Original Post from November 2013

It was hard to decide which store I would feature on my first blog. I didn’t want to break out the big guns on such an early post, so I let my stomach decide. It was a rainy night and I thought I’d pick up some stuff for dinner at a place I’ve seen for the past 2 months on my way home from work.

You can easily miss Amish Farmers when driving by on Grand Avenue in Franklin Park. As a graphic designer, I immediately noticed the clean simple logo along a stretch of blah signage. Their tagline: organic real food sparked my interest, too. I pulled into a free street parking spot and went inside. I was immediately greeted with “tak,” Polish for hello. Not what I was expecting, but then I realized it meant one thing: they’ve got to have great smoked meat.

I thought they would only carry vegetables, but they had a great selection of meats, dairy and dry and canned (literally through canning) goods. They’ve only been open for 3 months so far, and they carry products from Amish farmers in Indiana and Wisconsin. When I looked at above the meat display, “MEAT ONLY GIVES ASSISTANT!” I fell in love.

The prices were amazing. I bought 30 eggs for $6.50 and some gouda cheese curds for $2.25. They offered samples of the cheeses and the smoked meats, so l left with a little sampling of both. They had a great selection of dried goods and root vegetables. The woman who helped me said they have a larger selection of products on Fridays and Saturdays, similar to a Farmer’s Market. She recommended the brownies, but I said I’ll have to wait for next time. I’ll definitely be back, and you should, too.

 

Amish Farmers, 9711 W Grand Ave, Franklin Park, IL 60131. (847) 916-2483. Hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday 9am-3pm.

 

 


2018 Update – unfortunately Bende has closed this location.

Of all the grocery stores I have written about, I probably have been enjoying food from Bende the longest; at least 20+ years. I don’t know who found the place first: my mom or my dad. When I would be in town during college break, I’d drive with my mom to Vernon Hills on a Saturday morning to visit the this sparkling clean and almost sterile Hungarian gem hidden in an industrial park. We’d go inside, pick up smoked Hungarian sausages, smoked tenderloin, paprika, sauerkraut and a case of Croatian Karlovacko beer, then head home. More recently, when I see my dad, there’s often a vacuum sealed package of Bende’s smoked pork tenderloin waiting for me.

As a city dweller for almost as long as I’ve know of Bende’s existence, it has become more difficult to make it to Vernon Hills without investing an entire day which includes mandatory stops at both Par-King in Lincolnshire and Bill’s Pizza in Mundelein. I went online to check Bende’s hours and found they had a storefront in Glen Ellyn. Hmm, I hadn’t written about Bende yet, have never been to Glen Ellyn, and it’s open on a Sunday? It sounded like a perfect Grocery Gal adventure to have with my stepson!

I’m notorious for getting lost anywhere South and West of Chicago, but we easily found Bende’s large sign along Roosevelt Road to guide us in to European goodness. It was early on a Sunday and we were ready to shop.

The store was bright and inviting. First thing I saw was a collection of European bath products that made me swoon. The prices were definitely cheaper than the wonderful Merz Apothecary in Lincoln Square, but my bath oil quota had recently been filled during a trip to Europe.

Bende’s in Glen Ellyn is a proper European style deli. Living on the northwest side of Chicago, I have plenty of Polish delis which cater to that clientele. I get frustrated when I can’t understand the language on all the labels, so I try to guess my way through the products. Bende’s carries childhood essentials that pulled at my heart strings; all in German, which I could understand. They carried items I meant to bring back from Germany this past summer, but forgot, like the tasty Löwensenf Extra, from Düsseldorf.

Germans have a love for condiments to spread on meats and breads, and make some pretty tasty ones. Bende carries spicy red pepper spreads, similar to Croatian Ajvar, along with creamy garlic spreads, and my favorite full fat mayonnaise in toothpaste tubes with fluted ends to make fancy sandwiches with.

Many stores I’ve shopped at carry the delicious European “Giant Beans,” which aren’t quite lima or butter beans, but some mysterious hybrid that cannot be found in the US. What makes Bende even more special is that they carry the very hard to find Purple Bean Salad, which is native to Sytria in Austria. I first ate purple beans on a hiking trip through Austrian wine country with my Aunt in 2007, and whenever I see them, I think fondly of her and that time we spent together.

But, wait, there’s more Austrian memories! Bende carries a nice variety of hard to find European beers, but as a gluten free person, I’m more interested in their, um, wheat-free beverages. I was delighted to find that Bende carries Austrian schnapps, and at a much lower price point that Gene’s Sausage Shop. Now, I’m not going to drive 30 minutes to save $7, but I will check my current inventory to see if I need to stock up the next time I drive out to Glen Ellyn. The Croatian side of me was happy to see they offered a huge selection of plum brandies, but I haven’t ventured into the world of those spirits just yet. However, if you have a toothache, nothing helps more (according to my dad), than a little slivovitz.After navigating the aisles, my stepson and I came across what makes Bende a destination for food lovers: their deli. Before I even came across their own products, I saw they offered products from wonderful and well-known Chicago brands Koenemann and Stiglmeier. That’s what makes Bende great. Instead of trying to create a wide variety of products, they focus on what they do best, and bring in the best of the best as their supporting cast. I’m not a fan of headcheese, but based on their breadth of their offering, this place seems like a good bet.

As much as I wanted to get a few slices of Tyrolska lunchmeat, I focused my purchase on Bende products to make my bean soup for the Chicago Food Swap. While there are a few places in Chicago that offer smoked ribs, I have yet to find anyone better than Bende’s smoked ribs. How good are they? I’ve gotten a slab as a Christmas gift more than once from my dad. My sister drives in from Michigian to stock up on it, too. ‘Nuff said.I knew I was going to cook the soup the later that day, so I opted to select the exact slab of smoked ribs behind the counter, and had them wrapped in signature white deli paper. However, Bende offers options vacuum packed so you can stock up for the future while you’re there. I’m a sucker for the smoked tenderloin sliced thinly, and any of their Hungarian style dried sausages are also delicious. I don’t know what the difference is, perhaps the spices or that it’s drier, but the flavor is different than Polish and Italian dried sausages. Just try it, you’ll like it.

Even though there were expressways and tolls involved, Bende is a great resource for many German items that I have yet to find in the Chicagoland area. It was a great adventure for me to share part of my heritage with my stepson. If you don’t have a way to get out to Glen Ellyn or Vernon Hills, Bende products can be found at a variety of stores in the Chicagoland area including A&G Market and Fresh Farms, so you can work on making your own little Euro-plate at home.

Bende’s Specialty Foods Direct.  444 Roosevelt Rd, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137. 630-469-6525.

Hours: Tuesday – Friday 9:30AM – 7:00PM, Saturday 9:30AM – 6:30PM, Sunday 10:00AM – 3:00PM. Monday closed.


Bende’s Corporate Headquarters

925 Corporate Woods Pkwy. Vernon Hills, IL 60061. 847-913-0306
Hours:    Monday – Friday 7:00AM – 3:30PM, Saturday 9:00AM – 3:30PM, Sunday closed.


This piece originally posted in March 2014 for the online company Relished. A rebranding has recently taken place and Relished is now known as Home Chef. Relished links have been updated to take users to the correct Home Chef links. Enjoy!

Today is a first for Grocery Gal. A company contacted me to try out their food. Really? Free food? Bring it on! The catch was they wanted me to honestly write about it. I’m fine about being honest. And I thought too bad for them, because this sounds like a concept so NOT Grocery Gal. Why not? It sounded fancy and way too expensive. Well it was fancy, and to my shock and absolutely amazing value. What was it? It’s a new Chicago company called Relished.

I was familiar with the delivery concept with Door-to-Door Organics. The twist here was it’s three complete meals for you to cook at home, with everything (minus salt, pepper, oil and your cookware) in one box. It’s sounded great for my busy schedule. And it sounded expensive.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

A box of goodness from Relished Foods

A box was delivered by Fed Ex on a Wednesday. It was like Christmas! I opened a well insulated box filled with lots of veggies, two packages of shrimp and two mahi mahi fillets.

Grocery Gal Chicago Relished Food Delivery

All this delivered for under $60!

You can customize meals for your dietary needs, so I requested the pescatarian option. Recipe cards on thick card stock were well designed (a big plus in my book) with lots of step by step photos for those new to cooking, and the components for three meals, individually bagged. Wine or beer pairing suggestions are also included. I had some stash from Vin Chicago, so we were covered in the wine department. The Grocery Gal cooking show was about to begin!

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery Recipe Card

All the how-to’s including drink pairings

Since the mahi-mahi was still frozen, I chose to cook a shrimp dish the first night. The package was for a 2 person meal, but we had three of us at home, so we got a little creative… which just meant adding extra shrimp and veggies. We chose the creamy fresh pesto pasta recipe with fresh peas and roasted peppers. All I had to do was slice the red peppers and prosciutto; the rest of the prep work is done for you. The meat eaters enjoyed crispy prosciutto with the shrimp.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken became Shrimp with Crispy Prosciutto

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Looks as good as their photos!

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

The tiny shrimp and yellow squash were added to make it a meal for three

The end result was delicious! The portions were big; while I extended the meal with extra shrimp, yellow squash and pasta, there was still enough leftovers to take for lunch the next day. What I really enjoyed about it was it was something I’d never think of cooking myself. I thought it would’ve been about a zillion calories, but according to the calorie chart on the recipe card, each serving was under 500 calories. I don’t know if I believe that, but I won’t question it now. Day one was pretty impressive.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

More prosciutto for me!

Day two’s meal was supposed to be steak with roasted vegetable hash, but we used Mahi Mahi which was delivered to us instead. The rainbow carrots and shallots were already peeled; a great time saver. I only used 1/2 of the cauliflower and squash; I saved the rest for another meal. The recipe said the vegetables only needed 20 minutes in the oven, and I knew that was way to short for the acorn squash to be done.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Roasted vegetables and Mahi Mahi – even though I”m showing shrimp here

I roasted them in the oven for almost an hour – I like my roasted veggies charred – and added some extra brussels sprouts I had to the mix. End result was a much fuller flavor.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

I like my veggies charred!

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery

Thursday night’s end result featuring a great wine from Vin Chicago

Friday came and went and we didn’t cook our third meal, which was a spinach salad with shrimp. I ended up cooking it on Saturday for lunch. My only complaint was on Saturday my cherry tomatoes had gone bad, which was really surprising. Being Grocery Gal, though, all was not lost; I had tomatoes in the house. It was one minor mishap on an otherwise great experience.

Grocery Gal Relished Food Delivery Meal

Day three – Spinach and Shrimp Salad

Once I was done cooking the final meal and formed my opinion, I looked into the cost of having a subscription to Relished. I was convinced three substantial meals for two people being delivered to your home in incredible packaging with high quality printed materials was easily $100 a week. Perfect for my well-to-do friends with demanding jobs, downtown homes and no cars, but not for budget-conscious Grocery Gal. I think i literally gasped when I logged on to RelishedFoods.com and saw the price: $9.95 per person/per meal. Three dinners delivered to me for $59.70. The packaging alone seemed to be $20 – how do they do it?

You can have their food delivered to you up to five days a week, and they offer four and six person servings for those with larger families.  Today I just logged on to their site for a delivery for two weeks from now, and there’s 5 options for me to choose from. It’s great, because my husband doesn’t like beets, so I swapped that out for a rainbow chard salad.

Another thing that’s great is they deliver outside of Chicagoland: anywhere east of the Colorado River, except Florida and Maine. Seeing that, I signed up for a delivery to my sister in rural Michigan. Hope I didn’t ruin the surprise, Tanya! There’s no hidden fees I can see, and you can cancel at anytime. I won’t do Relished every week, but I can see myself doing a delivery every other month. You can see their weekly menu online.

HomeChef.com. Also on Facebook.


Living on the northwest side of Chicago exposes me to a variety of Polish delis. I am pretty loyal to my local Montrose Deli, but one night I was a few minutes early meeting my father at Old Warsaw Buffet, and had an opportunity to stop in at Deli 4 You. I don’t know why so many Polish delis cover their windows with decals of food, like the private coffeehouse-meets-soccer-club joints peppered throughout the city. Maybe they’re trying to keep me out, but Grocery Gal still wants to see what’s inside….

Deli 4 You Norridge Grocery Gal

Windows hiding the goodness inside

I had plans to cook a beer can chicken the next day and needed to grab a whole chicken. If you haven’t tried cooking a beer can chicken, I highly recommend it. For years I subscribed to Real Simple magazine, and every recipe I tried tasted terrible: except their beer can chicken recipe. Any recipe that starts out saying “open a can of beer and drink half of it,” is a winner in my book.

I went inside Deli 4 and it had the familiar Eastern-Euro smoked meat meets bakery smell in the air. It’s a compact store with all the regular Polish staples there. I’m very partial to Montrose Deli’s pork snack sausages, and saw Deli 4 You had their own. After being greeted only in Polish by the woman at the deli counter, I asked for one sausage apologetically in English.

Grocery Gal Deli 4 You Chicago

Murals give it a homey feeling

Grocery Gal Deli 4 you blood sausage

While I’m adventurous, I haven’t tried the blood sausage

Grocery Gal Chicago Deli 4 You readymade food

Heat and Eat dinner options

I noticed they had a nice selection of smoked fish, so I ordered a small piece of smoked trout. I like how you can purchase small pieces and not have to be stuck with an entire smoked fish. Finally, I got what I originally came in for: a whole chicken. I had a choice between a traditional Purdue chicken and an Amish one, and bought an Amish one for about $2.29 a pound. The chicken wasn’t the cheapest price, but I know it’s not their main business, so I was fine spending a little extra.

Deli 4 You Grocery Gal Smoked Fish

Smoked trout and salmon in nice, small chunks

Prices were good; my favorite Lowell Old Country Style pickles were on sale, as was some dark chocolate for smoring in the back yard later in the week. Definitely a solid stop if you’re in the neighborhood looking for some smoked sausages, smoked fish and even some creamy Polish pastries.

Grocery Gal Chicago Deli 4 You Pastries

Creamy cakes are pretty popular Polish pastries

grocerygal-deli4you-lowellDo you like Kit Kats? If so, be sure to buy some Prince Polos the next time you see them. They’re the Eastern European version of Kit-Kat, covered in dark chocolate and not as sugary. There must’ve been a sale going on that I missed, but the customers before and after me in line were really stocking up. A standard price is 3 for $1. I knew my dad was going to be waiting on me, but I might’ve missed out on the Prince Polo deal of the century.

Grocery Gal Blog Prince Polo Candy bar deli 4 you

I missed the Prince Polo display, but the guy behind me didn’t!

When I did my research on Deli 4 You, I found, as with most delis I like, they have multiple locations. This Deli 4 You was in Norridge on Harlem, while their other location is in Prospect Heights.

Oh yeah, and what did I do with the smoked trout? I made a great salad from a recipe I found from Food & Wine. It was beautiful and deeee-lish!

Grocery Gal smoked tuna grapefruit salad

Components for a really great salad

Grocery Gal Blog Deli 4 You Norridge smoked trout

Smoked trout salad with crispy skin

Deli 4 You. 4343 N. Harlem Ave, Norridge, IL 60706. 708-457-1700. Open Monday – Saturday 8am-8pm (till 9 on Fridays). Sunday 9am-5pm.


Nothing tastes better than homegrown tomatoes, right? My favorite Kumato tomatoes have helped me get through winter and spring, but now’s the time grow my own in my garden.   For many years I’d buy my flowers and tomato plants from a well down garden center in Andersonville, but last year I changed it up a bit. I stopped at a place I took for granted for so many years: Meinke Garden Center. Family owned and operated since 1871, Meinke on Touhy in Niles grow all their plants and flowers on site. It’s somewhat hidden amongst the strip malls and is across the street from my beloved Fresh Farms.

grocery gal meinke garden center niles

Meinke Garden Center has been growing their own plants since 1871

This is the place for people to buy their tomatoes! You would never know of the variety they have from just driving by on the street. Multiple covered greenhouses are filled with so many varieties of tomatoes it’s actually hard to narrow down which to choose.

grocery gal meinke niles tomatoes

A new variety of tomatoes every few feet.

They offer hybrid and heirloom varieties, all grown on site. What I find most valuable at Meinke are their detailed descriptions of each type of tomato they offer. The sun beats down on my small backyard garden, and I like to choose tomatoes that do well in full sun and extreme heat.

grocery gal meinke tomatoes niles

Tomato stats

After I stopped in last year, I knew I’d never buy tomatoes anywhere else. I had limited time this year so I only bought tomatoes and some marigolds to keep the rabbits away early on a Sunday morning. Six hearty tomato plants and three containers of marigolds set me back $13! Now that’s a deal!

Memorial Day weekend officially kicks off summer. Did you kick off yours right with planting some tomatoes, veggies or flowers from Meinke? If not, stop on by soon. They open daily at 8am and close at 7pm during the week, and 6pm on weekends.

Meinke Garden Center. 5803 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-647-9455.


Having a background in graphic design, I’m the first to say I’m a font snob. For years, I’ve boycotted stores with terrible logos (like Big Apple Bagels), so I wasn’t surprised when it took me so long to make it over to Produce World. Any store that would knowingly use the Hobo font as their logo wasn’t a grocery store I was dying to check out. However, driving home from work one day I didn’t have any other options and reluctantly pulled into Produce World’s parking lot at Cumberland and Lawrence in Norridge.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

Don’t let Hobo scare you off

Produce World is your typical European-style independent grocery store, similar to others peppered throughout Chicagoland. This store has a definite Slavic and Greek feel to it, and I was happy to see some items like canned gigantic beans and sour cabbage that my dad would use to make Sarma (Croatian stuffed cabbage) with. Thankfully, they weren’t using Hobo on any of their internal signage.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

I love gigantic white beans.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

Sour cabbage. Smells terrible, tastes great in Sarma.

Produce World was pretty solid. Good produce selection with decent prices. A long deli counter with olives and fresh feta available by the pound; Greek pastries and crusty breads were nearby. There’s a small fish and butcher counter, but I’m focused on other items while I’m there. It’s not a one-stop shopping place for Grocery Gal, but I can easily grab some necessities and Slavic specialties when I’m there.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

Fresh feta imported from various European countries

There’s a huge wine section past the checkout area which makes it difficult to browse. I was searching for any Croatian wines, like a Dingač, but I never have any luck in Chicago. Where they did represent Croatian beverages was in their beer section with some nice 1/2 liter bottles of Karlovacko.

Grocery Gal Produce World Norridge Karlovacko Croatian Beer

Karlovacko Croatian Beer. Try one!

What keeps me coming to Produce World, though, is for the best deal on charcoal I’ve found. One of my prized possessions is my Weber Performer Grill, and we grill multiple times during the week. My preference is to always use real hardwood charcoal over briquettes, but I would go through the Cowboy Charcoal at Trader Joe’s too quickly. Often it would be our of stock, and overall it was just too pricey. Lo and behold, when I finally gave up my prejudice on the Hobo font, I found the charcoal motherload at Produce World. One 40lb bag lasts me the entire summer. If you’re someone who loves to grill with real hardwood charcoal, then get on over to Produce World! They have multiple locations; if they’re smart, they’ve got this at every one. Stop on in, get your very own 40lb bag, a couple of Karlovackos, and kick off summer right.

Grocery Gal Charcoal Produce World Norridge

40lbs of hardwood goodness for $20

Produce World. 8325 W Lawrence Ave Norridge, IL 60706-3129 (708) 452-7400 Hours: Mon-Thurs 8-9; Fri-Sat 7-9 Sun 7-8


I’m a sucker for a Korean Sauna. My first experience was about five years ago at Paradise Sauna, a small place on Montrose.  I’ve been hooked ever since. Yeah, you have to get naked, but it’s the perfect way to kick a cold or just relax. A few years ago King Sauna opened in Niles, and I stock up on entrance tickets whenever a Groupon is available.

Grocery Gal King Sauna H Mart

King Sauna lives up to it’s royal name

So, why am I writing about a Korean Sauna on a grocery store blog? It’s because of King Sauna that I found the Super H Mart, located off of Waukegan in Niles. H Mart is a chain of Korean grocery stores located in a handful of states in the US, with two Illinois locations, in Niles and Naperville.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

The exterior reminds me of an old Service Merchandise

Before I came across Fresh Farms‘ incredible fish department, H Mart was the place to go to for fish. You select which whole fish you want, choose from signage how you want it cleaned, and they do the rest for you. On my last visit, it was about 7pm on a Monday evening, and the fish counter looked a little deserted, but the whole hamachi was looking good.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

I’ll take a #7

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Fresh Hamachi for $1.99 a lb.

There’s more than just the whole fish options at H Mart. There’s a good selection of shrink-wrapped sashimi grade fish, some frozen options, a huge lobster section, and a ton of dried fish and fish balls. Not quite sure where I’d be using fish balls, but if I ever come across it in a recipe, I know now where to buy them.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Dried fish and fresh lobster

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Multiple varieties of fish balls

I didn’t need any fish in the whole, dried or ball variety this time. It was late, I didn’t want to cook, but I needed something to eat. H Mart has a few options for the non-cooks out there. There’s a diverse Asian-themed food court where you can eat in or take it to go.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

One of the H Mart food stalls

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Food court options. Do not eat the samples.

I’m not the most patient person in the world, so I skipped the food court and went after some prepackaged food made within H Mart. There are so many options; my only complaint is I wished they offered them in smaller portions so I could try more of a variety. This evening I grabbed some tofu cakes and pickled radish. The tofu cakes were still warm.  I’ll confess; they smelled so good in the car that I actually opened up the package and ate one during my drive home!

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Hot and prepared tofu cakes and fried zucchini

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Prepared pickled goodness… but I don’t quite know what it is

Since I was quickly assembling a meal for home, I went to grab some Kimchi. Yes, i realize I’m in a Korean grocery store so there would be a few options of Kimchi to choose from. However, I didn’t realize there were about 50 different brands of Kimchi, which also came in different vegetable options. It was late, so I grabbed an old reliable cabbage kimichi but plan on going back to try a zucchini or asparagus one next time.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Who knew Kimchi came in different veggie options?

So what about the Grocery Gal fans looking for something to cook from H Mart other than fresh fish? They have an extensive produce section with Asian-specific produce like fresh ginseng, lemongrass and lots of radishes. Almost an entire back wall is dedicated to tofu.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Grocery Gal Super H Mart Niles

Lots of tofu options: regular, organic, and sprouted organic for the biggest health benefit.

However, if you plan on using the tofu in the next day or two, I highly recommend their in-house tofu. They also sell fresh soymilk in the mornings, around 10am. It must go fast or is just difficult to maintain, because they only offer a very small window on when to buy the soy milk.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Fresh tofu made in H Mart

Since H Mart is now closer to home than Tai Nam is, I find myself stocking up on my Asian sauces, oils and vinegars here. Prices are solid and there’s a great variety to choose from. The buckwheat noodle options could be a little overwhelming, but I find a nice size package perfect for my Buckwheat Noodle Salad. There’s an extensive frozen section giving people many options for potstickers and other packaged foods.

Grocery Gal Super H Mart

Buckwheat noodles – perfect for a cold Asian salad.

Beyond the grocery store and food court, there are a few stores within the building, like a mini mall. My favorite one to stop in is the housewares shop featuring great appliances not readily available in the US market. What kind of stuff? Cute little toaster ovens with names like Super Toasty Oven. What else? Well, you’ve got to go see yourself. And grab some tofu cakes for the ride home. Grocery Gal Super H Mart Super H Mart. 801 Civic Center Dr, Niles, IL 60714. (847) 581-1212. Open 7 days, 8am-11pm.


I don’t think I’ve gone into details on my love of cheese, but it’s pretty well known amongst my friends. I pack lightly when visiting Europe to make sure there’s enough room to fill it with deliciously stinky Vorarlberger Bergkäse; essential for making may family’s Austrian Kasspätzele recipe at home. Yes, I’m pretty serious about my cheese.

I always knew Caputos markets carried their own line of cheese, but little did I know they had an entire store dedicated to cheese. Their Melrose Park location is easily accessible off North Avenue. I stopped in after work one day and found another Grocery Gal recommendation.

Grocery Gal Caputo's Cheese marketThere’s definitely three parts to the store. A nondescript warehouse area where you can buy dried goods on the cheap, a bakery where you can order sandwiches and pizza, and of course, the cheese shop. The Caputo family must be associated with the Roland brand; there were tons of products from them. I bought a jar of Roland brand balsamic jam, perfect on crackers and, of course, cheese. Y U M! On my most recent visit they had a good display of gluten-free items.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputo's Cheese Market

Caputo’s Cheese Market is more than just cheese

Grocery Gal Caputos Cheese Market

Sea salt – both coarse and fine – for 99¢

You take a little ramp through the warehouse and past the bakery to get to the cheese area. It’s filled with the essentials – cheese and wine. There’s a fresh deli and a meat counter for Italian sausages. I always stock up on some fresh mozzarella and look to see what looks interesting if I don’t come for a specific cheese need.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Behold, the cheese market

They have some white and sparkling wine available in a cooler, making this a great stop if you’re on your way to a party. Grab some cheese, some vino, salami and fresh bread from the bakery, all doable for under $25.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

What looks good today?

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Different levels of spiciness

If you’re looking for a more substantial dinner item, they have a frozen section with pasta and homemade pasta sauces. Having friends that eat gluten free, I captured some ravioli options for them to try.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Gluten free ravioli in the freezer case

While they don’t carry any Austrian cheeses, they did carry some Swiss Raclette which I tried. When I brought it home and shredded it, husband complained that the kitchen smelled like feet. In cheese code that means it’s a perfect choice for spätzele. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like feet.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese MarketThe cheese selections seem to mostly be from Europe. There’s a small amount of domestic cheeses, but not much outside the Caputo’s brand. This is a store to go to with friends. The cheeses are in large chunks, so it can add up quickly if you want to try a bunch of different things. The prices are good; but the chunks of cheese are huge. If you can split some choices with friends you definitely will get more variety.

What brought me into Caputo’s this most recent time was for some fondue cheese. Yes, I could shred different swiss cheeses and add some wine to it, but I’ve got limited time. I wanted the package of Swiss fondue with the cheese and brandy all in one convenient package.  I had stopped at Mariano’s the day before and hesitantly picked up a package for $14.99. I checked at Caputo’s – same size package, also from Switzerland with the same ingredients,  was only $8.99!

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Mariano’s $14.99, Caputo’s $8.99

My only regret is that I only bought one package of Fondue cheese at Caputo’s. Next time I’m driving by, I’ll pick up two, because the recipe below was just too good not to have again in the near future. And adding the tomatoes to it really lightened up the entire recipe. I didn’t feel as if I had to go immediately to bed, like fondue usually makes me feel.

This recipe was adapted from Vegetarian Times.

Provencal Fondue – A lighter, easier and quick way to enjoy fondue

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (chop the tomatoes even further)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. mixed dried herbs (I used Thyme, Oregano and Basil)
  • 1 package packaged Cheese Fondue from Switzerland
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (bonus, but not necessary)

Suggested Dippers

  • Fresh baguette cubes
  • Fresh broccoli, cauliflower and red pepper cut into bite size pieces.

Heat oil in fondue pot or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion. Cover, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Add tomatoes, garlic, dried herbs; bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the package of cheese fondue and mix well together. If using extra fresh cheese, add it in. Cook until it bubbles. Serve!

So if it’s a party for one or for a huge group, stop at Caputo’s Cheese Market for all your snacky-treat needs. The prices are great, but the cheese portions are large, so divide and conquer with friends for the biggest variety.

Caputos Cheese Market. 1931 N. 15th Ave. Melrose Park. 708-450-0469. Monday – Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 8am-5pm, Sunday 8am-4pm. www.CaputosCheeseMarket.com


I’m not going to go into detail here, but I know we’re all sick of snow. I dream about being on a beach feeling the sun’s rays on my skin and sipping a fruity cocktail. Then the alarm goes off and I’m off to another day of work. If I’m still dreaming of the beach on my way home from work, I’ll stop at Rio Valley Market to get the ingredients to make a feel-better fish taco dinner.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Rio Valley Market on Mannheim at Grand

I think the first time I went into Rio Grande I stopped in my tracks as soon as I walked in. Why? My favorite summertime beer, Tecate, was a mere $14.99 a case. OK, Pacifico is my favorite, but on a budget it’s Tecate. Somehow over the past few years Tecate has gotten into bargain basement pricing, and that’s fine by me. I’ve yet to see it cheaper anywhere else. They even carry Tecate Light – but, seriously, don’t waste your time.

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

In a perfect world, fish tacos are grilled over real hardwood charcoal on my Weber grill. When it’s 1 degree outside, I’ll have to settle for fish tacos from the kitchen. Rio Valley is by no means a fish market. They are a traditional, independent Latin-influenced market, nothing fancy and value priced. Think full butcher section with an offshoot of fish staples. They carry different types of fish – tilapia, basa, swai and catfish. I’m usually in a rush, so I grab some prepackaged fish for around $5 a package.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

No time to wait in the deli? Grab your fish to go. Don’t worry, every day is “today’s special” — doesn’t mean it’s about to go bad.

What goes with fish tacos? Well, mango salsa, of course! All the staples I need are here: fresh, ready to eat mangoes (not too ripe and not too hard), cilantro, jalapeño, red pepper, limes and avocado. The week I was there avocados were 4 for $1!. There’s also red cabbage for shredding and adding the perfect crunch to your taco.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Who don’t love avocados?

I’m also a sucker for Crema – Mexican Style sour cream. I think it’s because it has a slightly salty taste to it; it’s replaced traditional sour cream in my house. Yes, it has a few more calories, but with so much flavor, you can use it sparingly. Lots of choices at Rio Valley and usually at least one brand is on sale.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

So many Crema choices, so little time…

That’s it. My cart is filled with fresh tortillas (the corn ones are often still warm, they must get daily deliveries), fish, produce and a case of Tecate. I quickly check out, get in the Grocery Getter and head home to put a little sunshine in my family’s dinner that night. Why not stop in and grab what you need to make some for yourself? I’ve included my recipe for mango salsa along with my husband’s killer aioli recipe.  You can most likely feed a family of three for $15, which includes a few Tecates for the adults!
Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 red/orange/yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped (but not mashed)
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeds removed & chopped
  • 2 T chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes

Mix all the items together and taste. Feel free to add more/less of any ingredient, based on spice needs. Sometimes I add a 1/4 peeled/seeded cucumber.

Aioli for Fish Tacos

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I prefer it with olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • dash of Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1-2 T Mexican-style hot sauce

Press the cloves of garlic with a garlic press. Mix everything together. This is a perfect “base layer” for your tacos. It gets so addicting, I’ve found myself using it as a dip!

Rio Valley Market. 2745 Mannheim Rd, Franklin Park, Illinois 60131. 847-451-8440. www.RioValleyMarket.com


I love sharing my Grocery Gal experiences to others. But sometimes it wears me out being Grocery Gal. Between my job and it’s commute, I have no energy to stop and shop – I just want to get home to my family. I also know of many readers who rely on public transportation, so this could be a good option for them. So I’m straying away a little from Grocery Gal’s original roots to highlight a food delivery service I use to help me keep a little sane and eat a little healthier.

I think I started my first organic food delivery program in 2005. For six years I used Timber Creek Farms Organics. They were a local business that delivered a box full of organic fruits and veggies to my condo every other week. It was great, but I felt at times I was stuck with a lot of food I just couldn’t eat before it went bad. A bag of apples and a bag of pears were great, but it was just too much for me. I felt like I was throwing out more food than I was consuming, so I stopped it. The folks there were very helpful and I felt like they knew me. The only downside was I felt like the food had to be consumed within the first few days, especially berries, or they would go bad. Granted, I have not used them in at least three years, so those experiences could have improved.

A coworker of mine sent me a link to try the company she uses, which was Door to Door Organics. She raved about them, saying the food was always of outstanding quality. If she ever had a problem with it, she would send an email, and Door to Door would send her a credit. I was still hesitant. When I finally realized I wasn’t buying as much fruit as I should be, I signed up for my introductory box.

When I first logged onto the website, I was very impressed. So many times before, I’d get some random produce in my delivery, say a persimmon, and I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with it. What’s great about Door to Door is they have tons of recipes on their website, highlighting what’s to offer that week. You can bookmark them and refer back to them easily.

Grocery Gal Door to Door Organics

Door to Door’s recipes are inspiring

The website is very user friendly. They also sell a full range of groceries here if you’re so inclined to shop this way. I’ve purchased additional eggs, but nothing else. I get the Bitty Box delivered every other week. It’s well packaged, which includes frozen packs in the summer. Just leave the old packaging out for them to reuse/recycle at the next delivery.

Grocery Gal Door to Door Organics

At home delivery. Save the box and packaging – they will recycle it!

Even better than the recipes, though, is the fact that you can substitute up to five items in each delivery. Not feeling grapefruit? Go sub it for some kale. You want two organic kiwi? Then trade in your gala apple for that second kiwi. Already have a garden full of zucchini? The last thing you need is another one from Door to Door. Go substitute it for a delicata squash.

The thing is, it’s a better bang for your buck to sub out to get more exotic items than say more onions, potatoes and garlic. I was running out of staples during my last delivery and added those as my substitutions. When I unpacked the box I felt a little cheated. However, there was no one to blame except myself.

Grocery Gal Door to Door Organics

In hindsight, I should’ve ordered more fruit and less staples

Starting in the Spring, they offer local produce boxes, featuring produce from local farmers like my friends at Molter Family Orchards. Like that logo? I designed it. The local box gives you the variety you want while supporting multiple local organic farms.

For me, spending the extra for organic food delivery is best when I focus on buying foods that really benefit from being organic: leafy greens, grapes, apples, celery, squash, berries and peppers. Save the onions and garlic for when you’re shopping at Amish Farmers. You’ll get outstanding quality with Door to Door, and have the convenience of just picking it up outside your door.

www.DoorToDoorOrganics.com