Over the past few years, local farmers markets have begun to gain momentum throughout Chicago. There are neighborhood and independent markets in many communities. Last Sunday I visited a new addition to Chicago’s Northwest Side – the Belmont-Cragin Farmer’s Market. I first found out about the market on Everyblock with it’s well-designed poster catching my eye.

Grocery Gal Belmont Cragin Market

A well designed flyer will always catch my eye

The market is ambitiously held every Sunday. It’s not far from the neighboring Portage Park farmers market which seems to interchange it’s weekends with the Jefferson Park Sunday Market. Do we really need another Farmer’s Market? With one like Belmont-Cragin, my vote is yes!

Belmont Cragin Farmer's Market Grocery Gal

Despite it being in a parking lot, it’s a great market

The market is located in the Belmont-Cragin Business District, directly on Belmont, east of Central Avenue (right by A&G Fresh Market) in a PNC parking lot. While it’s not the most glamorous location, it will hopefully gain many new customers from the Belmont traffic. It’s slightly west of the original Gene’s sausage shop.

What I liked about the market was it’s European Market flavor, featuring sustainable and artisan goods including jam, pastries, granola and cheeses, in addition to produce. As the growing season progresses, there will be more produce available, but on the second week there was still fresh asparagus, a variety of herbs and tons of gorgeous flowers for sale. Every vendor there had a purpose. There weren’t any corporate sponsors – like Directv or Xfinity – who were at the Portage Park Farmer’s Market that same Sunday.

Grocery Gal Belmont Cragin Farmer's Market

Herbs, vegetables and lots of beautiful flowers

I bought a delicious chocolate croissant from St. Roger Abby and the most incredible Pain de Sophia from Katic Breads. Where I’ve been reluctant in the past to buy a $6 loaf of bread from Eataly, I cannot wait until this Sunday to try another loaf of their amazing bread. The Pain de Sophia was recommended to me by Michael from Brightflower Farm, and he was spot on. The complex flavors of anise, cumin and fennel interspersed in organic wheat flour are addicting. I’ve had two slices of the bread for breakfast everyday this week with just a touch of butter. If you’re living gluten-free, there were tons of sweets from D-ology, too.

grocerygal-belmont-farmers-6I’m not traditionally a granola person, but Spice Roads Granola sucked me in with their sweet curry walnut granola. I eat it with plain yogurt and love it.

Grocery Gal Belmont Cragin Farmer's Market

Pain de Sophia and Spice Road Granola!

As a new market, Belmont-Cragin will need a steady stream of customers to stay successful; it doesn’t have the deep pockets that other markets have for advertising. However, they keep it real and aren’t bringing in the corporate sponsors the same said markets are. This is a Farmer’s Market – I’m not looking to choose a satellite provider! Keeping their focus on local, sustainable and artisan goods supports local  businesses along with giving residents something special in their own back yard. And, many of the vendors have great samples, too! Even if you’re not near the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, take the time to visit them some Sunday. There’s something special happening here, and Grocery Gal wishes them a lot of success!

Grocery Gal Belmont Cragin Farmer's Market

The hand painted sign gives it a definite European feel

Belmont-Cragin Farmer’s Market. 5446 West Belmont Ave…rain or shine. Every Sunday 10am-2pm until October 26th.


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!