When I first moved to Chicago almost 20 years ago, I fell in love with in Lincoln Square. It was a little one way slice of Germany on Lincoln Avenue with a great Oktoberfest that made me love living in the city. I would visit a friend who lived in an apartment near the cul-de-sac at Giddings Plaza. We’d spend Sundays at the Hüttenbar eating Snackmaster snacks with my Spaten. Despite the hipster influx over the past few years, it’s still one of my favorite bars in all of Chicago.
There were little shops selling figurines and magazines which made me think of my Grandma in Austria, whom I’d visit whenever I could score a cheap $400 flight in the winter for a long weekend. Yes, back in the day you could fly to Europe on the cheap. I would grab a ticket inside Meyer Delicatessen, excited for my turn to ask one of the ladies behind in the counter if the Leberkäs was still warm, in German. It has only been a few years since studying abroad in Vienna, so I didn’t want my German to get rusty. Years later, there are more strollers in Lincoln Square than German speakers, but the area is still part of a wonderful German experience, thanks in part to Gene’s Sausage Shop.
I remember being sad when Meyer Delicatessen closed down. It was the only true German store I knew of in Chicago. Sure, you can get a ton of European foods at all the Eastern Euro shops on the NW side of Chicago, but they didn’t carry Oblatten for my mom’s date Christmas cookies, hot Leberkäs on Saturdays or Lebkuchen at Christmastime. It took Gene’s a long time to open up, but when they did it was a true gourmet experience. They went all out to design a store that’s beautiful, and I think I sighed out loud when I saw they saved the original delicatessen sign and gave it a prominent display up the grand stairwell.
It seems to me that everyone who lives East of California raves about the smoked meats at Gene’s Sausage Shop. They do smoke all their own sausages in house, and offer a pretty big selection. However, you’re much better off heading farther west to places like Montrose Deli for a better tasting sausage at a cheaper price. Gene’s sausages, to me, seem to be missing the extra flavor that other delis (coming soon to Grocery Gal) offer. Here, you’re paying for convenience and a beautiful space.
When I do come to Gene’s, it’s for specialty items. On this visit, it was for some Austrian Schnapps, which is rather difficult to find in the city. This isn’t the schnapps that you knew as a college kid; it’s a distilled spirit made from fruit, is a great digestive and is just wonderful. My favorite is a Williams Pear. I can’t wait until the day Chicago distillery Koval offers a traditional Obstler or Williams (hint, hint). This is the perfect after dinner drink, especially after a filling dinner. You sip it; don’t slam it.
Gene’s also has a great beer selection: German/Austrian, Eastern European (since the original Gene’s is located on Belmont near Central), Craft Beers and old reliables like PBR and Schlitz. I was excited to even see cases of the mini Rhinelander bottles – a perfect beer back to a Bloody Mary.
A fan of German chocolates and sweets? They have my favorite, Topkuss; marshmallows in a hard chocolate shell. Yes, they do look like the ghosts from Pacman… and they’re delicious at the same time.
My purchases at Gene’s are rather limited, but I consider Gene’s a part of the whole Lincoln Square experience. They would make the original Meyer Delicatessen proud: they do offer warm Leberkäs, alongside the many other premade foods available at both Gene’s locations every day of the week. However, you will have better luck speaking Polish here than German.
I treat Lincoln Square as an overall experience – this post is not just about Gene’s. I would say I shop at Merz Apothecary more regularly than I do Gene’s. I admire the German bath oils, and find myself stocking up on Swiss-made combs for $5 and natural bristle toothbrushes from Germany. Their pharmacist will recommend homeopathic options for almost anything, and I have yet to be disappointed. They keep it to real European styles: they close promptly at 6pm and are closed Sundays.
I took these images one evening before heading to a cooking class at the DANK Haus. It’s the German American cultural center in Chicago. If you’re looking for a little more German culture in your life, they offer German language classes, cooking classes, concerts and speakers. They have a beautiful Skyline Lounge that is available to rent, and should be open on Friday evenings. The view is killer.
While it’s not European, there are two other stores worth noting in Lincoln Square. Tigerlilie Salon is an amazing salon which specializes in vintage hairstyles. Not into vintage? Don’t worry – they do a spectacular job with any style cut or color. A new spice store called Savory is a great place to find individual spices, but what makes them special is their spice mixes and gift packs. They’ll be featured on Grocery Gal soon, too.
I always will love Lincoln Square. I do plan on spending more time at Gene’s this summer. Last year they opened up a rooftop Biergarten, and which is on my “to do” list. After a winter as long as this has been, I foresee it being on a lot of other people’s “to-do” lists, too.
Gene’s Sausage Shop. 4750 N Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL (773) 728-7243. Mon-Sat: 9am-8pm, Sun: 9am-4pm.