Today’s Grocery Gal installment comes as a recommendation from a long standing client of mine. We were chatting about the cost of organic foods and how it’s a challenge to afford it. She told me of a place on Oakton in Skokie whose name escaped her, and I was intrigued because I had never heard of it. Always one for a new adventure, I started searching “skokie grocery store” on my iPhone to find what had to be the place: Marketplace on Oakton.

Grocery Gal Marketplace On Oakton SkokieThe day I made it out to Marketplace was the same day I discovered Hungarian Kosher. Both are on Oakton, but Marketplace is close to the Skokie Swift yellow line and the Edens. When I pulled my grocery getter into the large parking spot, I smiled, as it shared a space with my favorite chain grocery store, Aldi.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store

Grocery Gal Marketplace Foods Coccoa Kumato tomato

Cocoa Tomatoes are just like Kumato Tomatoes!

I wouldn’t call Marketplace a destination store, but a solid International market with fresh produce, a large deli counter and substantial butcher shop, along the lines of Produce World. I was impressed by the variety of organic produce they carried: staples such as apples, potatoes and onions at a fraction of Whole Foods’ prices.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store OrganicGrocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store OrganicTheir large ethnic produce selection rivals Fresh Farms.  I bought some taro root (I love taro root chips) and fresh turmeric.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store Indian VegetableI was happy to see some of my favorite Bende meat products – almost all of Marketplace’s smoked meat selections were from Chicagoland companies.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton Grocery Store Euro meatsMarketplace on Oakton has a fresh seafood counter, but I’m partial to their selection of canned fishes. They carry a wide variety; more than I’m used to seeing at other stores.

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton FishAs most of my grocery shopping runs around running errands, I would definitely make a stop here if I was heading to Old Orchard. And for those European chocolate fans out there, beware – there are many tempting items in the checkout line!

Grocery Gal Marketplace on Oakton ChocolateIf you live in the area, it’s a solid stop for good quality, affordable organic produce, and a solid European style market.

Marketplace on Oakton. 4817 W Oakton Street, Skokie, IL 60077. 847-677-9330


In 2015, I’m making a conscious effort to stay away from processed foods. Once I started eating gluten-free in June, I began to feel better, but then found myself falling down the slippery slope of relying too often on gluten-free convenience foods. I normally wouldn’t eat boxed mac and cheese, but since it was gluten-free, I felt it was ok to eat an entire box for dinner. I realized this type of nonsense had to stop.

I came across a wonderful book called the Autoimmune Paleo cookbook by Mickey Trescott, and felt that it was time to eat with a whole foods approach. That philosophy isn’t anything new to me, it’s the way I grew up as a first generation American. Everything was always homemade; nothing ever came from a box. Granted, it’s hard cooking so much meat in a house with a vegetarian, but I’m fortunate my husband understands the importance of this. I’m not going to go into what the Paleo lifestyle is, but for those unfamiliar, Sarah Ballantyne sums it up nicely on her blog.

I was about to start an intensive two week reset and needed to buy grass fed beef and pastured pork and chicken. I also needed some less than glamorous pieces of meat, which included bones for making broth and beef liver. While I love and support Amish Farmers, it was the weekend, and I needed to find something in the city. I recalled seeing an Amish storefront next to the Empty Bottle on Western, so I hopped into my grocery getter and drove to Ukrainian Village.

Amish & Healthy FoodsThe store was bright and clean. I’ve since visited twice and there’s a mix of people in the store – the Ukrainian mother who thanked me in her native tongue when I opened the door so she could bring the baby stroller in, the twenty something hipster stocking up on vitamin supplements, and the older woman in yoga attire selecting fermented vegetables out of the cold case.

Amish & Healthy Foods Produce

Amish & Healthy Foods VitaminsI knew I was going to stop at Stanley’s to see what organic produce they had, so my focus at Amish & Healthy was meat. I couldn’t believe their offering, and I loved that the meats were frozen in convenient one pound packages. They carried both grass fed and traditional beef, all different types of organ meats (I know, it sounds gross, but it’s really good for you), bison, pork, turkey and chicken.  I chose some beef and chicken livers, soup bones and “small” beef bones to make my broth. I’m a sucker for turkey jerky, so I picked up a pound of ground turkey to make my own at home. After stopping at Amish & Healthy, I compared prices at both Whole Foods and Paulina Market. On all accounts, the prices at Amish & Healthy were cheaper, and I felt good about supporting not only a local business, but an Amish community in Indiana, all while eating cuts of meat that were better for me.

Amish & Healthy Foods ButcherThey have a small deli counter with foods that seem to rotate based on availability. I bought a bottle of their delicious ginger apple kombucha for $5.99 and their yummy paleo munchkies. It was at this time that I met the owner, Lucy. She explained how popular the kombucha was, and if I returned my bottle, next time I could get $1 off.

Amish & Healthy Foods PaleoWhile I didn’t need any at this time, Amish & Healthy sells a lot of dried fruit with no sugar added. And they’re not just your standard dried fruit fare: they sell sun-dried organic wild goji berries, freeze-dried cherries, juniper berries, and organic dried pomegranate seeds.  Amish & Healthy Foods Dried FruitThey do sell eggs for $5 a dozen. To me, that seems a little pricey, but I’m spoiled with Amish Farmers. Amish & Healthy also sell duck eggs with single or double yolks, for 50¢ and 75¢. The next time you plan to head out for some high quality meat, be sure to stop in at Amish & Healthy; you won’t be disappointed by the variety and the prices of their meat selection. And grab some paleo munchkins to go, too.

Amish & Healthy Foods StoreAmish Healthy Foods. 1025 North Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622, 773-278-1717. 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


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’ve always wanted to go into Moo & Oink. I remember their commercials growing up; I’d dream of the day I could have a barbecue big enough to warrant buying so much meat from them. I’d feel silly driving all that way for just a dozen drumsticks and some burgers.

When I used to take the Stony Island shortcut from the Skyway to Uptown, I’d see Moo & Oink with it’s great logo on the west side of the street. It was one of my must-write-about places for Grocery Gal. After getting my casings at Paulina Market the weekend before, I knew Moo & Oink was the place I had to go to buy pork to make my sausages.
When I finally got there on a Saturday in April, I was devastated (really, I was) to see Moo & Oink replaced with a Dollar Store. I was sad to see a Chicago institution gone, and was kicking myself for not getting their sooner. I searched the interweb and found Moo & Oink is still around (for over 150 years); they just focus on packaged meat sold at other retailers.
Grocery Gal Moo & Oink Chicago

Former Moo & Oink location on Stony Island

As Grocery Gal, I’m very deliberate when I shop. There’s no getting into my grocery getter and just driving. I have to plan my route and see what else is nearby to stop at. Yep, I’m a freaker and it’s exhausting, but I get a huge sense of accomplishment on my time management skills.  Attempting to go to Moo & Oink was part of a larger project of dropping off flyers for my husband’s furniture making company, Brokenpress Design+Fabrication, at local record stores before Record Store Day. Need audio furniture or record storage? I have an in with the owner, send me a message! After dropping some flyers at Record Breakers, I was heading West on Cermak, en route to another record store (which unfortunately had closed down). On my way, I came across Pete’s Fresh Market – a gleaming new grocery store on Cermak near California, and pulled right in.
Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Grocery Store

Pete’s Fresh Market on Cermak in Little Village

I went in with no expectations. Inside, I found a spotless grocery store that looked like it has just opened up minutes ago. I did a little double take – I thought I was at Mariano’s. Pete’s offered samples when you walk in, featured produce in wooden crates with the Pete’s logo branded on it, sold fancy cheeses and meats along with a lot of readymade/hot bar/to go items. Where it surpassed Mariano’s was a huge meat counter and prices much cheaper than Mariano’s. While I didn’t get to shop at Moo & Oink, I felt like I was in good hands with Pete.
Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market

Pete’s must be using the same interior design firm as Mariano’s

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Cheese

A nice selection of cheese, crackers and spreads

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market

Hot bar for those who want it to go

I couldn’t believe how every item on the shelf was pulled forward, the produce looked great, and the prices seemed good.  Their Jamaican Jerk selection rivaled Uptown’s Old World Market.

Grocery Gal Jamaican Jerk Pete's

Tied with Old World Market for the most extensive Jamaican spice selection in Chicago

While I did grab a few items, I came into Moo & Oink, errr, Pete’s for one thing: pork butt to grind into sausage. The people working the meat counter with their white coats and hardhats were super helpful. I was concerned at how large the piece of pork was; the butcher asked how much I needed, and sliced off a perfect 5 lb piece for me. Most other places, I would’ve been stuck with whatever prepacked sized they had available.

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Chicago

Fresh meat cut to size

I got what I needed, but as Grocery Gal, I still needed to check out the rest of the store. The endless butcher counter spilled into refrigerated cases where traditional and more interesting meat items were available. Not sure if I’m going to need pork spirals anytime soon, but when I do, I’ll know where to get them. And I bet they’re delicious. Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market PorkI was happy to get the fresh pork butt in the exact weight I needed, but what probably put the biggest smile on my face was some prepackaged meat I found: Moo & Oink packaged patties and links! Yeah, it wasn’t the Moo & Oink experience I was hoping for, but I think it was a little sign to give me the closure I needed.
Moo & Oink Grocery Gal

Moo & Oink lives on at Pete’s Fresh Market

If you live on the South side of the city, Pete’s Fresh Market is a great place for everyday grocery shopping. They have other locations in the South and Southwest suburbs; check their website for a location closer to you. While their name and logo aren’t as catchy as Moo & Oink (I have yet to see any commercials…), it’s definitely worth a stop!
Now I had the casings and the pork butt; the only thing left is the sausage making. That will be in an upcoming Grocery Gal post… stay tuned!
Pete’s Fresh Market. 2526 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60608. (773) 254-8400. 7am-10pm.

 


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


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

 


For today’s installment, please don’t laugh.  Why would I write about a mainstream store? Well, if you grew up in the early 80’s, you probably have a stigma of shopping here. I know I did. The stores had no character and little or no windows. You could only pay in cash, everything was stacked on top of itself, and you had to bag your own groceries. Sounds like Costco without the samples, right? Well, it’s not. It’s Aldi.

In the early 80’s, I remember feeling like a poor kid because I didn’t have Jordache jeans or a pair of robin’s egg blue Nike’s with the gold swoosh. We had a blue Nova with a hole in the back seat floor pan that we covered with a piece of plywood. Not poor enough for you? Well, my mom also would shop at Aldi. While we didn’t shop there all the time, I was somehow more embarrassed by their unknown brands of canned goods than the generic brand with the stencil font from Jewel. Those white and black Jewel labels screamed my family is poor,  but since Jewel had baggers, it somehow was more acceptable than Aldi. When I studied abroad years later, I was surprised to learn Aldi was a German grocery store, with it’s Austrian counterpart called Hofer. And that was the end of my Aldi story.

In the late 1990’s, Trader Joes came to Chicago. I was excited for the store to open. My boss at the time was from California and she always raved about the place. There was a lot of press, and in there I read that the good-feelin’ organic-lovin’ affordable Trader Joe’s was owned by Aldi. Aldi?!? Really? But when you think about it, Trader Joe’s is merely a distributor who rebrands everything under a different version of the name Joe. Pretty obvious it’s the same business model as Aldi.  TJ’s just does it with better graphics, and baggers in Hawaiian shirts. Oh yeah, they have samples, too.

After connecting the dots, a few years ago I hesitantly went back to check out Aldi. Yeah, you need the quarter deposit to use the carts, but I realized it’s because they’re European, not because they’re afraid poor people would steal their carts. I walked in and immediately saw bars of chocolate. Hmm, not just milk chocolate, but dark chocolate with different cacao percentages, with orange, and with chili pepper. All made in my motherland, Austria. Just like the Lindt brand that’s often over $3, but these were a mere $1.29. Hmmm, not bad….

Each Aldi is different. I think they really rely on what their customers are purchasing in each store. If you go into one and aren’t wowed, then check out another. Some carry alcohol. There’s a great everyday Cabernet Sauvignion that’s $4.99 and a real winner. No, it’s no Castano from Vin Chicago, but it’s a great one to have on standby at home. I’ve just started trying their German Pils for $5.99, not bad.

They carry a lot of seasonal specials, just like Trader Joe’s. My favorite time is before Christmas — incredible selections of Germany chocolates, including advent calendars for $0.99 and chocolate ornaments, for $3, both staples from my childhood. I remember my parents buying these for an arm & a leg as a child from the German delicatessens. Smoked meat, cheese and frozen appetizers  fill the shelves for holiday parties. What’s been catching my eye now is their organic selection. Yep, organic at Aldi.

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi organic foods

Baby Kale and Arugula for $2.49 at Aldi. Perfect dinner addition.

 

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi organic foods

Organic cookies, cereal, apple sauce and jams… just to name a few. All under $2.50.

If you’re a label reader like I am, you’ll find most of their breads do not carry high fructose corn syrup. The fancy Brownberry bread with it’s whole grain claims has high fructose corn syrup in it. Not the bread at Aldi! Aldi’s quart of Greek yogurt just dropped in price and it’s about same as an 8oz container at any other store. Our family loves adding hash browns to our egg tacos on Sundays, and the package of 20 is the same price as a package of 10 from Trader Joe’s. And I’ll bet you 2 cartons of fresh-not-from-concentrate orange juice they’re from the same distributor!

They do carry a decent selection of produce, albeit prepackaged. Their avocado (an essential ingredient to egg tacos) are often $0.49 each so I grab a handful. More recently I’m finding organic onions and apples, too. I love seeing the tricolor fingerling potatoes for $1.49 and then going to Trader Joe’s to see the exact same ones for $2.99! Kumato tomatoes (best tomato ever) $1.29 at Aldi, $2.99 at sister store TJ’s. In the exact same packaging!

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Old Oak Farms Purple Potatoes

Old Oak Farms tri-color fingerling potatoes for half the Trader Joe’s price

They carry organic honey and agave nectar. Unfortunately they still haven’t gotten around to 100% natural peanut butter, but I’m hopeful!  Great, affordable pasta sauces, all with no high fructose corn syrup added. A previously seasonal item that I’m finding more often in their stores is red and green pesto. A small jar is $1.49, which would easily be over $4 anywhere else. Sundried tomato red pesto is amazing, I had only ever seen it before in Italy. It’s a killer base for your homemade pizzas. Try it… you’ll never go back to traditional pizza sauce. Side note: I’m currently on a work trip in California and just received a text from my husband asking me where the red pesto sauce is…. unfortunately we used it all two days ago!

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Rosso Pesto and Pesto Alla Genovese

Pesto this delicious and cheap makes me want to eat Italian every day.

Most of their beauty items are made in Germany. Their aluminum foil is good and cheap. Pass on their paper towels and toilet paper. They have rock salt and peppercorns in their own acrylic dispensers. Their packaged guacamole is perfect for a party dip. They have cheap Kerrygold cheese and great fancy cheese selections around the holidays.

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Kerrygold cheese

Wine and cheese party anyone? Offer a great spread for under $20

And, it being Aldi, there’s always some random household items that change seasonally. Since it’s still January, go on in and get some workout gear before the gardening stuff shows up for the spring. I did buy pretty decent lawn seed their last year.

While I don’t buy everything there, I always run in at lunch to stock up on their cheese and dairy products, great German and Italian foods, and their growing organic selection at prices that are just unbelievable. If you grew up with a stigma of shopping at Aldi like I did, go with your own grocery bags and a quarter for your cart and your mind will definitely be changed!


Looking for more heavy duty grocery shopping, but don’t want to go as far west as Harlem Avenue to hit Caputos? If you live west of the Kennedy in Chicago, A&G Fresh Market might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

From Belmont, A&G looks small, but the main entrance is off Major Ave.

I’m not quite sure how originally I stumbled across A&G. Perhaps it was from a weekly mailer or an ad in the Nadig Newspaper, a great local newspaper that shows up mysteriously at my door every few weeks. A&G is pretty nondescript when you see it on Belmont, west of Central Avenue. But once I drove around back, I saw a huge parking lot with a more formal entrance. There’s often a sweet older lady helping with getting the carts back into the corral. They have the European-style carts that cost a quarter to “rent,” so before I even made it inside I had some high hopes of what was going to lay ahead.

A&G is as large as Caputo‘s and most old school grocery stores before they became the size of mega-malls. When I first came in I saw the bakery on the right with lots of fresh bread baked in-house alongside bread from local vendors. The breads weren’t as heavy on traditional European styles; think more French and Italian style breads.  At first glance it seems as if half of the store is filled with their produce selection. Later on, you realize there’s a whole other half of the store with traditional grocery store goodies. Produce here is of good quality at good prices. It’s a mix of traditional, European and Latin vegetables. Sure, they sell watercrest instead of watercress, but I couldn’t tell a difference!

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I judge many markets by the quality of their radishes, and their watercrest

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

I could’ve shopped for my juice cleanse here for half the price!

A&G is a great spot for one-stop shopping. A busy deli counter with fresh ricotta, feta and mozzarella cheeses, smoked sausages, and good quality deli-meats. They carry a good amount of vacuum-packed smoked meats from local European markets in Chicago, like Bende and Andy’s Deli (both comin’ soon!).

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Prepackaged smoked meats from local Chicagoland markets

There’s also a fresh meat and seafood counter alongside a prepackaged meat (fresh) and seafood (frozen) area for those in a rush.

grocery gal a&G fresh market chicago

Who wants fajitas tonight?

There are two main staples I buy every time I come to A&G. Like I wrote, there’s an entire area for traditional groceries, but there’s also two different side areas: one for Latin foods, and one for Eastern-European ones. Both have lots of goodies in them!

First off, I’m a HUGE fan or Rick Bayless’ skillet sauces. My hands-down favorite is the New Mexico Red Chile sauce. We use it to season tofu for some mega yummy tofu tacos. Second favorite is the enchilada green sauce. I highly recommend both of them. They always have a good selection here, and often it’s on sale (bonus). I also beeline over to the refried bean aisle. Yep, there are so many choices, it seems to have it’s own aisle. About a year ago I tried red refried beans for the first time. There’s no lard and they’re from Guatemala. I go between two brands: the green can from Ducal or the red one from Malher. I usually buy whichever is cheaper, and there’s always at least 2 cans stocked in the Grocery Gal pantry.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market Chicago

Guatemalan red refried beans. Trust me, you’ll get hooked

After I get my fill of Latin foods, I head on over to Eastern Europe. Living on the northwest side of Chicago gives me a pretty good in to all that’s Eastern European, but I do stock up on some staples here. Until I moved to Jefferson Park, I would find myself paying $4-5 for some really good German pickles at some overpriced deli. Now I find ones just as yummy from a few different Polish brands at a fraction of the cost. I recommend Lowell’s Old Country Style Polish Dill Pickles (that’s a mouthful). They’re slightly sweet and the jar is filled with huge sprigs of dill and chunks of garlic, carrots, onion and mustard seed. The pickle juice is a perfect addition to your next bloody mary, too. There are lots of choices by many different brands, so if Lowell isn’t available, go for one with a bunch of extra goodness floating in the  jar.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Country style old world pickles. Y U M!

My stop at A&G was during baking season, and I was in need of some almond extract. Yeah, I could’ve spent $5 for some McCormick imitation almond extract in the baking aisle (that will take me an eternity to get through), or I can shop in the Eastern-Euro aisle at A&G and buy a small amount by Dr. Oeteker for only $0.99! No, I cannot read Polish, but the photos are pretty straight-forward enough. Though I’m not sure what daisy flavor is.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Tiny vials of baking extracts. Perfect size & price.

The rest of the store is like I wrote earlier, your typical grocery store. You can buy regular staples here at prices comparable to Jewel. The dairy/butter section is pretty straight forward with a few choice Eastern-Euro goodies.

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Never buy Boursin again! Perfect for bagels at breakfast or with crackers and wine in the evening!

One thing that never quite made it in the US is farmer’s cheese. I don’t know why, because it’s absolutely delicious when flavored and made into a spread. It’s like having a lighter version of Boursin. Almette is a hit every time I bring it out at my house. There are various flavors – from horseradish to pickle (I’m assuming that based on the product picture above) and mixed herbs. They’re all spectacular… and there’s other flavors, too. There aren’t a lot of preservatives in it (hooray) so be sure to check the expiration date on the bottom. As tempting as it is to buy one of every flavor, that’s a lot of farmer’s cheese to eat in 7 days. Space it out. Or plan to do a lot of entertaining!


I’ve noticed all my posts have required all my readers to have a set of wheels to get them to the recommended Grocery Gal destination. Today’s installment can be easily reached via the Red Line at the Argyle stop, or the Broadway bus, the 145 and 146, if those are still running. It’s a tucked away market in a very busy strip mall in Chicago’s Southeast Asian neighborhood near Broadway and Argyle, and it’s called Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

People from all over the midwest show up at Tai Nam on the weekends. Take the el or park on side streets when you go.

I lived in Uptown for well over ten years, and it was the both the diversity and history that made the area special to me. There are many more restaurants than markets on Argyle, and I was always a little intimated grocery shopping, because I couldn’t decipher the packaging. It’s a little easier for me to figure out what’s going on when the Latin alphabet is being used.  The markets were also rather pungent upon first entering.  It wasn’t until I took an amazing hands-on Vietnamese/Thai cooking class I had with Chef Rebecca Wheeler circa 2006-ish at Wooden Spoon in Andersonville when I understood which markets I needed to go into and what I needed to buy.

For those driving to Tai Nam, don’t even attempt to park in their parking lot. Or on Broadway. Especially if it’s the weekend. It’s a mess, so either walk, take the CTA, or park on a side street and take a walk there. Make the most out of it, checking out the next outdoor Vintage Garage Chicago event, grab some lunch (Dim Sum at Furama, Thai at Thai Pastry, Pho & Vietnamese pancake at Tank Noodle/Pho 777, or sandwiches at Ba-Le), and then head on over to Tai Nam.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sauces as far as the eye can see – and all at great prices

You can easily stock up on affordable sesame oil, Asian sauces, rice, rice noodles and canned baby corn for a perfect stir-fry at home. They also have a very busy butcher counter, live lobster and crab for a song, and self service fresh fish. The self service part still freaks me out a little; I have yet to buy some. However, the eyes always look clear, which means it’s fresh. One day, when I’m ready to take the plunge and pick my fish with tongs and put them in bag myself, instead of pointing and telling someone else to do it for me, I’ll be back. I’m just not there yet.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Self-serve fresh fish at Tai Nam market in Uptown

I have yet to purchase live lobster. $9.99 a pound seems like a ridiculously great price, but I can’t see myself steaming these guys in a big pot at home. If you’re a lobster-boiler, please send me a message and tell me if it’s really not as horrendous as it seems to be.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Live lobster for $9.99/lb.

What I DO come into Tai Nam for is fresh mint, Thai basil, lemon grass and Thai red chilies. The mint and basil are at unheard of prices. Making mint juleps? Grab a huge bag for mint for under $2. Three stalks of lemongrass for $.99! They also have pea shoots for $2 a bag and a bunch of super fresh Asian greens.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Bags and bags of fresh mint, Thai basil and many other goodies – most under $1.50 each.

What did I need Thai basil, lemongrass and fresh mint for? It’s all part of the most delicious Thai Beef Salad recipe below. I lost the recipe during a move, but the ladies at Wooden Spoon dug into their archives and emailed it to me. Check out their cooking classes, they’re always a great experience.

Yum Neua Fiery Beef Salad

Chef Rebecca Wheeler, Wooden Spoon Chicago.
Serves 4­-6 people

Dressing
2 tablespoons chopped Thai bird or Serrano chilies (about 4 chilies)
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Salad
1 pound skirt steak
2 large stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves discarded, lower stalk trimmed to 4 inches and finely sliced as thin as possible
1 small red onion, cut in half and finely sliced then roughly chopped to make approximately 1­inch pieces
1/2 pound small pickling cucumbers or regular cucumbers peeled and finely sliced
1 tomato cut into wedges (for garnish)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh Thai basil
A few leaves of leafy lettuce for garnish
1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional garnish)

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve palm sugar and combine. Set aside.

Let the meat come to room temperature before grilling. Dry the outside so there is no moisture and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on all sides. Preheat a grill or grill pan and grill the meat until it is medium rare. Allow the meat to rest before cutting about 15 to 20 minutes. Slice the meat against the grain at a 45­ degree angle in very thin slices. Slice in half again if needed so pieces are about 1 inch long, or bite size. Transfer the meat with any accumulated juices to a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining salad ingredients. Add the dressing and mix well. Let stand 15­-30 minutes before serving. Garnish a platter with the lettuce leaves and tomato wedges. Arrange the salad on top and top with bean sprouts and additional herb sprigs if desired. Serve at room temperature. If you refrigerating for use at a later time allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: To reduce the level of spiciness, remove the seeds from the chilies or omit the chilies altogether.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Shopping for some good luck.

Grocery Gal - Tai Nam Vietnamese Thai market in Uptown

Sweets of the gummy variety are pretty popular.

Tai Nam Food Market. 4925 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-275-5666.