In January, I took a little road trip on a Saturday to check out Beverly Records. It was 45 minutes away with no traffic, all while still being in the confines of Chicago. I knew if I was going to travel so far south, I might as well search for some Grocery Gal adventures. I took my iPhone, located Beverly Records, scrolled outwards and searched “deli,” then “sausage.” I knew something good was waiting for me on the south side. That’s when I found it: Sausage by Rosario. The video below sums it all up.

I’m going to cut to the chase. If you love nostalgic Chicago neon and delis like I do, you MUST go to Rosario’s now. Why? Because who knows how much longer they’ll be there. The building is for sale and the shelves are a little bare when compared to their heyday, but they make some outstanding Italian sausage, beef, and Pizza Setups: a brilliant concept completely new to me.

Grocery Gal Sausage by Rosariogrocerygal-rosarios-pizzasetupI loved how it was as much of a museum as it is a deli. It seems like most folks shop at Rosario’s for fresh sausage and beef to cook at home, or order food for catering and carryout. Sandwiches are made to order, or you could grab a homemade frozen meal to go. They offer a $10 t-shirt featuring the artwork of their amazing sign (where pigs happily jump into a meat grinder), so of course I had to pick up one!

Grocery Gal Rosario's Family Photo Deli

Grocery Gal Sausage by Rosario

grocerygal-rosarios-storeWhile I waited for my turn at the deli counter, a family ordered two Pizza Setups. What was that, I thought? Well, for less than $10, you get 3 thin crusts, pizza sauce and a pound of mozzarella cheese, and for a little more you can add sausage or pepperoni.

I guess pizza setups are something fairly common on the south side, yet unfortunately have been kept secret to all of us northsiders… and frankly, I’m mad. Why? I can’t eat pizza dough (or cheese for that matter) anymore, and this would’ve probably been one of the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever had. Why couldn’t I have decided to go to Beverly Records before I had all these dietary restrictions?!?!

When cooked, their pizzas look and smell like the thin crust pizza I grew up with as a child. I have spent years (seriously) searching for its modern day equivalent. Marie’s on Lawrence is close, as is John’s on Western and Pete’s Pizza #2 on Montrose… but some secret ingredient in the sauce or crust always missing. Well, Rosario’s sauce and crust combination (I didn’t get to eat it, but I smelled it in my kitchen and heard my family’s reaction as they ate it), must’ve been that thin crust pizza utopia I was hoping to find and enjoy myself.

Grocery Gal Rosario's pizza setupNormally, when I visit a location I feature on Grocery Gal, I don’t interact with the owners. I wanted to hear a little more about Rosario’s history and introduced myself to Cathy, the owner. I told her how the sign is what brought me to the deli, and she told me it’s featured in a new book on Chicago neon called Good Old Neon (When I came home I ordered a copy of the book – it’s fantastic!).

When I came to visit, it was the beginning of a very restricted diet I was (and currently still) am on. My mouth was watering, but I couldn’t eat the pizza (per rant above) or the spices within the sausage. I told Cathy, about my dilemma, and like a pro, she said, “why not try the Italian beef?” Brilliant! I grabbed a pizza setup for my husband, some sweet Italian sausage (they offer sweet, mild and spicy, which I could freeze and eat a few weeks later) and some thinly sliced Italian beef with au jus that I was going to heat up as soon as I got home.

grocerygal-rosarios-italiansausageGrocery Gal Rosario's Italian SausageCathy made a very important point during our conversation: small businesses have a hard time in the current world of huge chains. There are customers that come once a year, and while she appreciates that business, for a small business like hers to survive nowadays requires more frequent patronage. That’s why I say stop at Rosario’s now, to support a wonderful family business that’s a part of Chicago’s history. I’m complaining on missing out of their pizza with my restricted diet, but at least I got to try their amazing beef, sausage and got to meet Cathy. I’m planning on heading back soon, too, as my family is still raving about their pizza setup. Make sure you go sooner than later; and grab a pizza setup, too!

grocerygal-rosarios-signRosario’s Italian Sausage. 8611 S Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60652. 773-585-0660.


Issacson & Stein. A Chicago institution that’s been around for over 80 years. Everyone knows the place, but have you ever been in there? When I worked downtown many moons ago, sales people would leave midday to pick up shrimp and oysters for their family dinners, while I was stuck at my desk creating their ads. Once, I got of work early and stopped in, but it was only a few minutes before they were closing. I could never make it in during the week, and by the weekend I had no desire to trek back downtown. Recently, I was in the neighborhood while Issacson & Stein was open (!) and made a point to stop in. Hopefully they had some Branzino fish so that I could try a new recipe from my Nom Nom Paleo cookbook. Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery GalThe store was much tinier than I remembered. I also didn’t recall it being self-serve before. When you come in, you can grab a basket, some plastic gloves and as many plastic bags as you need. They really give you the option to choose exactly which fish you want, with your gloved hands, instead of telling someone, “no, not that one, the one next to it.”

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Fish HeadsEverything was so fresh – the place had no fish odor to it. While they didn’t have the Branzino I was looking for, I knew I could substitute rainbow trout in the dish. They had Fresh Farms beaten by 15 cents on their oyster price: they were only 60 cents each, but I wasn’t in the mood for oysters that day.

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery Gal OystersIssacson & Stein Fish Co Sepia Grocery GalOnce you’re done with your selection, you bring it to a counter where it’s weighed. From there, you get an adding machine receipt which you take up to the counter to pay. Fortunately, my rainbow trout was already cleaned, but if it wasn’t, I’d just have to bring it to the cleaning section after I paid. Issacson & Stein is definitely a self-service, no frills fish place with good prices. It’s also a Chicago institution.

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery Gal

Grocery Gal Issacson & Stein Fish Co receiptOh, and if you were wondering, the trout came out delicious! I bought 2 fish for $12, stuffed them with parsley, thyme, oregano and lemon, and broiled in the oven. Yum!

Issacson & Stein Fish Co Grocery Gal

Issacson & Stein Fish Company. 800 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607. 312-421-2444. Monday 9am-4:15pm, Tuesday-Friday 8am-4:15pm, Saturday 8am-1pm, Closed Sunday.


Have you ever gone somewhere, it was a bad experience, and you never went back? That was me and Joong Boo Market circa 1995. I had just moved into my first apartment in Ravenswood (across from the infamous Diner Grill), and went into Joong Boo looking for these crazy Korean plum candies my dad loved. Every time I saw him, he would give me a full bag (and I didn’t like them), and instisted that I eat them. Fortunately, my friends liked them, so I’d pawn them off on them. When I saw this Korean Market, I planned on picking the very same candies to surprise my dad at our next visit. I don’t recall much of my first experience at Joong Boo, but I do remember being told I bought the wrong plum candies (it was the thought that counts, right?), the store was a little too chaotic  and I never wanted to go back.

Joong boo Market Grocery GalThere are so many grocery stores I had been to once, and then it took me a really long time to get back to, like Hagen’s and Supreme Lobster. However, no one can forget Joong Boo Market, aka Chicago Food Corp, because it’s smack dab off the Kennedy at Kimball. When I started Grocery Gal a little over a year ago, a coworker told me, “you have to go to Joong Boo market! I love that place!” Of course, I thought to myself, “yeah, but Super H Mart, Tai Nam and Mitsawa are sooooo much better,” and just smiled and said thanks for the suggestion, but had no intentions of going until I was scrounging for places to go to.

I needed some kimchi and other fermented vegetables, and I thought this would be as good of a time as any to give Joong Boo a second chance (albeit two decades later). The exterior hadn’t changed in as many years, why would the interior? I grabbed a cart and entered with low expectations…

Joong boo Market EntranceI know the store hadn’t changed much in twenty years, but this time was an entirely different experience. There was a nice selection of Asian vegetables, including a huge selection of organic mushrooms. There was seafood in thick, red sauces that looked interesting, but I was too afraid to commit to such a large package.

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal Organic Mushroom ChicagoJoong boo Market Grocery Gal Marinated FishThe have a decent selection of fresh fish, but I’d wouldn’t go to Joong Boo specifically for fish. I have been thinking of making a fish stock soup, where the main ingredient are good quality fish heads. What they had looked good – but I held off on buying any.

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal Fish HeadsJoong boo Market Grocery Gal Salted FishThey had oysters and clams for sale, but what was even more interesting was live conch. I had conch for the first time in Turks & Caicos last year and it’s just delicious. However, I know I would probably screw up making it myself. Oh yeah, and it’s breaded and I’m gluten free.

Joong boo Market Live Conch ChicagoThey had a butcher as well as prepackage meat. The pork belly and bulgogi looked great.

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal Pork Belly ChicagoJoong boo Market BulgokiTo my delight, they had something similar to a salad buffet of different Korean dishes. I am supposed to be eating more fermented foods, but one jar of kimchi lasts me a long time. Here was a variety of options. I picked up a container and started filling it up with pickled cucumber, radish and green onions, only to find out halfway through that each item was a separate price! When i went to pay, I sheepishly said just to charge whatever the maximum price per pound was, which in the end still wasn’t very much.

Joong Boo Market Grocery Gal KimchiI had limited time, so I didn’t peruse the housewares section of the building, or the dried goods in the aisles. One thing that did catch my eye as I was checking out was what I thought was packing peanuts, but I guess they’re more for snacking than packing. If you’ve tried their Macaroni, please let me know what they taste like!

Joong boo Market Grocery Gal MacaroniJoong boo Market Grocery Gal Korean SweetsThe prejudice I had against Joong Boo Market is now gone. Now, when I need some quick Asian fixings, I won’t have to drive as far north or east as I normally would have to. It is so conveniently located off the expressway, I could stop in here and be home in less than 10 minutes. The store was clean and had great prices. Just remember when you try the salad bar, don’t make it a mixed salad.

Joong Boo Market. 3333 North Kimball Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618. 773-478-5566. Open 7 days, 365 days a year. 9am-9pm.


Back in my Uptown days when I struggled to find good quality, affordable foods, I would spend Sundays in Rogers Park, shopping at places like Fresh Farms and Kamdar Plaza. However, I still had to buy mineral water, meat and, if I was lucky, some Bende smoked tenderloins. Fortunately, I just had to drive a few blocks west on Devon to Kedzie to get that and more at City Fresh Market.

Grocery Gal City Fresh Market DevonCity Fresh Market is small, but it is a powerhouse for Central and Eastern European and Mediterranean foods. It’s a family owned market that’s been around since 2004. I love whenever I find a place that carries Croatian wine and a variety of products I grew up with as a kid.

Grocery Gal City Fresh Market European Wine Grocery Gal City Fresh Market CheeseIt was at City Fresh where I first noticed products from Green Ridge Farms. They’re a local supplier of European style smoked meats and sausages. Since this visit, I’ve seen them at a few other local grocery stores. I grabbed a package of the thin, smoked sausages during this visit. Although they were good, they still couldn’t compare to the fresh, dried sausage from Montrose Deli City Fresh Market Devon Green Ridge FarmsCity Fresh Market Devon Smoked MeatsIn addition to prepackaged meats and cheeses, they offer a full deli counter, meat counter and a very, very busy bakery counter. In fact, the bakery counter was so packed when I was there that I wasn’t able to take any photos! They offer traditional European multilayered cakes (and by multi, I mean more than 6!), like Dobos Torte, many cream filled cakes like I had seen in trips to Croatia, and staples like baklava. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I think I’ll stop by before visiting my dad next time with a few options for him!

As any good European deli should, City Fresh Market has a wide variety of feta cheese to choose from. I didn’t realize this the last time that I was there, but they also offer slow-roasted pig, goat and lamb. Finding that out while writing this post makes me want to hop in my grocery getter and head on over now. Slow roasted lamb on a spit was the norm at summer barbecues as a child; there’s nothing else really like it. They also make their own meat specialties in house: Cevapi, Pljeskavica and Sudjuk.

City Fresh Market Devon FetaAnd for those not into all the Eastern and Central European specialty meats, City Fresh Market is a solid market in its own right. Decent produce and a well-stocked meat section. The cuts of meat were all fresh and and well priced.

City Fresh Market Devon ButcherFinally, for those fans of Central and Eastern European mineral waters and beer, City Fresh Market has you covered, too. They have a good variety, including my favorite Croatian beer: Karlovacko.

City Fresh Market Devon BeerIf you haven’t had a chance to try Eastern specialties like roasted lamb, cevapi, or a Dobos torte, you should make it a point to stop in a City Fresh Market soon.

City Fresh Market3201 West Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659. 773-681-8600. Open 7 days.


In 2015, I’m making a conscious effort to stay away from processed foods. Once I started eating gluten-free in June, I began to feel better, but then found myself falling down the slippery slope of relying too often on gluten-free convenience foods. I normally wouldn’t eat boxed mac and cheese, but since it was gluten-free, I felt it was ok to eat an entire box for dinner. I realized this type of nonsense had to stop.

I came across a wonderful book called the Autoimmune Paleo cookbook by Mickey Trescott, and felt that it was time to eat with a whole foods approach. That philosophy isn’t anything new to me, it’s the way I grew up as a first generation American. Everything was always homemade; nothing ever came from a box. Granted, it’s hard cooking so much meat in a house with a vegetarian, but I’m fortunate my husband understands the importance of this. I’m not going to go into what the Paleo lifestyle is, but for those unfamiliar, Sarah Ballantyne sums it up nicely on her blog.

I was about to start an intensive two week reset and needed to buy grass fed beef and pastured pork and chicken. I also needed some less than glamorous pieces of meat, which included bones for making broth and beef liver. While I love and support Amish Farmers, it was the weekend, and I needed to find something in the city. I recalled seeing an Amish storefront next to the Empty Bottle on Western, so I hopped into my grocery getter and drove to Ukrainian Village.

Amish & Healthy FoodsThe store was bright and clean. I’ve since visited twice and there’s a mix of people in the store – the Ukrainian mother who thanked me in her native tongue when I opened the door so she could bring the baby stroller in, the twenty something hipster stocking up on vitamin supplements, and the older woman in yoga attire selecting fermented vegetables out of the cold case.

Amish & Healthy Foods Produce

Amish & Healthy Foods VitaminsI knew I was going to stop at Stanley’s to see what organic produce they had, so my focus at Amish & Healthy was meat. I couldn’t believe their offering, and I loved that the meats were frozen in convenient one pound packages. They carried both grass fed and traditional beef, all different types of organ meats (I know, it sounds gross, but it’s really good for you), bison, pork, turkey and chicken.  I chose some beef and chicken livers, soup bones and “small” beef bones to make my broth. I’m a sucker for turkey jerky, so I picked up a pound of ground turkey to make my own at home. After stopping at Amish & Healthy, I compared prices at both Whole Foods and Paulina Market. On all accounts, the prices at Amish & Healthy were cheaper, and I felt good about supporting not only a local business, but an Amish community in Indiana, all while eating cuts of meat that were better for me.

Amish & Healthy Foods ButcherThey have a small deli counter with foods that seem to rotate based on availability. I bought a bottle of their delicious ginger apple kombucha for $5.99 and their yummy paleo munchkies. It was at this time that I met the owner, Lucy. She explained how popular the kombucha was, and if I returned my bottle, next time I could get $1 off.

Amish & Healthy Foods PaleoWhile I didn’t need any at this time, Amish & Healthy sells a lot of dried fruit with no sugar added. And they’re not just your standard dried fruit fare: they sell sun-dried organic wild goji berries, freeze-dried cherries, juniper berries, and organic dried pomegranate seeds.  Amish & Healthy Foods Dried FruitThey do sell eggs for $5 a dozen. To me, that seems a little pricey, but I’m spoiled with Amish Farmers. Amish & Healthy also sell duck eggs with single or double yolks, for 50¢ and 75¢. The next time you plan to head out for some high quality meat, be sure to stop in at Amish & Healthy; you won’t be disappointed by the variety and the prices of their meat selection. And grab some paleo munchkins to go, too.

Amish & Healthy Foods StoreAmish Healthy Foods. 1025 North Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622, 773-278-1717. Open 7 days.


Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish MarketAlmost every morning around 6:50am, I’m driving past Hagen’s Fish Market on the 5600 block of west Montrose, saying “oh, I need to stop in.” The problem is, I drive home along a different route.  When I moved into the neighborhood over 3 years ago, I was sure I’d be stopping in at Hagen’s regularly. In reality, I was a bad Grocery Gal and never made it back until recently. As I opened the screen door to enter this 68 year old Northwest side landmark, I was kicking myself for waiting this long.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Market Montrose ChicagoHagen’s is such a treat to have in Jefferson Park. According to their website, they have remained family owned and in the same location for three generations. My first visit after my 3 year hiatus was a little after 5pm. It was just me and one other customer (which upon other visits, I learned was a rare instance). I picked up their smoked fish dip (best thing ever) and Charlene’s Crab Dip for my yearly “Romance Weekend” camping trip with my husband. I knew they smoked fish, but I didn’t know customers could also bring in their own catch, including fowl, to be smoked at Hagen’s for under $2 a pound. My plans are to cook my Christmas turkey (which I’ll be ordering from Amish Farmers) on my Weber grill, but this opens a whole new world of cooking opportunities! I love smoked meats and it would save me a ton of time! Hmmm, what would you do?

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Market MenuHagen’s Fish Market offers the smoked fish staples of mackerel, trout and salmon, but also sell smoked chubs, whitefish, ciscoes (which I had never heard of), and my favorite: smoked salmon candy. The points of origin, along if they were wild caught or farm raised, are listed on the label.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Smoked FishNot into smoked fish? That’s ok. Hagen’s also has a nice selection of fresh filets including Pacific Halibut and Cod, Lake Erie Walleye Pike (for your very own Friday Fish Fry), Lake Superior Whitefish, Lake Erie Perch, Atlantic Cod. Their preference is wild caught over farmed, and they notate it anything has been previously frozen.

While I didn’t buy any fresh fish filets this time around, I know I’ll be back soon. The struggle I often have with fresh fish is how to cook it. Again, Hagen’s comes to the rescue! They have a wall of recipe cards that give you many options on how to cook the fish they sell.

Hagen's Fresh Catch Grocery GalMy only gripe (coming as a design snob) is that they use Comic Sans for the font on these cards! Hagen’s – if you’re reading this – please update the font style on those cards! They’re such helpful recipes, don’t dumb them down with that terrible font! Tell me your font options, and I’ll give you recommendations! Ok, rant over!

Grocery Gal hates comic sansThere’s a generous selection of East Coast canned chowders and bisques, Bayou fish spices, and European sauces and mixes along a wall.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Soups

Grocery Gal Hagen's SpicesA refrigerated section offers multiple sizes of homemade specialties including pickled herring, mustard dill sauce, Charlene’s Crab Dip, and the amazing smoked fish dip.

A few frozen cases house frozen options perfect for parties including stuffed clams, jumbo shrimp, escargot, and some Scandinavian specialties including lingonberries and potato lefse.

Grocery Gal Hagan's FishAbout two weeks later I altered my route home from work to stop in and get some scallops for dinner. The place was hopping – some were picking up their made to order fried fish dinners, while others picked up their smoked fish orders, most likely from a weekend fishing trip. I made the mistake of not grabbing a number as soon as I got in, so I perused the shelves while waiting for my turn.

Grocery Gal Hagen's Fish Market MontroseWhen it was finally my turn, I grabbed my six scallops, but also included a piece of smoked trout, one homemade crab cake and a half dozen blue points. The blue points are a steal at $9.60 for a dozen. Sure, I can get them for five cents cheaper at Fresh Farms, but it’s only five cents (!) and I can walk to Hagen’s from my home. The oyster selection, along with their mussel selection, is based on availability. The man behind the counter told me I could always call in an order in the morning, and they would be happy to hold them for me. My most recent visits had Bluepoint and Montauk oysters, black and P.E.I. mussels and Cherrystone clams for sale by the dozen.

Grocery Gal DinnerIf you like any type of fish: fresh, smoked or freshly fried fish (I didn’t even go into their extensive fried-to-order fish menu), head on in to Hagen’s now. They’re open seven days a week and they really have something for everyone. With the holidays comes entertaining friends and family. Hagen’s offers a lot of low effort and delicious options that can take your entertaining to the next level. Now, who wants some oysters?

Hagen’s Fish Market. 5635 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60634. 773-283-1944


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


I first heard about the Chicago Food Swap through Chicago Food Bloggers. The concept on their website was just too perfect: The Chicago Food Swap is an organization dedicated to bringing together cooks, bakers, canners, gardeners and foragers to trade homemade and homegrown foods. This was something right up my alley. I had written in an earlier post how I’m physically unable to make a small amount of soup, so I’d pawn it all off on friends who affectionately named me the Soup Fairy™. Now, I could still make that entire vat of soup, but just package it a little nicer and actually get food made by other people in return! Brilliant! Sorry, friends!

I thought I had my concept in the bag – design some labels, cut them with pinking shears and hand tie them around some Ball mason jars. I’d cook something featuring a local store I’d feature on Grocery Gal. For My First Food Swap™, I chose my famous bean soup using smoked ribs from Bende (GG post comin’ soon!).

Grocery Gal Ball mason jar  Chicago Food SwapThe swap is usually held on the 3rd Sunday of the month at the Fearless Food Kitchen, part of the Peterson Garden Project, in the Broadway Armory from 2-4 pm. I was a few minutes late, because I had to grab some Co-op Poblano Hot Sauce, and the place was packed!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapWhile I thought I had an edge making my own label and using pinking sheers, the more experienced swappers schooled me with their promotional styles. Samples! Detailed descriptions! Beautiful displays! Multiple food choices! Customized swap lists!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapGrocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapGrocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapEmily, the founder of the Food Swap, was very helpful and took me, as a newbie, under her wing. She helped explain how I should look and see what everyone was offering, and then write down my offers. Actually, everyone there was friendly and helpful, and handful of experienced swappers showed me the ropes. I felt sheepish offering just soup when others had fancy stuff like honey and preserved lemons, but then I saw people coming over to sign up to hopefully swap for my soup and I felt relieved! It was almost as if I’d taken my soup-making skills for granted. While I’m not the best baker, I do a nice job with savory foods… and yeah, did anyone else there know where to buy Hungarian-style smoked ribs to put in soups like Grocery Gal did? Maybe not! Hooray – confidence returned!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food SwapThere was a small $5 registration fee that offsets any costs and then proceeds go the Peterson Garden Project. Everyone also received a sample bottle of incredible vanilla from Nielsen-Massey. We spent the first 45 minutes walking around, chatting and deciding what we were hoping to trade for. When the official “swap” began, there was a frenzy of trading the foods before the favorites on your list sold out. We were done in 15 minutes. There was something gratifying hearing people say “Yes, I’d love to have your soup!” as you traded it for pecan caramel corn, gluten-free pumpkin bites, preserved lemons (yep, got ’em) and Indian Dal mixes. I did come home with a bounty, in less than an hour!

Grocery Gal at the Chicago Food Swap

My bounty after an afternoon of swapping

For my next Food Swap, I’ll probably make something vegan to hopefully score some of the delicious homemade kimchee I was unable to get this last time.

Unfortunately, I will be out of town for the October Food swap on Sunday October 19th. However, don’t let that keep you away – sign up now on Eventbrite.  I will be at the November 16th one, using a few of the marketing tips I learned at the past one, and probably with my stepson who will help guide me on what we should bring home. Hope to see you there!

Chicago Food Swap. Also find them on Facebook.


Someone recently asked me, “Who has the best produce?”  The answer I gave was simple: it all depends on where you live. I was trying to think of landmark neighborhoods to answer her with and realized I hadn’t written about a great grocery store for people living near Lincoln Square and Albany Park: HarvesTime Foods. Located on Lawrence, between Western and California, you’ll notice HarvesTime as the building covered in solar panels alongside their large parking lot, and the delicious tamales for sale outside the entrance.

Grocery Gal visits HarvestTime FoodsHarvesTime is a nice mashup of a store who can cater to the variety of people living in Lincoln Square and Albany Park. HarvesTime is your standard Produce Stand meets Middle Eastern/Balkan Deli meets Latin Grocery Store meets Organic Foods meets Locally Sourced Products at reasonable prices and all under one roof. What else could anyone need? Well, booze, I guess…

Grocery Gal HarvestTime Homeade Guacamole

I was first introduced to HarvesTime at a party years ago, where their in-house salsas and guacamole were being gobbled up by everyone. I was familiar with the store and stopped in, happy to see many Balkan favorites of mine, including Vegata Natur, a nice deli selection and thorough meat selection. With such a heavy Eastern Euro/Balkan influence, I’m still surprised they don’t carry lamb. Years later, the store continues to expand to the needs of their clients, with a big push of organic and locally produced items (but I still need to buy lamb somewhere else). Grocery Gal HarvestTime DeliTwo local brands HarvesTime carries are Big Pork and Chef Martin’s Alpine Brand Sausages. I have yet to try Big Pork’s brand, but I am very familiar with the Chef Martin brand, and every type I’ve tried is outstanding. If you have your heart on sausages from Paulina Market and they’re closed, stop in at HarvesTime and try a few varieties from these two local Chicago sausage makers.

Chef Martin and Big Pork Sausage at Harvesttime FoodsAnother favorite that HarvesTime carries is Breadsmith breads. My husband (and I, before I went gluten free) go CRAZY over their French Peasant bread. As I stopped in late on a Saturday, I had to settle for their Rustic Italian bread. Their breads are absolutely amazing, and if you’re ever on the fence whether or not you should buy it, read their ingredient label and compare it to your other option. They use no additives or preservatives which is exactly why it tastes incredible. They also offer fresh Vie De France options along with a bunch of other very good local bakery breads, but my family’s choice for sandwich bread is always Breadsmith.

Grocery Gal buys Breadsmith bread at Harvesttime FoodsWhen you leave HarvesTime, make sure you have a few dollars cash on hand for the tamales for sale outside. The family selling them have been there for years, and I believe it’s 6 tamales for $5. I grabbed six cheese ones to share with my husband and they were still warm even after my bike ride back home.

HarvesTime Foods. 2632 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625.  (773) 989-4400


I’ve found I have more grocery stores and food related things to write about than I have time for. That’s the basis for GGBite: bite sized reviews of places that I stopped in at, but might not have the time to do a full-on Grocery Gal posting on. Today’s first GGBite I came across on my bicycle one Saturday afternoon while running errands: Ameera Food, located next to Chicago Live Poultry on Western Avenue at Devon.

Grocery  Gal GG Bite Ameera Chicago Live Poultry

My Two Wheeled Austrian Grocery Getter – KTM City Bike

I was on my way to an appointment at Santhigram Wellness Kerala Ayurveda (you must try an Ayurvedic treatment  – it will change your life!) and was running a little early. As I was on Devon at Western, I looked north and saw Chicago Live Poultry. I was always a little scared of the store – but now as Grocery Gal, I knew I just had to go in.

Sorry, there aren’t any photos. As you can tell by the name, here’s where you can buy live chickens, along with other types of fowl: turkeys, pheasant, duck, goose. There was a hand-written sign on the wall listing what was available and at what price. I didn’t take a photo, as it was just such an uncomfortable place to be in; I had to go. The gist is you can choose your animal and it will be slaughtered and cleaned there for you. You can’t get any fresher than that, but it’s not for those with a weak stomach.

Next to Chicago Live Poultry was the the bright, clean Ameera Food. There were no windows to look in, but fresh posters touting “Fresh Fish” and “Meat.” Inside, it looked as if they’d be open only a few weeks – the place was well stocked with African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.

Can't get any fresherThey had a pretty large fresh fish selection with many of the staples: tilapia, catfish, but a few other fish I had never heard of. All were tucked in with lots of ice to keep them fresh. What was most interesting was the aquarium where you could purchase live tilapia.

They also offered the services of Chicago Live Poultry without the full experience. You could tell the butcher counter you’d like a chicken, and they would take care of the rest. They had a small, but fresh butcher case with Zabiha Halal meats as well.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food Western ChicagoThey carried a lot of African products including Red African Beans, Oporo and dried Crawfish. There was a good selection of grains that I haven’t cooked with before: Elubo/Amala and Yellow Gari. As I’m currently eating gluten free, I bought some Fufu flour which is used to make a West African style dumpling. Yellow Gari Ameera Nigerian Grain Chicago Grocery GalFufu flour African Ameera Chicago Grocery GalThere was a small produce section. I think there are other options on Devon, like Fresh Farms, that are better options to by produce from. However, specialized ones like Ghana Yams are worth a purchase at Ameera.

Ghana Yams African Produce Chicago Grocery Gal AmeeraA frozen selection focused more on Asian specialties including Durian, which I have never seen outside of Thailand, and Cassava and Jute leaves from the Philippines.Durian Fruit Chicago Ameera Grocery Gal

Cassava Leaves Jute Leaves Chicago Ameera Grocery GalEntering Ameera was an adventure for me. While I didn’t exactly know how to cook much of the food they sold, I knew it’s a great resource to share on Grocery Gal. And next time I cook a whole chicken, I might stop in to get a freshly slaughtered on from Ameera. I’ll admit, it’s a little easier to digest when you don’t have to see the what happens behind the curtain.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food

Ameera Food. 6410 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645. 773-338-8400.  Chicago Live Poultry. 6421 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL 60645. 773-381-1000.