Where to begin? I am pretty sure I first tried Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa in 1997. I was vacationing in Albuquerque and took a walk to the neighborhood grocery store, because I knew there had to be something local and delicious that I’d never find in Chicago. At this time, my palate for heat was pretty minimal, so I kept it simple and looked for salsas. While I liked the new flavors of traditional New Mexican red or green chile, I couldn’t handle the heat without adding loads of sour cream (side note: fortunately, my tolerance for heat expanded, and my need for sour cream diminished.). A green jar with a dancing cartoon red chile on front caught my eye. It proudly announced that it was a blue medal winner at the New Mexico State Fair, so I knew it would be my purchase: Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa.

Grocery Gal Merlie's Salsa Mail Order New Mexico Label

Original and New Labels

Fast forward almost 17, yes, 17 years later, and Merlie’s is still the only salsa I’ll buy. Granted, my salsa needs have diminished over the past few years, but I’m still a very faithful customer. Why? Well, once you’ve had green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico, you realize nothing else compares. Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa is just filled with green chilies — so many that it’s the first item on the ingredients list.

Grocery Gal Blog Merlie's Blue Ribbon Hatch Green Chile salsaSpeaking of ingredients, it’s Merlie’s homemade recipe that makes her salsa just the best: Green chilies from Hatch New Mexico, jalapeños, tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt and spices. Everyone who has tried her salsa (and I ration it out pretty sparingly to my guests) always raves about the fresh taste, and how it tastes like no other salsa they’ve tried before. That’s exactly why I send Merlie an email approximately every 9 months to order my case of hot salsa for $77 over so many years. That’s a little over $6 for a jar of insanely delicious salsa. An important note: this salsa is ONLY for eating. This is not something you’d put in a layered dip, add to a dish, or season meat or tofu in. It’s so good it should only be eaten straight out of the jar with chips, in a taco, or even a spoon!

Grocery Gal Merlie's Salsa Mail Order New Mexico DeliveryI’ve always wanted to find a boutique grocery store to carry Merlie’s salsa in Chicago. It’s just that good. Maybe a grocer like Gene’s Sausage Shop, Paulina Market or even Harvestime Foods come across this write up and give Merlie’s a try. I’d love to see more people in Chicago get introduced to this amazing salsa.

I wish I could make it out to Albuquerque to meet Merlie in person. However, I feel like her and I are old pals though my regular orders. Once, she suggested I add a jar or two of her Blue Ribbon Green Chile to my order and it was just delicious. More often than not, red and green chile is enjoyed fresh in people’s homes and isn’t available canned. Merlie’s Green Chile helps bring that taste of New Mexico to anyone in the US. I think the green chile probably goes best with chicken, but since my husband is a vegetarian, I’ve held off on buying some in my last order. But wait… I could put it in some cheese enchiladas — what was I thinking?

Merlie’s products are very well packaged. Over all the years I’ve ordered from her, I’ve never had a jar break on me. She jars are well packed, along with a second layer of packing peanuts to make it safely to Chicago.

If you’re not ready to commit to buying an entire case of Merlie’s Blue Ribbon Salsa, don’t fret – she also offers starter packs that include 2 jars of salsa and 2 jars of canned green chile for only $35 which includes shipping. You can also just split a case with a friend or two. Your choices come in Medium or Hot, because there’s no such thing as mild in New Mexican cooking.

Grocery Gal Merlie's Salsa Mail Order New Mexico Green ChileMerlie’s Blue Ribbon Chile and Salsa. 888-873-3966.

 

 


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!

Grocery Gal Bende Speciality Direct Hungarian FoodsI’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.

Grocery Gal Bende German mustardGermans 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.

Grocery Gal Bende German mustardMany 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.

grocerygal-bende-purplebeansBut, 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.Grocery Gal Bende schnappsAfter 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.

Grocery Gal find Koenemann Sausage at BendeGrocery Gal Bende Deli Head CheeseGrocery Gal shops at BendeAs 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.Grocery Gal Bende Smoked RibsGrocery Gal Bende Smoked Deli MeatsI 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.

Grocery Gal Bende smoked meatEven 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.

Grocery Gal Bende Smoked TenderloinBende’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.


If you live in Chicago there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Co-op Sauce – a locally made hot sauce that benefits Chicago youth – offered at many different restaurants. They offer a number of varieties including The Barrel, Green Mash-ine, Too Hot, and my favorite, probably the mildest in their bunch, Poblano. While you can buy their sauces at stores such as Gene’s Sausage Shop, Paulina Market and Whole Foods, I like to stop at Sauce and Bread Kitchen in Rogers Park to buy directly from the source.

SBK is a collaboration of Co-op Sauce and Crumb Chicago, and is located on Clark at Devon. They have a wonderful bakery and cafe, where each table features at least 6 varieties of Co-op’s hot sauces to try.

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKThis is the place to find all of Co-op’s sauce varieties, along with some locally sourced foods.

grocerygal-coop-miscWhen I go, I always pick up 2-3 bottles of the poblano sauce. They often have limited edition sauces that I think are only available at SBK.  Their hot sauces use real ingredients you can understand on the label – and they’re full of flavor, not just heat. These are also great gifts – I brought a bottle of their Rum Barrel Hot Sauce to a rum fanatic friend when I went to visit. It’s a nice, unique souvenir from Chicago.

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKGrocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKI bet the Peppers in a Bottle sauce would go great with a Jibarito! That and the Poblano Mustard will be on my next to-buy list!

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKSBK partners with local farms to bring interesting flavors to their cafe menu, and also for sale such as Morel & Leek Jack cheese. So, if you’re in the Rogers Park neighborhood, stop in a SBK, grab a bite to eat, perhaps locally made pickled vegetables or whatever else they’re featuring in their market, along with a few bottles of Co-op’s Hot Sauce for you and a friend.

Sauce & Bread Kitchen. 6338 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660. 773-942-6384


If you grew up in Illinois anywhere near the Wisconsin, there’s a good chance you heard of Mars’ Cheese Castle. It meant you were on I-94, had just passed through Kenosha, and were en route to Milwaukee. However, tucked next to the huge CHEESE CASTLE sign (and newly constructed castle), is a true gem worthy of a visit: Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop.

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Cheese Shop

Pass the castle and come to Bobby Nelson’s

While I didn’t have a chance to learn more about Bobby Nelson’s history, it was still love at first sight. I felt like I was visiting the original Meyer Delicatessen in Lincoln Square (before it became Gene’s Sausage Shop) or a brighter Erickson’s Deli in Andersonville. There was a definite Scandinavian-meets-German feel to the place.

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisonsin CheeseInside was just heaven for me. While there’s a huge cheese selection at Woodman’s (and I’m sure Mars’ Cheese Castle), Bobby Nelson’s had more specialty cheeses, making it worth the trip for true Cheese foodies. With only $20 in my pocket, I had to ration my choices. I narrowed my cheese selection to a Roth Käse Horseradish-Chive Havarti that was out of this world! They had the staples of cheese curds and summer sausages, just not in touristy packaging. The hand-lettered signage on the wall announcing their 100% pure home made sausages made me cave in and buy a summer sausage. The woman working at the counter said the garlic sausage was the way to go; I eagerly nodded and asked for one. Those two items, along with a landjäger for the ride home put me back a little under $20. It was all worth every penny.

grocerygal-bobbynelson-cheeseIn addition to a nice variety of cheese, smoked sausages and brats, they offered a lot of local jellies, sauces and pickled products. While I don’t think I’d be picking up any turkey gizzards or pork hocks anytime soon, I wondered how a pickled egg would taste in a bloody mary. Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisconsin Cheese PickledNext time you see the sign, be sure to get off the highway and stop in to select what you deem the perfect Wisconsin experience (minus the beer!).

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisconsin cheese

Wisconsin knows how to do Neon right

How good was it? Well, I had to try a bite of that delicious horseradish-chive havarti before I could even take the photo!  And the summer sausage? Probably the best and only summer sausage I’ll ever have again. I’m normally not a fan of summer sausage (not dry enough), but this was just perfect. It’s worth the road trip. Just let me know when you’re going, so I can tag along.

Bobby Nelson Grocery Gal Summer Sausage

Bobby Nelson’s Garlic Summer Sausage – yum

Bobby Nelson Cheese Shop. 2924 120th Ave. Kenosha, WI 53144. 262-859-2232


A few months ago, a Chicago startup contacted me to ask if I would try and review their product. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Relished, and gushed about their meal service to my Grocery Gal fans. More recently, they rebranded themselves as Home Chef, and I heard meals were available with many more dietary options.

My husband is a pescetarian and for years we’ve eaten vegetarian food for the majority of our meals. Recently, I’ve found I needed to remove gluten and soy from my diet, which had made making dinner together challenging at times, to say the least. So what’s a Grocery Gal to do? Call Home Chef to the rescue!

Home Chef now offers eight unique meals each week. Whereas previously I had to ask them to substitute meat with fish, they now cater to both traditional and specific diets including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. I can set up my account for these restrictions, including general foods I just don’t prefer, like pork. They also offer fully organic meals for $1 more a meal.

Home Chef Grocery Gal

Dietary concerns are easily identified at a glance

Another improvement is including the measurements on the recipe cards. While this is great for spices, beans and starches, I’d still like to see it for the vegetables, too. There can be such a wide variety of sizes when it comes to a head of cauliflower or a red pepper, it would be nice to know how much is too much.

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Recipe cards now include measurements and dietary restrictions.

There’s so much to love about Home Chef.

I love that I don’t have to think. Those who know me know how I get shit done, so it’s nice not to have to worry about dinner for once.  What to cook? Do we have all the ingredients? Oh crap, do I need to stop at the store? It’s all there, ready to go. Why, thank you, Home Chef!

I love that the meals are often prepared in less than 30 minutes. My husband whipped up the Mahi-Mahi en Papillote for him and his son one evening.  They loved the tasty meal, and he loved the easy cleanup.

I also love how they list the ingredients for each meal on their website. I’m a sucker for roasted cauliflower, and wanted to try their Garlic Cauliflower Steak recipe — but it wasn’t listed as gluten free. I saw couscous and breadcrumbs were the culprits, so I ordered the meal and substituted with quinoa when I made it.

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Best of both worlds: I modified Home Chef’s Cauliflower Steaks recipe to make it both vegetarian and gluten free.

I love the value of Home Chef. Most meals are $9.95 a serving, which is still an amazing deal. The week of my delivery, my schedule was a little more hectic than usual. The ground bison in the organic bison tacos meal (my favorite of the delivery) was still frozen when the package arrived, so I put it in the freezer and created the vegetarian version for the entire family that night. Hooray! Another meal where all dietary restrictions were met!

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Bison tacos sans bison. I’ll use the bison next time!

If I’m gushing so much about Home Chef’s meal delivery service, I should be honest about the very few things I’d like to see them improve upon. One is to include the measurements of the vegetables. I think the Garlic Cauliflower Steaks recipe could have been even more delicious had I know how many of the leftover cauliflower florets should’ve been left over. 1/4 cup? 1 cup? I chose the latter and it was the wrong choice. My sauce ended up being  a consistency of red mashed potatoes while the beautiful yellow sauce in the recipe card’s photograph mocked me.  The meal was still yummy, but I know it could’ve been even better if I could make the sauce correctly. I think there also needs to be a better editing process to the recipe cards. I’ve seen errors, omissions and sometimes things don’t make sense. Hey, Home Chef, let me be your editor/test kitchen!

Overall, I love Home Chef; it’s an great value and service for busy people, aspiring cooks and people with dietary restrictions, like me, who don’t want to be using corn tortillas in 85% of their meals because they can’t think of what to cook after a long day of work. Maybe now I’ll be able to bring that percentage down to 50%.

Home Chef. Find them on Facebook, too.

 

 


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.


I love food. I’m definitely more of a savory person than a sweet one, but who doesn’t love something sweet once in a while? I heard about Nutwhats, an Arizona based company that uses green chile and beer in their sweets and I just had to try it!

They offer two types of products: a traditional Nutwhat Britty which similar to a traditional brittle, but with much more exciting taste combinations like Pecan, Almond, Cinna Walnut Oat and Jalapeno Beer. The Green Chile Beer Britty had the perfect hint of green chile with the peanuts; and the beer made it not too sweet. It was just perfect. You can taste the butter without it being too overwhelming.

Grocery Gal Nutwhats Bitty  Brittle

Just a sampling of the Nutwhats choices

The more sweet confection in their offering is Scribbles. The ingredients in the incredible Cashew Coconut scribble seems simple enough: cashews, coconut, sugar, sweet cream butter, Belgian dark chocolate, sea salt, pure vanilla, but I don’t think I could ever come up with something this tasty on my own. I’m normally not a milk chocolate fan, but the type they’re using in their Peanut Pretzel Scribble super-deluxe enough for my dark-chocolate palate.

Grocery Gal Nutwhats Bitty  Scribble

Their Scribble secret is Belgian chocolate

Nutwhats Britty and Scribbles taste like they were made by hand with a lot of love. I liked having something sweet that was heavily nut-based where I would happily eat each ingredient on its own.

Nutwhats grocery gal bitty brittle scribble

Photo courtesy of Nutwhats

If you’re a Grocery Gal fan living in Arizona, go pick these up at specialty grocery stores. For those of us in Chicagoland, we’re limited to mail order at this time.

Nutwhats. 1.855.688.9428


Mother’s Day is coming up. This will be my 11th Mother’s Day without my mom, but I still think of her every day. She would love to go downtown with me and window shop on the Magnificent Mile. If she was still here today, I know we’d want to spend part of Mother’s Day eating some great food and enjoying wine at Eataly.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Welcome to food heaven

Eataly opened in Chicago around Thanksgiving. Friends messaged me, asking if I wanted to see it with them. An entire mega-store food-court filled with imported Italian foods and wines? A Dean and Deluca on steroids? Two floors of food goodness that took over an EPSN Zone? I’m in!

I first went on a Saturday at 6pm a few weeks after it opened. It was total chaos! I thought Fresh Farms on a Saturday was insane; it was nothing compared to Eataly’s crowds. I tried to forget the crowds and focus on what was in front of me: rows and rows of pasta, wines, cheeses, jellies, fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh truffles, freshly made mozzarella??? It’s a culinary overload and I didn’t really know where to go first.

I’ll be blunt. Eataly is expensive. They have two locations in the US, some in Japan, Istanbul, Dubai and a handful in Italy. When Japan and Dubai are in the mix, you know you’re not going to have bargain basement prices.  Amazing fresh bread that was… $6 a loaf? I’ll pass. However, I did find a nice 4 pack of jams for $9 that go with cheese and crackers that I’ll likely purchase somewhere else (like Caputo‘s).

The everyday food, including fresh fish counter, are really for those high rollers who don’t flinch when they see a sushi grade tuna for $29/lb. I wanted to pass out Grocery Gal cards telling passers by they could get the same exact quality of tuna at Fresh Farms for literally half that price. Farmed raised salmon for $15??? Pfft. Fresh Farms offers two types of wild salmon lower than that price. too.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Nice looking, but overpriced, fresh fish

So, why am I writing about Eataly if I’m dissing on the prices? Eataly is more about the experience than a place to buy groceries at. This is the place I want to meet my friends at, grab a table, some wine and a plate of snacks. I’ll recommend anyone visiting the city to stop in for a drink. It is chaotic, but it’s brilliant at the same time. The second time I stopped in at Eataly was at 4pm on a Thursday. It was like the quiet before the storm, and it was perfect.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

If I still worked downtown I’d be bellying up to one of these every week.

If I was in Italy, I would’ve sat at the bar alone, had a nice afternoon Prosecco and maybe a small cheese plate. Instead, I wanted to get home to my family, so I grabbed a few slices of focaccia to go. They wrapped up the slices in paper just like in Italy. In the seven plus times I’ve visited the country, I’ve never had focaccia better than what I had at Chicago’s Eataly. The bread/crust had a bite to it that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. They bake all their bread onsite in brick ovens; if their $6 loaf of bread tasted this good, then it was probably worth it. A slice of marghertia and squash/ricotta focaccia set me back $6, and was totally worth every penny.

Grocery Gal Focaccia eataly chicago

Grab multiple flavors of focaccia to go

You can easily get lost inside Eataly. The place is so huge they offer maps when you walk in. On that quiet Thursday afternoon I stumbled upon areas that I never even knew existed: the meat take-away, preserved condiments and tomatoes & sauces. I knew those areas would just take me to the financial dark side, so I slowly exited the area until I found myself at the Salumi & Formaggi station.

grocery gal blog eataly chicago

food porn eataly style

I think I sighed out loud when first saw the cheese counter with the various smoked meats dangling from the ceiling. I knew my mom would’ve loved this. Combined, we would’ve spent too much money, consumed too many calories and laughed about it all over glasses of Valpolicella. Since we were in Eataly, I could convince her to forgo her usual (insert hand rub) Chardonnay. What a great way to spend a Mother’s Day, right?

I miss my mom dearly, but I think about whenever I’m searching for delicious, interesting food at the best price possible. Her influence is what made me Grocery Gal. And it’s not all about the good deal; it’s also about enjoying life with my loved ones. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Eataly Chicago Market. 43 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611. 312-521-8700. Open 7 days 10am-11pm. You can sneak in at 8am for coffee.


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 have to apologize for the influx of Lincoln Square posts recently. The neighborhood is filled with some really good gems, which explains why, despite the stroller influx, it still holds a warm place in my heart. Today’s installment is where I find myself shopping for loose-leaf tea. Yes, there are some pretty extensive boutique tea shops in the Chicagoland area, but when I want tea, I head on over to Julius Meinl in Lincoln Square. In February I stopped by before my Chef Martin sausage making class and was disappointed to see them closed at 6pm. Hopefully those were just winter hours and they’ll be open later now that spring is here.

Grocery Gal Julius Meinl Lincoln Square

At the corner of Lincoln and Montrose. Unfortunately they close at 3pm weekdays.

What makes Meinl so special? Well, being half Austrian is one reason, and another parlays off of studying abroad in Vienna during college. The Julius Meinl am Graben is a foodie’s paradise alongside places like Zum Schwarzen Kameel and Trzesniewski. They are all in walking distance from the place I will forever stay at: Pension Nosek. Whoops, sorry for the travelosity digression. Long story short, when Meinl came to Chicago in 2002 I became a loyal, but infrequent, customer. I’m not a huge coffee person, so when I stop in it’s often for a special occasion.

grocerygal-meinl-coffeeMy drink of choice at Meinl is a melange; a Viennese coffee drink which is something between a cappuccino and a latte. They sprinkle some cocoa on top as a final touch. It’s not the same experience when ordering it to go. When I do order one, I try to sit down at a table for the full Viennese experience which includes a glass of water and ginger cookie on top of a silver tray. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to sit down this visit.

Meinl offers a nice variety of coffees, teas and jams. I don’t buy the coffee, only because I can’t replicate the melange experience at home. What I do stock up on are the teas, which come in a variety of flavors, running in a $3-$6 price point. My two favorites are the Silver Cloud white tea and the Vanilla Rooibos. The rooibos has a decadent dessert-like flavor and is naturally zero calories – just perfect.

Julius Meinl Grocery Gal tea

The color of the Meinl boy explains the type of tea it is: fruit, rooibos, white tea, black tea

You’re probably wondering, so what, it’s tea, I can get that anywhere, right? Well, not quite. While I didn’t have time to sit and enjoy a melange, I did take a peek at what makes Meinl a favorite for my father and so many others: the dessert case. Meinl does one of the best jobs for creating authentic Viennese pastries in Chicago. Growing up, my family helped to keep the Vienna Pastry Shop on Addison and Long in business. When they closed down years ago, we struggled to find something comparable. People tried to turn us on to Oak Mill Bakery, but it wasn’t the same. While very pricey, the Meinl Patisserie makes wonderful pastries, perfect for pairing with a melange, cappuccino, pot of tea or even a regular ole coffee. If you are looking to feed a larger group, Cafe Vienna in Lincoln Park also makes great Viennese-style pastries at a lower price point. I’ve only had Cafe Vienna’s pastries; I have yet to try their melange. If money is not an object, you can enjoy Meinl’s pastries in full size cake sizes, too.

Julius Meinl Pastries Lincoln Square Grocery Gal

More than just strudel…

If you don’t have a huge sweet tooth, their granola is also a good option. It’s available in bags and in to-go parfaits for breakfast.

grocerygal-meinl-granolaI highly recommend buying your tea, coffee, jam or granola as an entire Julius Meinl experience. Whether that is simply a melange or pot of tea on its own, paired with a delicious pastry, or part of a full meal during brunch or lunch (their menu is spectacular), you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And hopefully you’ll see why I buy all my loose-leaf teas here. In addition to Lincoln Square, they have one at location at Southport and Addison; it’s their original coffeehouse.  A downtown location perfect for tourists should be opening soon at 211 E. Ontario. I know I’ll be recommending my out-of-town guests to stop in as they’re hanging out on the Magnificent Mile. Hmm, that’s a short walk from Eataly. I wonder if Meinl plans to take it up a notch and have more food for sale like their Vienna flagship Meinl Am Graben? I can’t wait to find out!

Julius Meinl on Lincoln. 4363 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618. 773-868-1876. Open 7 days, but call for hours.