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.