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.


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 received my first media pass for Grocery Gal to attend the International Home & Housewares Show, compliments of Chicago Food Bloggers and Hamilton Beach.  This is where companies both large and small showcase their products in three huge halls at McCormick Place in Chicago, and I was like a kid in a candy store with no cash. I asked many companies where their products were located, a surprising amount told me Bed Bath and Beyond. Ugh. I normally avoid that store like the plague, but I might need do dig out a 20% mailer, don some sunglasses and a hat, and stop in. My new favorite show, Broad City, seems to have a love affair with the store, too.

I digress.

The trade show was filled with color and so many crazy new products that made me want to experiment more in the kitchen and share my successful recipes with my Grocery Gal fans. I got excited over the possibilities a food dehydrator could give me!

And I’ve finally convinced myself I must save up my pennies for my dream kitchen accessory – a Kitchenaid mixer. I always thought it was a lazy person’s tool, but now I’m obsessed with them. I keep on checking eBay for vintage ones, while the shiny new Pistachio and Ice colors keep trying to reign me in. If you have anything to share about vintage versus new (I’ve heard the motors are better on the older ones), please share them below. I was hoping to snap a few pictures of some of the more obnoxious booths, but those surprisingly didn’t allow me to take photos. Enjoy some show highlights…

Kitchen Aid Mixers Grocery Gal

Torn between the pistachio and the ice

Grocery Gal Mad Millie

Next to the Kitchenaid Mixer, this is the 2nd item on my wishlist

Grocery Gal spots Pantone colored carafes

I’m a sucker for anything Pantone

Grocery Gal finds Moscow Mule copper mugs at the international housewares show

If it ever stops snowing in Chicago, it’ll be time for some Moscow Mules

Grocery Gal finds Peeps at International Home & Housewares show in Chicago

Peeps are fascinating. But I would never, ever, ever eat one.


I don’t think I’ve gone into details on my love of cheese, but it’s pretty well known amongst my friends. I pack lightly when visiting Europe to make sure there’s enough room to fill it with deliciously stinky Vorarlberger Bergkäse; essential for making may family’s Austrian Kasspätzele recipe at home. Yes, I’m pretty serious about my cheese.

I always knew Caputos markets carried their own line of cheese, but little did I know they had an entire store dedicated to cheese. Their Melrose Park location is easily accessible off North Avenue. I stopped in after work one day and found another Grocery Gal recommendation.

Grocery Gal Caputo's Cheese marketThere’s definitely three parts to the store. A nondescript warehouse area where you can buy dried goods on the cheap, a bakery where you can order sandwiches and pizza, and of course, the cheese shop. The Caputo family must be associated with the Roland brand; there were tons of products from them. I bought a jar of Roland brand balsamic jam, perfect on crackers and, of course, cheese. Y U M! On my most recent visit they had a good display of gluten-free items.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputo's Cheese Market

Caputo’s Cheese Market is more than just cheese

Grocery Gal Caputos Cheese Market

Sea salt – both coarse and fine – for 99¢

You take a little ramp through the warehouse and past the bakery to get to the cheese area. It’s filled with the essentials – cheese and wine. There’s a fresh deli and a meat counter for Italian sausages. I always stock up on some fresh mozzarella and look to see what looks interesting if I don’t come for a specific cheese need.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Behold, the cheese market

They have some white and sparkling wine available in a cooler, making this a great stop if you’re on your way to a party. Grab some cheese, some vino, salami and fresh bread from the bakery, all doable for under $25.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

What looks good today?

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Different levels of spiciness

If you’re looking for a more substantial dinner item, they have a frozen section with pasta and homemade pasta sauces. Having friends that eat gluten free, I captured some ravioli options for them to try.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Gluten free ravioli in the freezer case

While they don’t carry any Austrian cheeses, they did carry some Swiss Raclette which I tried. When I brought it home and shredded it, husband complained that the kitchen smelled like feet. In cheese code that means it’s a perfect choice for spätzele. Don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like feet.

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese MarketThe cheese selections seem to mostly be from Europe. There’s a small amount of domestic cheeses, but not much outside the Caputo’s brand. This is a store to go to with friends. The cheeses are in large chunks, so it can add up quickly if you want to try a bunch of different things. The prices are good; but the chunks of cheese are huge. If you can split some choices with friends you definitely will get more variety.

What brought me into Caputo’s this most recent time was for some fondue cheese. Yes, I could shred different swiss cheeses and add some wine to it, but I’ve got limited time. I wanted the package of Swiss fondue with the cheese and brandy all in one convenient package.  I had stopped at Mariano’s the day before and hesitantly picked up a package for $14.99. I checked at Caputo’s – same size package, also from Switzerland with the same ingredients,  was only $8.99!

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Mariano’s $14.99, Caputo’s $8.99

My only regret is that I only bought one package of Fondue cheese at Caputo’s. Next time I’m driving by, I’ll pick up two, because the recipe below was just too good not to have again in the near future. And adding the tomatoes to it really lightened up the entire recipe. I didn’t feel as if I had to go immediately to bed, like fondue usually makes me feel.

This recipe was adapted from Vegetarian Times.

Provencal Fondue – A lighter, easier and quick way to enjoy fondue

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (chop the tomatoes even further)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. mixed dried herbs (I used Thyme, Oregano and Basil)
  • 1 package packaged Cheese Fondue from Switzerland
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (bonus, but not necessary)

Suggested Dippers

  • Fresh baguette cubes
  • Fresh broccoli, cauliflower and red pepper cut into bite size pieces.

Heat oil in fondue pot or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion. Cover, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened. Add tomatoes, garlic, dried herbs; bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Add the package of cheese fondue and mix well together. If using extra fresh cheese, add it in. Cook until it bubbles. Serve!

So if it’s a party for one or for a huge group, stop at Caputo’s Cheese Market for all your snacky-treat needs. The prices are great, but the cheese portions are large, so divide and conquer with friends for the biggest variety.

Caputos Cheese Market. 1931 N. 15th Ave. Melrose Park. 708-450-0469. Monday – Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 8am-5pm, Sunday 8am-4pm. www.CaputosCheeseMarket.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!


As Grocery Gal, I love to entertain friends and there’s always good food and drink aplenty at my house. How do I do it? As you’ve already read, I’m all about getting great quality food at outstanding prices. But that’s not just for food – it goes for drinks as well. Wine Discount Center has been open for twenty plus years, and I’ve been a faithful shopper for at least the past ten of them. When I was without a car for a few months, I filled side saddle bags – 6 to a side – on my bike. Don’t worry, I didn’t pedal down Ashland – my biggest pet peeve – and I made it all the way home without any casualties.  I’ve told everyone about this place, but only a handful have actually gone over to Elston Avenue to stop in and see what all my gushing was about. Those who have been just keep going back.

The hesitation some people have to visit had to one of the reasons why Wine Discount Center rebranded themselves a few months back to Vin Chicago. Were fancy folks too turned off by a place called Wine Discount Center? Must’ve been. Not Grocery Gal!

Grocery Gal - Vin Chicago - Wine Discount Center

Great selection, super informative and great prices.

Grocery Gal - Vin Chicago - Wine Discount Center

Yes, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a little harder for me to make it over to Vin now, so when I do stop in, it’s stock up central. They have multiple locations not only in Chicago, but also Highland Park, Barrington and Naperville.  This most recent visit was to stock up on my everyday F A V O R I T E wine that knocked my socks off for the price at Bin 36 a few years back. Bodegas Castano. Now, please. Don’t go buying up all the cases without saving any for me. The name change must be working for Vin, because normally when I come in they have cases of Castano in the back, but this time all they had left were the 30 bottles on display. You can go buy Castano at a few other places, but no where else will you find it for under $7. Since you’re going to be saving money from shopping at all the other grocery stores I’ve told you about, please leave the Castano at Vin for me.

But what about special occasion wines? Vin has it. What I love about Vin over any other wine shop is the tasting notes they provide for every bottle. As a graphic designer I have been guilty of judging a wine by it’s label, but I the experts at Vin help me narrow down my choices. I don’t do well with tannins – on the tasting notes? I’ll pass. I want a Pinot Noir, but a full one, and not a light one. Got it. I picked up some special wine (read: more than $10/bottle) for Christmas dinner at my house, along with a hearty mimosa stock-up of Cava for under $7 a bottle for weekend brunches at home. My recommendation – use apricot nectar instead of orange juice! I’ll tell you where to get it real soon!

Grocery Gal - Vin Chicago - Wine Discount Center

Best find of the year = bottle in my cart

I’m a little hesitant to reveal another cool feature at Vin, but I’m feeling a little generous today. They have a killer back room of closeouts and clearances. For some reason, Austrian wine hasn’t become super popular in the Chicagoland area, so as a first-generation American with Austrian heritage, I usually snap all they have up. They had a few remaining bottles of my favorite Grüner Veltliner – Lois – perfect with sushi, Indian or Ethiopian food. It’s wasn’t marked on clearance, but the retail price of $10.99 beats the $15.99 I’ve seen other places, and $36 at restaurants. If you like clean, crisp and mineral-y wines, buy some Grüner Veltliner stat. Newer vintages are cleaner tasting, while older ones (which are usually more expensive) have more of a buttery taste.

So the damage this time was $311. But what did that equal? 30 bottles of wine! Do the math. Go to Vin Chicago… Wine Discount Center… whatever you want to call it. Just go. But keep the last case of Castano for me, please.

Vin Chicago. 1826 N. Elston Avenue, Chicago. 773-489–3454. Open 7 days. www.vinchicago.com


I’m not a procrastinator; most people know I get shit done. However, for the past two years I’ve been talking about writing a blog about all the crazy grocery stores I drive all over Chicago to find. With all the overeating that’s going to be happening over the holidays, I thought this is as good of a time as any to tell you where you should really be buying your chocolate-filled advent calendars, oysters and fig jam from.

I love food. But it’s beyond that. I love GOOD food. I’m first generation American and all that crusty bread, cured sausages and rosehip jam I took for granted as a kid has helped me be a great entertainer and cook.  I love an adventure. There’s a grocery store where I can’t understand any of the window signage? I’m in. Finally, I love a great deal. I’m not cheap – I will pay for good quality.  I really enjoy finding that $6.98 bottle of Castano (watch for an upcoming post) when you paid $10 for it at Binny’s.

Hope you enjoy all that’s to come.

Cheers,

Grocery Gal