brands: the green can from Ducal or the red one from Malher. I usually buy whichever is cheaper, and there’s always at least 2 cans stocked in the Grocery Gal pantry.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market Chicago

Guatemalan red refried beans. Trust me, you’ll get hooked

After I get my fill of Latin foods, I head on over to Eastern Europe. Living on the northwest side of Chicago gives me a pretty good in to all that’s Eastern European, but I do stock up on some staples here. Until I moved to Jefferson Park, I would find myself paying $4-5 for some really good German pickles at some overpriced deli. Now I find ones just as yummy from a few different Polish brands at a fraction of the cost. I recommend Lowell’s Old Country Style Polish Dill Pickles (that’s a mouthful). They’re slightly sweet and the jar is filled with huge sprigs of dill and chunks of garlic, carrots, onion and mustard seed. The pickle juice is a perfect addition to your next bloody mary, too. There are lots of choices by many different brands, so if Lowell isn’t available, go for one with a bunch of extra goodness floating in the  jar.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Country style old world pickles. Y U M!

My stop at A&G was during baking season, and I was in need of some almond extract. Yeah, I could’ve spent $5 for some McCormick imitation almond extract in the baking aisle (that will take me an eternity to get through), or I can shop in the Eastern-Euro aisle at A&G and buy a small amount by Dr. Oeteker for only $0.99! No, I cannot read Polish, but the photos are pretty straight-forward enough. Though I’m not sure what daisy flavor is.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Tiny vials of baking extracts. Perfect size & price.

The rest of the store is like I wrote earlier, your typical grocery store. You can buy regular staples here at prices comparable to Jewel. The dairy/butter section is pretty straight forward with a few choice Eastern-Euro goodies.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Never buy Boursin again! Perfect for bagels at breakfast or with crackers and wine in the evening!

One thing that never quite made it in the US is farmer’s cheese. I don’t know why, because it’s absolutely delicious when flavored and made into a spread. It’s like having a lighter version of Boursin. Almette is a hit every time I bring it out at my house. There are various flavors – from horseradish to pickle (I’m assuming that based on the product picture above) and mixed herbs. They’re all spectacular… and there’s other flavors, too. There aren’t a lot of preservatives in it (hooray) so be sure to check the expiration date on the bottom. As tempting as it is to buy one of every flavor, that’s a lot of farmer’s cheese to eat in 7 days. Space it out. Or plan to do a lot of entertaining!