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


It’s been snowing a lot in Chicago lately. A little too much, if you’d ask me. Take 18 hours of snowfall and then throw in some below zero temperatures, then you’ve got Chicago 2014. While hundreds of people were stocking up at the major grocery stores the last two days, I’ve been staying in, keeping warm, and thinking about what to cook. My shelves are stocked with the stuff you need to make it through these types of days.

Grocery Gal came to fruition because I love food, entertaining and a good deal; but that really just boils down to loving to cook. Besides relaxing me, it’s a way I express gratitude to those I love. While I should be cleaning my office, folding laundry, or starting to prepare my taxes, I instead I look in the fridge to see what I can make for a nice Sunday brunch. Since there’s always eggs in the house (thank you Amish Farmers), I decided to take a twist on our normal Sunday egg taco breakfast and whip up a frittatta. I had some frozen spinach, feta cheese and orange peppers. Every good cook always has onions, garlic and potatoes on hand, so I sliced those up, sauteed with some organic Greek olive oil (thank you Fresh Farms) and assembled a little frittatta. Seven eggs and 25 minutes in the oven later, breakfast was ready to go for my family!

Grocery Gal Frittata

Grocery Gal Sunday Frittata: Feta cheese, spinach, orange pepper, onion and eggs with a sliced potato base

While that was baking, I started what I set out to cook that morning: Bean Soup with Smoked Meat. Perfect stick to your bones type of meal for a cold day like today. There should be a fancier name for this, but I don’t have one. It’s a staple at my house, and others, too. Why others? Because my husband is a vegetarian and I have no clue how to make a small pot of soup. That helped bring about Soup Fairy™. Instead of me eating the same soup over and over again, I share it with friends. They bring me back their empty jars, and I refill them. It’s win win. And it makes me the Soup Fairy™.

As a good first-generation European American, I reuse glass jars and cook with smoked meat. There are many different types out there (glass jars and smoked meat); my main protein in soups is smoked ribs. You can find smoked ribs at almost any good European deli, and a half a slab is a good amount for 1 pot of soup. My favorite smoked ribs comes from Bende, a Hungarian distributor out in Vernon Hills that has the best smoked meat selection in the midwest. Grocery Gal will be visiting Bende in the near future, but in the meantime, if you see Bende products at your local grocery, try the smoked ribs for soup, or the smoked tenderloin as a snack. Delis often have their own smoke ribs, like at  Montrose Deli and Amish Farmers, so find a slab and give this recipe a try.

Grocery Gal Bende Smoked Ribs

These are the types of gifts Grocery Gal gets from her dad. Bende smoked ribs!

My dad brought me a slab of ribs from Bende as my Christmas gift. Yes, we’re that serious about our smoked meats. It was time to break out my Christmas gift, and have me share it with you.

Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

  1. 1-2 lbs dried beans (I prefer navy beans or other small beans)
  2. 1-2 T olive oil
  3. 1 large onion, finely chopped
  4. 2-3 ribs celery, finely chopped
  5. 2-3 carrots, finely chopped
  6. 1 bay leaf
  7. 3 bullion cubes (I prefer Winiary Vegetable Buillion or 3 T Vegeta Natur)
  8. 1/2-1 slab smoked ribs, rinsed and cut into smaller pieces (2-3 ribs per piece)
  9. Fresh ground pepper

Prepare beans per bag instructions. Be sure to drain the soaking water and rinse off before adding to soup. That helps eliminate getting gas from the beans!

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil, and saute the onion, celery and carrots until clear, about 5 minutes.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

There’s no exact amount, but just put in a lot of onions, carrots and celery. Add some garlic, too.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Today’s soup has Navy and Pink beans

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Vegeta Natur is great because it has no MSG. Use 2-3 tablespoons. Winiary has MSG, but it has a great celery root and cabbage flavor to it.

Add the beans and mix together. Add the bay leaf and bullion, stir it in to have it mix with the vegetables for a bit. Add enough water to the soup to that it covers the bean by an additional 1 inch or so. Add the ribs. Grind some pepper into the soup. You won’t need any salt, because the ribs that. Slowly cook the soup for 1-2 hours, until the beans are soft and the rib meat easily tears from the bone.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Rinse the slab off before slicing. Slice in to 2-3 rib chunks. Don’t forget to remove the string!

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

It might not look pretty now, but be patient

Remove the ribs from the soup and set aside to cool. Get a hand blender and zap the soup for 15-30 seconds. This will chop up the beans and vegetables, making the soup thicker. If you like thicker soups, blend it longer, if not, blend it less.

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Smoked Meat

Use a hand blender to thicken the soup

Grocery Gal Bean Soup with Hand Pulled Smoked Meat

After the ribs have cooled, separate the meat by hand from the bones/fat and add to the soup.

Once the meat has cooled off, separate the meat from the bones and the fat. Do this by hand. There’s something about naturally torn meat that takes a million times better than sliced. I don’t know what it is, but trust me. Add it to the soup, remove the bay leaf, and enjoy. If it’s too much, pour into glass jars and freeze for yourself and your friends. Maybe you can be a Soup Fairy™, too

Stay warm!

 


Almost three years ago I moved west of the Kennedy. I had sworn I’d never move west of Western, but Beatrice, a big, blonde and buxom bunaglow, called for me and my husband. Life in Jefferson Park has made my quest as Grocery Gal much easier than in my Uptown days. Montrose Deli is probably my favorite place in the neighborhood.

Grocery Gal Chicago Montrose Deli

Unassuming deli on Montrose Avenue with plenty of well-needed parking

I often drove past Montrose Deli, surprised by their two parking lots and a third overflow lot attached to a school half a block away. I couldn’t see much from their windows, but after about a month of living in the neighborhood I finally stopped in. What threw me for a loop was the lighting – I kinda felt like I was in a friends’ rec room in the late 70’s, getting ready to watch a movie on ON-TV. The store itself is rather small. I walked past the decent selection of Eastern European brands of mineral water, and came across  the oddest looking produce section I’ve ever seen. There was nothing wrong with the produce – it was good quality and a good price,  but the fluorescent lighting they use really made the dill look electric green and the radishes look crazy red! It kinda hurt my eyes, so I just grabbed what I need and then I stopped in my tracks.

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli Produce

Don’t let the lighting scare you. That’s real produce.

While the parking lots had lots of cars in them, the store itself seemed somewhat empty when I first walked in. I turned the corner from the produce area and saw at least 35 people hovering around deli cases, numbered tickets waving in the air to announce they’re next, and about 12 ladies in white lab coats and red visors feverishly pulling smoked sausages along the back wall, slicing smoked tenderloins, weighing smoked ham hocks and veal sausages, and then wrapping them all up in white paper for hungry customers.

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli

Yes, the lighting does really look like this. Get a pair of the chicken sausages on the end – next to the smoked chicken. Heaven for under $3.

They called the numbers out in Polish, but luckily for me, they follow it up with it in English. Almost 3 years later, Montrose Deli is my go-to place anytime I host people at my house. The smoked chicken sausage cost about $3 a pair, and they’re always a hit. There’s a whole world of other polish sausages I have yet to try, but if I can ever make it when it’s not busy, maybe I’ll see if they can recommend how I should cook it.

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli Fresh Sausages

Homemade veal wieners. You can buy six of these for less than a package of who-knows-what-it-really-is hot dogs. Your guests at your next tailgate or barbecue will thank you,

Fans of Grocery Gal, please don’t be discouraged by a busy deli! There is enough staff working the counter that a wait often isn’t too long. The trick is to grab your ticket as soon as you get in the store, and then backtrack getting your celery root, leeks and other fixins to make your dinner. We get a little pierogi happy at our house, and the potato pierogis from Montrose Deli are so good and so cheap (there… I said it!) we don’t waste any time and just cook two packages at a time. Got a sweet tooth? Pick up a Pączki or two. They’re in fresh daily.

Grocery Gal Paczki Polish Donuts from Montrose Deli

They’re not donuts. They’re Pączki and they’re delicious. And fresh. And cheap!

Grocery Gal Montrose Deli Fresh Bread

Don’t let the funky lighting scare you. Great, fresh bread from local Chicagoland bakeries.

Don’t like to cook? Well then Montrose Deli is really for you! Besides having an amazing deli/butcher area with extremely affordable prices (stop buying chicken and pork chops at Jewel), they also have an entire deli case with premade soups, pierogis and salads. Everything from tuna to wheatberry salad, and vacuum packed smoked meats if you’re in a hurry. A pint? quart? not quite sure, but a container of soup perfect for a work lunch costs $2. Over the past year they’ve opened a hot bar to take a home cooked meals to go, that’s on my to-do list!

Montrose Deli Homemade Soup

Pick up a different homemade soup a day for a quick, easy and cheap lunch.

Montrose Deli Hot Bar Food to Go

The hot bar gives many choices for non-vegetarians out there.

Don’t let the fluorescent lighting or lack of knowing Polish scare you. Drive to Montrose Deli, choose whichever parking lot is available (they do really need that overflow lot), get your number at the deli, fill up that cart and thank me.

5411 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60641. 773-725-6123. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.montrosedeli.com