Meat, meat, meat. There’s a lot of meat in my diet, so as Grocery Gal, I’m always looking for a bargain on grass fed meats. I did a google search for grass fed meats on my iPhone (is it bad I’m sharing my Grocery Gal secrets?) and Mediterranean Market Market in Lombard appeared. Now Lombard is pretty far away for me, but I had a free Sunday and am a sucker for a new adventure. It was also not too far from Bende, which gave me all the more reason to go.

Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market LombardWhen I pulled my grocery getter into the small strip mall, the parking lot was packed. Everyone was at the Mediterranean Market. Tight aisles are packed full of pickled radishes, large metal containers of olive oil, hookahs, hair oils and spices.
Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market Lombard One Stop Halal Shop hookah
Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market Lombard One Stop Halal Shop hair oilI came for one thing (well, two): their grass fed lamb and goat. I had a great recipe for both meats that I wanted to try, and I didn’t know where else to find them both as grass fed. The small meat counter was packed and I happily wandered through the aisles as I waited for my turn.

Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market Lombard One Stop Halal ShopOnce it was my turn, I asked for 2 pounds of lamb and 3 pounds of goat, which to my surprise, were all wrapped into individual 1 lb bags. That saved me a step for freezing it at home. I also bought some uncooked chicken shawarma, bright yellow from all the turmeric seasoning. They offered to cook it there for me as a sandwich, but I wanted to enjoy it at home. And enjoy it at home I did; before my bags were unpacked the chicken was cooking in the pan and it was deeelish! I wish I would’ve bought more. I also bought some beef kefta which I had a few days later and it was just as good.

Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market Lombard One Stop Halal Shop shawarmaOn their website, the owners explained their store was small, but packed with some of the best items they could find. I agree; I’ve been to many Mediterranean markets over the years and never saw items that they carried. One such item was Sadaf spice blend. It’s a great alternative to use when I’m out of fresh herbs.

Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market Lombard One Stop Halal Shop They sell a good amount of sweets, including beautiful gift boxes of Turkish Delight and smaller noughat sweets made with sesame and pistachios that you can buy by the piece. It’s hard not to buy at least one piece to try!

Grocery Gal Mediterrean Market Lombard One Stop Halal Shop turkish delightThis newest Grocery Gal adventure was a great find for me. If you’re in the Lombard area, this is one place you can’t miss.

Mediterranean Market. 612 E Roosevelt Rd, Lombard, IL 60148. 630-424-1397. Open 7 days.


Someone recently asked me, “Who has the best produce?”  The answer I gave was simple: it all depends on where you live. I was trying to think of landmark neighborhoods to answer her with and realized I hadn’t written about a great grocery store for people living near Lincoln Square and Albany Park: HarvesTime Foods. Located on Lawrence, between Western and California, you’ll notice HarvesTime as the building covered in solar panels alongside their large parking lot, and the delicious tamales for sale outside the entrance.

Grocery Gal visits HarvestTime FoodsHarvesTime is a nice mashup of a store who can cater to the variety of people living in Lincoln Square and Albany Park. HarvesTime is your standard Produce Stand meets Middle Eastern/Balkan Deli meets Latin Grocery Store meets Organic Foods meets Locally Sourced Products at reasonable prices and all under one roof. What else could anyone need? Well, booze, I guess…

Grocery Gal HarvestTime Homeade Guacamole

I was first introduced to HarvesTime at a party years ago, where their in-house salsas and guacamole were being gobbled up by everyone. I was familiar with the store and stopped in, happy to see many Balkan favorites of mine, including Vegata Natur, a nice deli selection and thorough meat selection. With such a heavy Eastern Euro/Balkan influence, I’m still surprised they don’t carry lamb. Years later, the store continues to expand to the needs of their clients, with a big push of organic and locally produced items (but I still need to buy lamb somewhere else). Grocery Gal HarvestTime DeliTwo local brands HarvesTime carries are Big Pork and Chef Martin’s Alpine Brand Sausages. I have yet to try Big Pork’s brand, but I am very familiar with the Chef Martin brand, and every type I’ve tried is outstanding. If you have your heart on sausages from Paulina Market and they’re closed, stop in at HarvesTime and try a few varieties from these two local Chicago sausage makers.

Chef Martin and Big Pork Sausage at Harvesttime FoodsAnother favorite that HarvesTime carries is Breadsmith breads. My husband (and I, before I went gluten free) go CRAZY over their French Peasant bread. As I stopped in late on a Saturday, I had to settle for their Rustic Italian bread. Their breads are absolutely amazing, and if you’re ever on the fence whether or not you should buy it, read their ingredient label and compare it to your other option. They use no additives or preservatives which is exactly why it tastes incredible. They also offer fresh Vie De France options along with a bunch of other very good local bakery breads, but my family’s choice for sandwich bread is always Breadsmith.

Grocery Gal buys Breadsmith bread at Harvesttime FoodsWhen you leave HarvesTime, make sure you have a few dollars cash on hand for the tamales for sale outside. The family selling them have been there for years, and I believe it’s 6 tamales for $5. I grabbed six cheese ones to share with my husband and they were still warm even after my bike ride back home.

HarvesTime Foods. 2632 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625.  (773) 989-4400


To say I have a love-hate relationship with Fresh Farms off of Touhy Avenue in Niles might be a little too harsh. I love everything about it. The hate comes because I really can only ever get there on a weekend when it’s pure chaos. However, this is a true one-stop international market with one of the best fresh fish selections I’ve ever seen. So you might want to do a little mediation and park as far on the outskirts of the parking lot before going in, because you’re food mind will be blown.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Park far away, take a deep breath, and grab a cart on your way in.

I decided to feature Niles’ Fresh Farms sooner than later for two reasons. The first reason is because the fish selection is just insane – quality and prices are out of this world. Thick, sushi grade wild ahi tuna steaks for $14.99 a pound? Yes, you read that right. The second was a Facebook challenge. A friend wrote he could never truly appreciate Men At Work until he could try some Vegemite. If anywhere in Chicago would have Vegemite, it had to be Fresh Farms in Niles. Grocery Gal was on the hunt!

While this Fresh Farms is a sister store of the one in Rogers Park, it’s a true international market catering to all different ethnic backgrounds. I seem to be the only person there who’s native language is English – and it’s not limited to one continent or region within the continent. It’s a true Grocery Gal store.

I first learned about Fresh Farms through a random text I received from my dad. My dad is awesome; he’s 71 going on 35, but not big in the world of texting. A picture of fresh fish appeared on my phone. A lot of fresh fish. All for sale. I replied back “Where is that??” but of course there was no response. I had to wait to get the answer in person.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Fresh fish as far as they eye can see. Turn around for more!

Fresh Farms has a great location somewhat off the Edens, which could be why it’s packed all the time. I think the Jewel across the street has felt Fresh Farms’ impact. I’ve made the mistake shopping on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and any Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still worth it. I’ll just grab a sample of wine to help me make it through the masses. If you’re able to make it during the week at all, your sanity will thank you.

You’re welcomed into Fresh Farms with an amazing, but chaotic, produce selection. It’s a true variety o produce, each appealing to the different ethnic palettes shopping there. The quality is outstanding. The prices for Grocery Gal are fair. I can’t do everyday shopping here, because I know where I can get it a little cheaper. But by no means is Fresh Farms overpriced. I usually come here for one thing: seafood. Then I grab whatever else I’m missing, along with a handful of choice finds, while I’m there.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Fire up the grill for calamari and octopus

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Oysters

My family is crazy for blue point oysters. At 75¢ each, who wouldn’t be?

There’s always a lot of samples to try, but they’re pretty strict on doling it out. There’s usually an older gentleman cooking up some fish with a lemon/garlic coating on it. They give you tips on how to cook the fish, and the quality and prices are unheard of. Afraid of a whole fish? They’ll clean it, remove the head and filet it for you, if you ask. But why waste it? The cheeks have yummy meat you’ll miss out on, but it’s ok to stay away from the fish eyes. I’ve never bought a bad piece of anything here. I get their emails that highlight weekly specials, just tempting me to come in… even on a Saturday.

Grocery Gal Chicago Fresh Farms

Oooh! Mussels on sale this week? Break out the vino and grab some fresh bread!

After making it through the produce and seafood areas, the place seems like a traditional grocery store – except each aisle is like it’s own ethnic specialty store. This is great when you have wasabi powder, jerk seasoning, olive oil and fresh ricotta all on the same grocery list. Normally, that would be 3 Grocery Gal pit stops, but at Fresh Farms I’m finding the same brands (no sacrifices here) all under one roof. Since that saves me time, I’m fine dealing with slightly more expensive produce and the crowds.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Greek cheeses made from goat and sheep milk

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Dried dates and figs from the Mediterranean and the Middle East

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ukrainian style pierogis

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Canned clams and sardines from Spain

So on this trip I was on the hunt for Vegemite for Brian. I was on my third grocery stop for the day, so I although I was a little tired by this time,  I still zipped through the aisles in searching for Vegemite. No dice. This makes me think it either is unavailable in the Chicago area – or I missed it. But I did find some nice finds I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Croatian Section” which usually just consists of Vegeta, Ajvar and Kras wafers, I saw they also had Cedevita, the Tang-like drink I’d have every morning at my Aunt’s house.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ready for a Croatian breakfast?

But don’t worry, my Austrian heritage is well represented, too. Milka Chocolates originally come from the Vorarlberg province of Austria, where my mom was from. The company has since been bought by Nestle and then Kraft, but I grew up with those purple cows. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t like milk chocolate, so I’ve never been a fan of Milka. Doesn’t mean it’s not tasty to everyone else, though!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Milka comes in pallets to Fresh Farms

Some of the other things I buy from Fresh Farms is their olive oil. They have a nice collection of Greek and Tunisian olive oils, also at unbelievable prices. It feel like the Greek brand is somehow owned by the family owning Fresh Farms; they’re always pimping it out. I love the organic one, but each time I go I still try a sample with some fresh bread, even though I already know how good it is.

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

They also have a great selection of items you don’t think of, like pot stickers and fillo dough. The fillo doughs are from the different Mediterranean regions, so you can choose which brand you prefer based on country of origin.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

So many fillo choices to choose from

Items I haven’t touched on that are also great are their bakery, butcher shop, prepared foods, deli and, well, just about everything. They have a small liquor section to pick up wines, but the beer selection has some opportunity to improve. So while they don’t carry Vegemite (I’m convinced it’s just outta stock…), it’s probably one of the best grocery stores in the entire Chicagoland area. Don’t let the crowds scare you. They’re just all on to a really good thing.

Fresh Farms International Market. 5740 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-779-7343. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.myfreshfarms.com

 


Part of the allure of Grocery Gal is to give myself a reason to stop in a grocery store I’ve never been to before. On a recent trip home from work, I stopped at the glowing LED-lit Middle Eastern Market on Harlem Avenue at Irving Park Road. It was a Tuesday night and it the store empty. It has been open for five months, and seems to be family owned. One of the sons told me in the next week they plan on adding a hot bar with their own food they cook in-house. I felt I couldn’t do an honest write up without them being fully functioning, so I’ll go back. I felt I needed to still write about a middle eastern grocery store since I can only write about different smoked meats for so long before there will be an uproar. I have a great Middle Eastern recommendation from a friend, but didn’t have time to stop there yet. So I went to an old reliable shop, which I’m happy to hear will be expanding soon.

The Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery has been a staple in Andersonville for countless years. It’s a nondescript place with an old sign that I often forget about. When I finally do inside I think why has it been so long since i’ve been here last?  Since I was up in Andersonville running errands, I thought it’s as good of a time as any to go, and in the process grab some food to make a nice family Saturday lunch. While their name says bakery, and they bake their own amazing pita breads, the place doesn’t scream bakery. They have lots of packaged dried legumes, beans, snacks, fruit and spices, and all in nice manageable sized containers. I’ll buy spices I use a lot from Kamdar Plaza, but if I just need a little of something, the small containers at Middle Eastern Bakery are a great size.

Grocery Gal finds nicely sized spices at Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville in Chicago

Bulk spices in nice, manageable sizes.

In the back of the store is bakery area. They sell mini pizzas which are more like heavily-seasoned focacia bread. Some of them are vegan, too.

Grocery Gal finds homemade fresh mini pizzas at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Freshly baked mini pizzas

Grocery Gal visits Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery Andersonville

Freshly baked savory pies

In the display case are different meat and vegetable pies, I’ve tried the lamb and artichoke cheese one. While they’re good, they’re even better with some of their Baba ghanoush added to it. The refrigerated cases stock a variety of hummus, Baba ghanoush, yogurt dips, marinated beans, vegetables and olives, This is a great place to get a variety of snacks for a party, but at $3 each container they can add up.

Grocery Gal finds homemade spreads & salads at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Snack goodness!

Grocery Gal finds homemade tzatziki at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Tzatziki for one or party size

Also in the bottom of the refrigerated case are pickled turnips. I’ve never seen them anywhere else for sale in Chicago. If you’ve had a doner kebab outside of the US, or an amazing sandwich at Taste of Lebanon just across the street, you’ll know what these are, and how they have a delicious tangy crunch.

The pita I grabbed to go with my dips and falafel was still warm in it’s bag. I love how they have a variety of pita sizes and counts. All I needed was 5 medium pitas for $1.59. They also carry a great selection of jellies, exotic flavors like rose petal and hibiscus, that I grew up with as a kid.

Grocery Gal finds fresh coffee beans in East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Turkish coffee, anyone?

For Turkish coffee lovers, they carry fresh beans and the proper tools to make it at home. I have a memory of my Croatian grandmother visiting us in the US, reading our fortunes from the grains left inside the cup of Turkish coffee, though I was too young at the time to drink the dark beverage.

Grocery Gal finds Baklava at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville

Baklava Upgrade: Pistachio and Chocolate!

Middle Eastern Bakery will be expanding in the near future. If that expansion includes food service, it would be a great, and hopefully affordable, dining option in Andersonville. If you’re hosting a party or don’t feel like cooking a meal at home, stop by Middle Eastern Bakery and stock up on some great homemade foods.

1512 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-561-2224. Monday-Saturday 9:30am-8:00pm. Sunday 11am-5pm.