Today’s Grocery Gal installment comes as a recommendation from a long standing client of mine. We were chatting about the cost of organic foods and how it’s a challenge to afford it. She told me of a place on Oakton in Skokie whose name escaped her, and I was intrigued because I had never heard of it. Always one for a new adventure, I started searching “skokie grocery store” on my iPhone to find what had to be the place: Marketplace on Oakton.

Grocery Gal Marketplace On Oakton SkokieThe day I made it out to Marketplace was the same day I discovered Hungarian Kosher. Both are on Oakton, but Marketplace is close to the Skokie Swift yellow line and the Edens. When I pulled my grocery getter into the large parking spot, I smiled, as it shared a space with my favorite chain grocery store, Aldi.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store

Grocery Gal Marketplace Foods Coccoa Kumato tomato

Cocoa Tomatoes are just like Kumato Tomatoes!

I wouldn’t call Marketplace a destination store, but a solid International market with fresh produce, a large deli counter and substantial butcher shop, along the lines of Produce World. I was impressed by the variety of organic produce they carried: staples such as apples, potatoes and onions at a fraction of Whole Foods’ prices.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store OrganicGrocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store OrganicTheir large ethnic produce selection rivals Fresh Farms.  I bought some taro root (I love taro root chips) and fresh turmeric.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store Indian VegetableI was happy to see some of my favorite Bende meat products – almost all of Marketplace’s smoked meat selections were from Chicagoland companies.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store Euro meatsMarketplace on Oakton has a fresh seafood counter, but I’m partial to their selection of canned fishes. They carry a wide variety; more than I’m used to seeing at other stores.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton FishAs most of my grocery shopping runs around running errands, I would definitely make a stop here if I was heading to Old Orchard. And for those European chocolate fans out there, beware – there are many tempting items in the checkout line!

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton ChocolateIf you live in the area, it’s a solid stop for good quality, affordable organic produce, and a solid European style market.

Marketplace on Oakton. 4817 W Oakton Street, Skokie, IL 60077. 847-677-9330


If you live in Chicago there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Co-op Sauce – a locally made hot sauce that benefits Chicago youth – offered at many different restaurants. They offer a number of varieties including The Barrel, Green Mash-ine, Too Hot, and my favorite, probably the mildest in their bunch, Poblano. While you can buy their sauces at stores such as Gene’s Sausage Shop, Paulina Market and Whole Foods, I like to stop at Sauce and Bread Kitchen in Rogers Park to buy directly from the source.

SBK is a collaboration of Co-op Sauce and Crumb Chicago, and is located on Clark at Devon. They have a wonderful bakery and cafe, where each table features at least 6 varieties of Co-op’s hot sauces to try.

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKThis is the place to find all of Co-op’s sauce varieties, along with some locally sourced foods.

grocerygal-coop-miscWhen I go, I always pick up 2-3 bottles of the poblano sauce. They often have limited edition sauces that I think are only available at SBK.  Their hot sauces use real ingredients you can understand on the label – and they’re full of flavor, not just heat. These are also great gifts – I brought a bottle of their Rum Barrel Hot Sauce to a rum fanatic friend when I went to visit. It’s a nice, unique souvenir from Chicago.

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKGrocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKI bet the Peppers in a Bottle sauce would go great with a Jibarito! That and the Poblano Mustard will be on my next to-buy list!

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKSBK partners with local farms to bring interesting flavors to their cafe menu, and also for sale such as Morel & Leek Jack cheese. So, if you’re in the Rogers Park neighborhood, stop in a SBK, grab a bite to eat, perhaps locally made pickled vegetables or whatever else they’re featuring in their market, along with a few bottles of Co-op’s Hot Sauce for you and a friend.

Sauce & Bread Kitchen. 6338 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660. 773-942-6384


Mother’s Day is coming up. This will be my 11th Mother’s Day without my mom, but I still think of her every day. She would love to go downtown with me and window shop on the Magnificent Mile. If she was still here today, I know we’d want to spend part of Mother’s Day eating some great food and enjoying wine at Eataly.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Welcome to food heaven

Eataly opened in Chicago around Thanksgiving. Friends messaged me, asking if I wanted to see it with them. An entire mega-store food-court filled with imported Italian foods and wines? A Dean and Deluca on steroids? Two floors of food goodness that took over an EPSN Zone? I’m in!

I first went on a Saturday at 6pm a few weeks after it opened. It was total chaos! I thought Fresh Farms on a Saturday was insane; it was nothing compared to Eataly’s crowds. I tried to forget the crowds and focus on what was in front of me: rows and rows of pasta, wines, cheeses, jellies, fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh truffles, freshly made mozzarella??? It’s a culinary overload and I didn’t really know where to go first.

I’ll be blunt. Eataly is expensive. They have two locations in the US, some in Japan, Istanbul, Dubai and a handful in Italy. When Japan and Dubai are in the mix, you know you’re not going to have bargain basement prices.  Amazing fresh bread that was… $6 a loaf? I’ll pass. However, I did find a nice 4 pack of jams for $9 that go with cheese and crackers that I’ll likely purchase somewhere else (like Caputo‘s).

The everyday food, including fresh fish counter, are really for those high rollers who don’t flinch when they see a sushi grade tuna for $29/lb. I wanted to pass out Grocery Gal cards telling passers by they could get the same exact quality of tuna at Fresh Farms for literally half that price. Farmed raised salmon for $15??? Pfft. Fresh Farms offers two types of wild salmon lower than that price. too.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Nice looking, but overpriced, fresh fish

So, why am I writing about Eataly if I’m dissing on the prices? Eataly is more about the experience than a place to buy groceries at. This is the place I want to meet my friends at, grab a table, some wine and a plate of snacks. I’ll recommend anyone visiting the city to stop in for a drink. It is chaotic, but it’s brilliant at the same time. The second time I stopped in at Eataly was at 4pm on a Thursday. It was like the quiet before the storm, and it was perfect.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

If I still worked downtown I’d be bellying up to one of these every week.

If I was in Italy, I would’ve sat at the bar alone, had a nice afternoon Prosecco and maybe a small cheese plate. Instead, I wanted to get home to my family, so I grabbed a few slices of focaccia to go. They wrapped up the slices in paper just like in Italy. In the seven plus times I’ve visited the country, I’ve never had focaccia better than what I had at Chicago’s Eataly. The bread/crust had a bite to it that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. They bake all their bread onsite in brick ovens; if their $6 loaf of bread tasted this good, then it was probably worth it. A slice of marghertia and squash/ricotta focaccia set me back $6, and was totally worth every penny.

Grocery Gal Focaccia eataly chicago

Grab multiple flavors of focaccia to go

You can easily get lost inside Eataly. The place is so huge they offer maps when you walk in. On that quiet Thursday afternoon I stumbled upon areas that I never even knew existed: the meat take-away, preserved condiments and tomatoes & sauces. I knew those areas would just take me to the financial dark side, so I slowly exited the area until I found myself at the Salumi & Formaggi station.

grocery gal blog eataly chicago

food porn eataly style

I think I sighed out loud when first saw the cheese counter with the various smoked meats dangling from the ceiling. I knew my mom would’ve loved this. Combined, we would’ve spent too much money, consumed too many calories and laughed about it all over glasses of Valpolicella. Since we were in Eataly, I could convince her to forgo her usual (insert hand rub) Chardonnay. What a great way to spend a Mother’s Day, right?

I miss my mom dearly, but I think about whenever I’m searching for delicious, interesting food at the best price possible. Her influence is what made me Grocery Gal. And it’s not all about the good deal; it’s also about enjoying life with my loved ones. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Eataly Chicago Market. 43 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611. 312-521-8700. Open 7 days 10am-11pm. You can sneak in at 8am for coffee.


I don’t think I’ve gone into details on my love of cheese, but it’s pretty well known amongst my friends. I pack lightly when visiting Europe to make sure there’s enough room to fill it with deliciously stinky Vorarlberger Bergkäse; essential for making may family’s Austrian Kasspätzele recipe at home. Yes, I’m pretty serious about my cheese.

I always knew Caputos markets carried their own line of cheese, but little did I know they had an entire store dedicated to cheese. Their Melrose Park location is easily accessible off North Avenue. I stopped in after work one day and found another Grocery Gal recommendation.

Grocery Gal Caputo's Cheese marketThere’s definitely three parts to the store. A nondescript warehouse area where you can buy dried goods on the cheap, a bakery where you can order sandwiches and pizza, and of course, the cheese shop. The Caputo family must be associated with the Roland brand; there were tons of products from them. I bought a jar of Roland brand balsamic jam, perfect on crackers and, of course, cheese. Y U M! On my most recent visit they had a good display of gluten-free items.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputo's Cheese Market

Caputo’s Cheese Market is more than just cheese

Grocery Gal Caputos Cheese Market

Sea salt – both coarse and fine – for 99¢

You take a little ramp through the warehouse and past the bakery to get to the cheese area. It’s filled with the essentials – cheese and wine. There’s a fresh deli and a meat counter for Italian sausages. I always stock up on some fresh mozzarella and look to see what looks interesting if I don’t come for a specific cheese need.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Behold, the cheese market

They have some white and sparkling wine available in a cooler, making this a great stop if you’re on your way to a party. Grab some cheese, some vino, salami and fresh bread from the bakery, all doable for under $25.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

What looks good today?

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Different levels of spiciness

If you’re looking for a more substantial dinner item, they have a frozen section with pasta and homemade pasta sauces. Having friends that eat gluten free, I captured some ravioli options for them to try.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Gluten free ravioli in the freezer case

While they don’t carry any Austrian cheeses, they did carry some Swiss Raclette which I tried. When I brought it home and shredded it, husband complained that the kitchen smelled like feet. In cheese code that means it’s a perfect choice for spätzele. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like feet.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese MarketThe cheese selections seem to mostly be from Europe. There’s a small amount of domestic cheeses, but not much outside the Caputo’s brand. This is a store to go to with friends. The cheeses are in large chunks, so it can add up quickly if you want to try a bunch of different things. The prices are good; but the chunks of cheese are huge. If you can split some choices with friends you definitely will get more variety.

What brought me into Caputo’s this most recent time was for some fondue cheese. Yes, I could shred different swiss cheeses and add some wine to it, but I’ve got limited time. I wanted the package of Swiss fondue with the cheese and brandy all in one convenient package.  I had stopped at Mariano’s the day before and hesitantly picked up a package for $14.99. I checked at Caputo’s – same size package, also from Switzerland with the same ingredients,  was only $8.99!

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Mariano’s $14.99, Caputo’s $8.99

My only regret is that I only bought one package of Fondue cheese at Caputo’s. Next time I’m driving by, I’ll pick up two, because the recipe below was just too good not to have again in the near future. And adding the tomatoes to it really lightened up the entire recipe. I didn’t feel as if I had to go immediately to bed, like fondue usually makes me feel.

This recipe was adapted from Vegetarian Times.

Provencal Fondue – A lighter, easier and quick way to enjoy fondue

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (chop the tomatoes even further)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. mixed dried herbs (I used Thyme, Oregano and Basil)
  • 1 package packaged Cheese Fondue from Switzerland
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (bonus, but not necessary)

Suggested Dippers

  • Fresh baguette cubes
  • Fresh broccoli, cauliflower and red pepper cut into bite size pieces.

Heat oil in fondue pot or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion. Cover, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Add tomatoes, garlic, dried herbs; bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the package of cheese fondue and mix well together. If using extra fresh cheese, add it in. Cook until it bubbles. Serve!

So if it’s a party for one or for a huge group, stop at Caputo’s Cheese Market for all your snacky-treat needs. The prices are great, but the cheese portions are large, so divide and conquer with friends for the biggest variety.

Caputos Cheese Market. 1931 N. 15th Ave. Melrose Park. 708-450-0469. Monday – Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 8am-5pm, Sunday 8am-4pm. www.CaputosCheeseMarket.com


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

 


Part of the allure of Grocery Gal is to give myself a reason to stop in a grocery store I’ve never been to before. On a recent trip home from work, I stopped at the glowing LED-lit Middle Eastern Market on Harlem Avenue at Irving Park Road. It was a Tuesday night and it the store empty. It has been open for five months, and seems to be family owned. One of the sons told me in the next week they plan on adding a hot bar with their own food they cook in-house. I felt I couldn’t do an honest write up without them being fully functioning, so I’ll go back. I felt I needed to still write about a middle eastern grocery store since I can only write about different smoked meats for so long before there will be an uproar. I have a great Middle Eastern recommendation from a friend, but didn’t have time to stop there yet. So I went to an old reliable shop, which I’m happy to hear will be expanding soon.

The Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery has been a staple in Andersonville for countless years. It’s a nondescript place with an old sign that I often forget about. When I finally do inside I think why has it been so long since i’ve been here last?  Since I was up in Andersonville running errands, I thought it’s as good of a time as any to go, and in the process grab some food to make a nice family Saturday lunch. While their name says bakery, and they bake their own amazing pita breads, the place doesn’t scream bakery. They have lots of packaged dried legumes, beans, snacks, fruit and spices, and all in nice manageable sized containers. I’ll buy spices I use a lot from Kamdar Plaza, but if I just need a little of something, the small containers at Middle Eastern Bakery are a great size.

Grocery Gal finds nicely sized spices at Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville in Chicago

Bulk spices in nice, manageable sizes.

In the back of the store is bakery area. They sell mini pizzas which are more like heavily-seasoned focacia bread. Some of them are vegan, too.

Grocery Gal finds homemade fresh mini pizzas at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Freshly baked mini pizzas

Grocery Gal visits Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery Andersonville

Freshly baked savory pies

In the display case are different meat and vegetable pies, I’ve tried the lamb and artichoke cheese one. While they’re good, they’re even better with some of their Baba ghanoush added to it. The refrigerated cases stock a variety of hummus, Baba ghanoush, yogurt dips, marinated beans, vegetables and olives, This is a great place to get a variety of snacks for a party, but at $3 each container they can add up.

Grocery Gal finds homemade spreads & salads at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Snack goodness!

Grocery Gal finds homemade tzatziki at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Tzatziki for one or party size

Also in the bottom of the refrigerated case are pickled turnips. I’ve never seen them anywhere else for sale in Chicago. If you’ve had a doner kebab outside of the US, or an amazing sandwich at Taste of Lebanon just across the street, you’ll know what these are, and how they have a delicious tangy crunch.

The pita I grabbed to go with my dips and falafel was still warm in it’s bag. I love how they have a variety of pita sizes and counts. All I needed was 5 medium pitas for $1.59. They also carry a great selection of jellies, exotic flavors like rose petal and hibiscus, that I grew up with as a kid.

Grocery Gal finds fresh coffee beans in East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Turkish coffee, anyone?

For Turkish coffee lovers, they carry fresh beans and the proper tools to make it at home. I have a memory of my Croatian grandmother visiting us in the US, reading our fortunes from the grains left inside the cup of Turkish coffee, though I was too young at the time to drink the dark beverage.

Grocery Gal finds Baklava at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville

Baklava Upgrade: Pistachio and Chocolate!

Middle Eastern Bakery will be expanding in the near future. If that expansion includes food service, it would be a great, and hopefully affordable, dining option in Andersonville. If you’re hosting a party or don’t feel like cooking a meal at home, stop by Middle Eastern Bakery and stock up on some great homemade foods.

1512 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-561-2224. Monday-Saturday 9:30am-8:00pm. Sunday 11am-5pm.