Fresh Farms on Devon and I go way back. I’m talking previous life back. Back when I lived closer to the lake in my early Sheridan Park days. Those days it was hard to find anything decent for produce other than Whole Foods, and in doing so, you’d have to forfeit your mortgage payment for the month.

Fresh Farms is located on Devon Avenue at Rockwell, along the South Asian corridor from Ridge to California in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The storefronts along Devon offer everything from saris to buffets; spices to universal cell phones before they became commonplace. It’s a sensory overload, but please, avoid actually driving on Devon at all costs. You’ll probably break the horn on your car or wreck it trying to parallel park.

On Sundays long ago, I would ride my bike the almost 4 miles to get some produce. Well, let me be honest here. I would ride the 4 miles taking in the beautiful octagonal jumbo bungalows with their original stained-glass windows and tile roofs. I’d lock up my bike and head to the now-closed Ghandi restaurant for their amazing $7 Sunday buffet. Then I’d waddle across the street, belly full of samosas and sizzling hot tandoori chicken, and fill my cart with cheap, great quality produce.  Ten plus years later, the produce is still super fresh, and those bungalows are just as gorgeous.

Fast forward to present day life. After a weekend in Texas, my husband and I came home feeling blah. We might’ve caught something on the plane, but decided to try a 3 Day Juice Cleanse to make ourselves feel better. We’ve never done something like this before, but it seemed easy enough to do and, because I’m Grocery Gal, I knew just where to get the best produce at the right price. While I had options closer to my house, I wanted to write an installment on Fresh Farms, and thought this was as good of a time as any.

This market is always busy, which makes their produce extremely fresh. Nothing’s wilted here! I bought 2 pieces of ginger the size of my head, along with all the fixin’s for a 3 day juice cleanse for two (think: lots of carrots and cucumbers) for $70. They also have a good selection of regional food, such as Indian spice mixes for making your own chana masala at home. They’ve added a fresh juice bar in the last few years, too, but since I’m Grocery Gal, I do all that stuff myself. I don’t think most can do their full grocery shopping here, but if you’re needing produce and are on the north side of Chicago, make a bee line over to Fresh Farms.

At first, I had a little sticker shock coming back to Fresh Farms, but then I realized it’s still affordable. I just know where to get even better prices now. Oh, how was the juice cleanse you ask? We made it to the second day. I couldn’t handle the two hours it took to make a day’s worth of juice meals for two. But I felt great after two days and got what I wanted out of it. In the meantime, I better start making some cucumber salad since there’s still about 12 in the fridge….

Fresh Farms Int’l Market. 2626 W. Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659. 773-764-3557. Open 7 days. Free parking.

 


In my last post on Fresh Farms, I wrote that it was great for produce, but not for all your groceries. That’s the thrill (or madness) behind being Grocery Gal: I cannot buy all my groceries in one spot (well, I can, but there’s sacrifices to be made). So when I do have a list of stuff to buy, it takes some strategic planning before I can just hop into my grocery getter and be off. Whenever I find myself on Devon for produce or a cheap BYOB dinner at Uri Swati (order the samosa chat!), I try and parlay that into a trip to Kamdar Plaza located a half a block away.

THIS IS THE JOINT for spices, chutneys, gluten-free flours and amazing snacks! 1 lb of whole cinnamon stick to make a batch of Apple Pie Schnapps for $2.49? Check! Every chutney style known to man? Double check! How about some chickpea flour that’s 1/4 the cost of the Bob’s Red Mill version over at Whole Foods? Triple check! Speaking of flour, they have tons of different styles, including different lentils and grains, so if you cook gluten-free, there are a ton of options here for you. Most of the bulk items come in different size bags, so you aren’t stuck with five pounds of black sesame seeds when 8 ounces would last you a year. I spoke to the gentleman behind at the register, he said as long as you don’t grind the spices, they’ll last for a long time. I was replacing my cinnamon sticks from a bag I bought at Kamdar least 3 years ago. Saffron, which they sell in multiple sizes starting at $4, last the longest at 7 years. Who knew?

While I love to cook and always use a lot of spices, what brings me into Kamdar Plaza most of the time is for their homemade snacks. I can’t leave Devon without eating something, so if I don’t have lunch plans, I pick up a pair of samosas to go or a bag of snacky goodness from Kamdar Plaza. They offer a full snack bar, but I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only ordered two things after shopping here for over ten years. Maybe because it’s sooooo good? Their Mullu Murukku (I think this is the name) is hands down the best I’ve ever had. Other shops carry prepacked versions of the crunchy spiral shaped delight made from chickpeas and lentils, but none are as yummy and spicy as the ones at Kamdar Plaza. A small bag is only $2.50.

They also offer a nice selection of cookware. I haven’t bought any yet, but I finally took some time to check out the stainless steel dishes. They’re of high quality at an affordable price, and all made in India.  After Kamdar Plaza, I got into my grocery getter for my last stop of the day, which will be the next installment of Grocery Gal: the Kosher Jewel. Stay tuned!

Kamdar Plaza. 2646 W. Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659. 773-338-8100. Open 11-8pm. Closed Tuesdays. www.kamdarplaza.com.


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.

This is the place to find all of Co-op’s sauce varieties, along with some locally sourced foods.

When 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.

I 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!

SBK 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’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.


I have a lot of first-generation American friends. They like food, but they’re not as incessant as me to scour the Chicagoland area for the best place to buy something. I was trying to think of why I’m this way, and it really comes back to my parents. I remember our Saturday visits to Edelweiss Delicatessen for a Leberkäs Semmel growing up in Palatine. In the summers when my dad would want some Croatian-style roasted lamb on a spit,  we would drive an hour to some grocery store in the South Suburbs that had the best lamb. Don’t worry, I’m going to ask him more about it and will report back!

My last real family food road trip memory was in 1998 while looking for my first condo with my parents and sister. After we were done checking out Sheridan Park, my dad insisted he had to take us to this market that had great cherries. For those familiar with Chicago we drove up Clark Street from Wilson (4600 North) all the way to almost Touhy (7600 North). Really? For Cherries? Were they that good? Honestly, all I remember is him pulling into a parking lot and the store was on the east side of the street. He was going to take “just a minute,” which means at least ten, and for some reason we weren’t allowed to go in with him… but that’s my dad. He was right. They were good.

I was driving up Clark street toward Evanston yesterday and I thought, now that I’m writing a blog about food, I should at least check out the cherry place! The only problem is I couldn’t remember which place it was.  I found two – and convinced myself it was the second place, because the parking lot was bigger.

Azetca and Chapala

Azteca looked older but was a butcher shop; Chapala had a familiar awning but a new facade. I went with Chapala

Chapala

The entrance to Chapala’s parking lot with Romanian Deli in the background. Stay tuned for a further post about Romanian!

The parking lot was packed, so I went in ready to fill up on produce I was planning for an experimental 3 day juice cleanse. I was sadly disappointed. No, it wasn’t just because there weren’t any cherries, but there wasn’t any produce I’d want to bring home. It was more of the I-need-to-make-tacos-for-dinner-let-me-grab-an-avocado-zucchini-tomato-stop-before-home place. But how was that parking lot was packed?!? I turned the corner and saw tables filled with families on a Sunday afternoon. Wilted produce and a packed taqueria? In the name of research I decided to find out why this place was packed. I ordered two tacos: a pastor and carnitas one. It’s hard for me not to like a taco, but I was disappointed, here, too. The pastor taco had bits of pineapple making it promising, but lacked the flavor that those huge spits of rotisserie meats at the Mexican-meets-Döner Kepab joints.  I expected the carnitas one to have bits of crunchy fat filled with flavor, but it tasted like a bland pork loin. Bummer. The most interesting things I did see were a great selection of religious candles and bags of jamaica – hibiscus flowers – which would be perfect for making tea at home.

Supermercado y Taqueria Chapala, 7117 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60626.

produce not quite up to my standards

Produce not quite up to my standards

tacos

Carnitas and pastor tacos

religious candles

Religious candles