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.


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.