Fresh Farms on Devon and I go way back. I’m talking previous life back. Back when I lived closer to the lake in my early Sheridan Park days. Those days it was hard to find anything decent for produce other than Whole Foods, and in doing so, you’d have to forfeit your mortgage payment for the month.

Fresh Farms is located on Devon Avenue at Rockwell, along the South Asian corridor from Ridge to California in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The storefronts along Devon offer everything from saris to buffets; spices to universal cell phones before they became commonplace. It’s a sensory overload, but please, avoid actually driving on Devon at all costs. You’ll probably break the horn on your car or wreck it trying to parallel park.

On Sundays long ago, I would ride my bike the almost 4 miles to get some produce. Well, let me be honest here. I would ride the 4 miles taking in the beautiful octagonal jumbo bungalows with their original stained-glass windows and tile roofs. I’d lock up my bike and head to the now-closed Ghandi restaurant for their amazing $7 Sunday buffet. Then I’d waddle across the street, belly full of samosas and sizzling hot tandoori chicken, and fill my cart with cheap, great quality produce.  Ten plus years later, the produce is still super fresh, and those bungalows are just as gorgeous.

Fast forward to present day life. After a weekend in Texas, my husband and I came home feeling blah. We might’ve caught something on the plane, but decided to try a 3 Day Juice Cleanse to make ourselves feel better. We’ve never done something like this before, but it seemed easy enough to do and, because I’m Grocery Gal, I knew just where to get the best produce at the right price. While I had options closer to my house, I wanted to write an installment on Fresh Farms, and thought this was as good of a time as any.

This market is always busy, which makes their produce extremely fresh. Nothing’s wilted here! I bought 2 pieces of ginger the size of my head, along with all the fixin’s for a 3 day juice cleanse for two (think: lots of carrots and cucumbers) for $70. They also have a good selection of regional food, such as Indian spice mixes for making your own chana masala at home. They’ve added a fresh juice bar in the last few years, too, but since I’m Grocery Gal, I do all that stuff myself. I don’t think most can do their full grocery shopping here, but if you’re needing produce and are on the north side of Chicago, make a bee line over to Fresh Farms.

At first, I had a little sticker shock coming back to Fresh Farms, but then I realized it’s still affordable. I just know where to get even better prices now. Oh, how was the juice cleanse you ask? We made it to the second day. I couldn’t handle the two hours it took to make a day’s worth of juice meals for two. But I felt great after two days and got what I wanted out of it. In the meantime, I better start making some cucumber salad since there’s still about 12 in the fridge….

Fresh Farms Int’l Market. 2626 W. Devon Ave, Chicago, IL 60659. 773-764-3557. Open 7 days. Free parking.

 


In my last post on Fresh Farms, I wrote that it was great for produce, but not for all your groceries. That’s the thrill (or madness) behind being Grocery Gal: I cannot buy all my groceries in one spot (well, I can, but there’s sacrifices to be made). So when I do have a list of stuff to buy, it takes some strategic planning before I can just hop into my grocery getter and be off. Whenever I find myself on Devon for produce or a cheap BYOB dinner at Uri Swati (order the samosa chat!), I try and parlay that into a trip to Kamdar Plaza located a half a block away.

THIS IS THE JOINT for spices, chutneys, gluten-free flours and amazing snacks! 1 lb of whole cinnamon stick to make a batch of Apple Pie Schnapps for $2.49? Check! Every chutney style known to man? Double check! How about some chickpea flour that’s 1/4 the cost of the Bob’s Red Mill version over at Whole Foods? Triple check! Speaking of flour, they have tons of different styles, including different lentils and grains, so if you cook gluten-free, there are a ton of options here for you. Most of the bulk items come in different size bags, so you aren’t stuck with five pounds of black sesame seeds when 8 ounces would last you a year. I spoke to the gentleman behind at the register, he said as long as you don’t grind the spices, they’ll last for a long time. I was replacing my cinnamon sticks from a bag I bought at Kamdar least 3 years ago. Saffron, which they sell in multiple sizes starting at $4, last the longest at 7 years. Who knew?

While I love to cook and always use a lot of spices, what brings me into Kamdar Plaza most of the time is for their homemade snacks. I can’t leave Devon without eating something, so if I don’t have lunch plans, I pick up a pair of samosas to go or a bag of snacky goodness from Kamdar Plaza. They offer a full snack bar, but I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only ordered two things after shopping here for over ten years. Maybe because it’s sooooo good? Their Mullu Murukku (I think this is the name) is hands down the best I’ve ever had. Other shops carry prepacked versions of the crunchy spiral shaped delight made from chickpeas and lentils, but none are as yummy and spicy as the ones at Kamdar Plaza. A small bag is only $2.50.

They also offer a nice selection of cookware. I haven’t bought any yet, but I finally took some time to check out the stainless steel dishes. They’re of high quality at an affordable price, and all made in India.  After Kamdar Plaza, I got into my grocery getter for my last stop of the day, which will be the next installment of Grocery Gal: the Kosher Jewel. Stay tuned!

Kamdar Plaza. 2646 W. Devon Ave. Chicago, IL 60659. 773-338-8100. Open 11-8pm. Closed Tuesdays. www.kamdarplaza.com.


Originally Posted Dec 2013

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!

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!

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.


Originally posted December 2013

Yeah, I lied. I said I was going to write about the Kosher Jewel next, but if I threw in another Rogers Park/Evanston joint on Grocerygalblog.com, there would probably be some type of uprising.

I had a little accident with my grocery getter which required me getting a new windshield. The grocery getter was a little shorter than the 8 ft tube of steel that needed transporting. So while waiting for the repair on Harlem Avenue, I was trying to figure out where I could get some guacamole and Rick Bayless taco sauce for the night’s dinner stat.

I pulled into the parking lot for the flagship store of Angelo Caputo’s on the corner of Grand and Harlem Avenue, at the cross sections of Elmwood Park and Chicago’s Montclaire neighborhood.  There are different Caputo family markets in the Chicagoland area: Angelo’s (since 1958), Joe’s, a Cheese Market (all coming soon to GroceryGalBlog.com). Angelo’s has a pretty interesting history and it’s stores like these which makes me be Grocery Gal. Before I even made it into the huge store, I realized why I stopped buying produce at Fresh Farms and found other markets to shop at. There were huge, oversized boxes outside the entrance with acorn squash and Michigan apples, both for $0.49 a pound. Beautiful stocks of anise were 2 for a dollar; a perfect side dish when roasted with some sausage and/or butternut squash in the winter. The quality was just as good as Fresh Farms, but cheaper.

So I wheeled my cart in with a pair of anise, ready to get my two other items: guacamole and a New Mexico red chile sauce mix. Before I made it in through the breezeway, I stopped in my tracks, drooling at the imported Italian fig delicacies for sale only during the holidays. I grew up on figs, so I snapped up a fig salami, which is basically figs, walnuts and almonds pressed together in a salami shape. Perfect with some sheep cheese and crackers… and red wine at the holidays. I was dwarfed by Panettone cakes, but good thing Grocery Gal digs savories more than sweets, or I would’ve bought one of every brand.

Guacamole, where are you? Are you next to the pile of asparagus for $0.79 a lb? Or wait, are you hidden behind the $0.79 four packs of the most flavorful greenish-red Kumato tomatoes? I just saw these for $3.29 at Trader Joes – same packaging and all! My grocery cart is filling up and I came in here for what again? Rapini for $0.99 a lb and not $2.99 a bundle?!? Oh yeah, guacamole! Under normal circumstances, I always make my own guacamole, but it was a long day and I got lazy. Serrano peppers in my guac or not? Definitely with. OK, in my cart. Just one more thing and then I’ll be outta here.

Oh wait, I’m at Caputo’s! I need some PASTA! They always have a great selection of different brands of pasta: semolina, wheat, organic, cheap, not as cheap, and a great selection of shapes. Most of their pasta is imported from Italy, so I always try and pick up something a little out of the ordinary here.

This was more of a run in and pick up something quick excursion, so I bypassed the fresh fish, fresh meat, deli and cheese counters. They have a good selection of ready made food to go, and a snack bar (wait… I never noticed this trend before) at the front of the grocery store.

Even with all the bypassing, I still stocked up on various veggies, pasta, sauces, frozen pizza dough and, yes, a mini cannoli for being such a good shopper. And it was all packed together in a repurposed produce box. I love that they give you this option – it’s easier to transport and recycle instead of those stupid plastic bags. Please note, Grocery Gal usually shops with her own reusable bags, but getting the box this time was all in the name of research!

Caputo’s in Elmwood Park is one of the rare grocery stores that I could actually buy all my groceries at. Good, full selection of produce and staples, and overall really nice prices. They have multiple locations in the Chicagoland area, so if you’re not near the Elmwood Park one, check out another one of their locations. Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets. 2400 N. Harlem Ave., Elmwood Park, IL 60707. Open 7 days 6am-10am. 708-453-0155. http://caputomarkets.com/


2018 Update – unfortunately Bende has closed this location.

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!

I’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.

Germans 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.

Many 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.

But, 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.After 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.

As 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.I 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.

Even 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.

Bende’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.


Almost every morning around 6:50am, I’m driving past Hagen’s Fish Market on the 5600 block of west Montrose, saying “oh, I need to stop in.” The problem is, I drive home along a different route.  When I moved into the neighborhood over 3 years ago, I was sure I’d be stopping in at Hagen’s regularly. In reality, I was a bad Grocery Gal and never made it back until recently. As I opened the screen door to enter this 68 year old Northwest side landmark, I was kicking myself for waiting this long.

Hagen’s is such a treat to have in Jefferson Park. According to their website, they have remained family owned and in the same location for three generations. My first visit after my 3 year hiatus was a little after 5pm. It was just me and one other customer (which upon other visits, I learned was a rare instance). I picked up their smoked fish dip (best thing ever) and Charlene’s Crab Dip for my yearly “Romance Weekend” camping trip with my husband. I knew they smoked fish, but I didn’t know customers could also bring in their own catch, including fowl, to be smoked at Hagen’s for under $2 a pound. My plans are to cook my Christmas turkey (which I’ll be ordering from Amish Farmers) on my Weber grill, but this opens a whole new world of cooking opportunities! I love smoked meats and it would save me a ton of time! Hmmm, what would you do?

Hagen’s Fish Market offers the smoked fish staples of mackerel, trout and salmon, but also sell smoked chubs, whitefish, ciscoes (which I had never heard of), and my favorite: smoked salmon candy. The points of origin, along if they were wild caught or farm raised, are listed on the label.

Not into smoked fish? That’s ok. Hagen’s also has a nice selection of fresh filets including Pacific Halibut and Cod, Lake Erie Walleye Pike (for your very own Friday Fish Fry), Lake Superior Whitefish, Lake Erie Perch, Atlantic Cod. Their preference is wild caught over farmed, and they notate it anything has been previously frozen.

While I didn’t buy any fresh fish filets this time around, I know I’ll be back soon. The struggle I often have with fresh fish is how to cook it. Again, Hagen’s comes to the rescue! They have a wall of recipe cards that give you many options on how to cook the fish they sell.

My only gripe (coming as a design snob) is that they use Comic Sans for the font on these cards! Hagen’s – if you’re reading this – please update the font style on those cards! They’re such helpful recipes, don’t dumb them down with that terrible font! Tell me your font options, and I’ll give you recommendations! Ok, rant over!

There’s a generous selection of East Coast canned chowders and bisques, Bayou fish spices, and European sauces and mixes along a wall.

 

A refrigerated section offers multiple sizes of homemade specialties including pickled herring, mustard dill sauce, Charlene’s Crab Dip, and the amazing smoked fish dip.

A few frozen cases house frozen options perfect for parties including stuffed clams, jumbo shrimp, escargot, and some Scandinavian specialties including lingonberries and potato lefse.

About two weeks later I altered my route home from work to stop in and get some scallops for dinner. The place was hopping – some were picking up their made to order fried fish dinners, while others picked up their smoked fish orders, most likely from a weekend fishing trip. I made the mistake of not grabbing a number as soon as I got in, so I perused the shelves while waiting for my turn.

When it was finally my turn, I grabbed my six scallops, but also included a piece of smoked trout, one homemade crab cake and a half dozen blue points. The blue points are a steal at $9.60 for a dozen. Sure, I can get them for five cents cheaper at Fresh Farms, but it’s only five cents (!) and I can walk to Hagen’s from my home. The oyster selection, along with their mussel selection, is based on availability. The man behind the counter told me I could always call in an order in the morning, and they would be happy to hold them for me. My most recent visits had Bluepoint and Montauk oysters, black and P.E.I. mussels and Cherrystone clams for sale by the dozen.

If you like any type of fish: fresh, smoked or freshly fried fish (I didn’t even go into their extensive fried-to-order fish menu), head on in to Hagen’s now. They’re open seven days a week and they really have something for everyone. With the holidays comes entertaining friends and family. Hagen’s offers a lot of low effort and delicious options that can take your entertaining to the next level. Now, who wants some oysters?

Hagen’s Fish Market. 5635 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60634. 773-283-1944


When the days shorten and the temperatures begin to drop, I think about a few things: wearing tights, turning on the seat warmers in my grocery getter, and making soup. My only problem with making soups, as previously written, is I can’t make a small batch. The monthly Chicago Food Swap has helped me distribute some of that extra soup, but how do I handle a last minute soup craving during the workweek?  That’s when Frontier Soups come to the rescue!

Frontier Soups are a family based business located in Waukegan and offer a variety of soups with state and regional themes. They also offer heartier meals, dips and other items, all for sale on their website, online retailers and locally at Sunset Foods, Jewel and Whole Foods. They were introducing their new gluten-free West Coast Kale & Quinoa Vegetable Soup, and asked that I give it a try.  I loved seeing all the ingredients of the soup in a clear pouch – filled with good-for-you stuff. I needed to add a can of tomatoes (which I bought on sale at HarvesTime Foods), a butternut squash (picked up an organic one for $1.50 at Amish Farmers) and some vegetable broth.

Grocery Gal Frontier Soup Kale & Quinoa SoupThey suggested cooking the butternut squash first in a microwave. I live in a microwave-free home, so I cooked it the old fashioned way – I just simmered the squash in the broth first for 10 minutes and then added the rest of the ingredients.

Grocery Gal Frontier Soup West Coast Kale SoupIn about 30 minutes I had a great tasting, super healthy soup for dinner! One package serves 4-6 people, so I had some leftovers which I froze in jars for lunch, and I was going to bring one jar to a friend who was a little under the weather.

Why do I freeze my soups if it takes a day to defrost? Probably because I can’t can them. Canning is something I want to try, but I’m totally intimidated by it. I pour my hot soup into glass jars and the heat does a good job of almost sealing it, but I know it needs to be frozen to stay fresh. I’d love to show up to the Chicago Food Swap with a variety of soups I made and canned, but as close as I can get to that (right now) is filling my soups in a Ball mason jar and telling people to freeze or eat it within 2 days.

Since the soup was a for a friend and not for my lunch, I felt sheepish pouring it into an old salsa jar. I felt I had to class it up a notch with by putting it in a beautiful Ball Heritage Collection jar.

Grocery Gal Ball Hertiage JarWhat is the Ball Heritage Collection, you ask? They’re limited edition jars from Ball which celebrate 100 years of mason jar designs by the Ball brothers. They’re the same quality you know and love from Ball, but in a vintage style and wonderful colors. They first were launched in 2013 with the blue “Perfect Mason” jar, which I need to order for when my kitchen is redone one day. I’d love to have quart size jars on display filled with my different gluten-free flours, but I didn’t find out about them until the larger jars were sold out. I guess I’ll have to search eBay for those. 2014’s spring green jar is called “Perfection” which goes well with Grocery Gal’s current website colors, I might add! I loved the raised letters and the period-correct reproduction of “PERFECTION” on the front of the jar.  I can’t wait to see what they launch for 2015 – I’m wondering if it will be yellow/amber/red colored glass?

Grocery Gal Ball Perfection American Heritage Mason JarIn the end, I brought my friend a delicious, hearty soup that took little effort to make in a beautiful vessel. She loved it, so I hope she’ll return the favor by trying a different Frontier Soup (I’m hoping Illinois Prairie Corn Chowder or New Mexico Mesa Spicy Fiesta Soup Mix) and bringing me a batch in the same jar!

Frontier Soups. Locally made in Waukegan, Illinois.

Ball Heritage Collection.


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


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


I’ve found I have more grocery stores and food related things to write about than I have time for. That’s the basis for GGBite: bite sized reviews of places that I stopped in at, but might not have the time to do a full-on Grocery Gal posting on. Today’s first GGBite I came across on my bicycle one Saturday afternoon while running errands: Ameera Food, located next to Chicago Live Poultry on Western Avenue at Devon.

Grocery  Gal GG Bite Ameera Chicago Live Poultry

My Two Wheeled Austrian Grocery Getter – KTM City Bike

I was on my way to an appointment at Santhigram Wellness Kerala Ayurveda (you must try an Ayurvedic treatment  – it will change your life!) and was running a little early. As I was on Devon at Western, I looked north and saw Chicago Live Poultry. I was always a little scared of the store – but now as Grocery Gal, I knew I just had to go in.

Sorry, there aren’t any photos. As you can tell by the name, here’s where you can buy live chickens, along with other types of fowl: turkeys, pheasant, duck, goose. There was a hand-written sign on the wall listing what was available and at what price. I didn’t take a photo, as it was just such an uncomfortable place to be in; I had to go. The gist is you can choose your animal and it will be slaughtered and cleaned there for you. You can’t get any fresher than that, but it’s not for those with a weak stomach.

Next to Chicago Live Poultry was the the bright, clean Ameera Food. There were no windows to look in, but fresh posters touting “Fresh Fish” and “Meat.” Inside, it looked as if they’d be open only a few weeks – the place was well stocked with African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.

Can't get any fresherThey had a pretty large fresh fish selection with many of the staples: tilapia, catfish, but a few other fish I had never heard of. All were tucked in with lots of ice to keep them fresh. What was most interesting was the aquarium where you could purchase live tilapia.

They also offered the services of Chicago Live Poultry without the full experience. You could tell the butcher counter you’d like a chicken, and they would take care of the rest. They had a small, but fresh butcher case with Zabiha Halal meats as well.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food Western ChicagoThey carried a lot of African products including Red African Beans, Oporo and dried Crawfish. There was a good selection of grains that I haven’t cooked with before: Elubo/Amala and Yellow Gari. As I’m currently eating gluten free, I bought some Fufu flour which is used to make a West African style dumpling. Yellow Gari Ameera Nigerian Grain Chicago Grocery GalFufu flour African Ameera Chicago Grocery GalThere was a small produce section. I think there are other options on Devon, like Fresh Farms, that are better options to by produce from. However, specialized ones like Ghana Yams are worth a purchase at Ameera.

Ghana Yams African Produce Chicago Grocery Gal AmeeraA frozen selection focused more on Asian specialties including Durian, which I have never seen outside of Thailand, and Cassava and Jute leaves from the Philippines.Durian Fruit Chicago Ameera Grocery Gal

Cassava Leaves Jute Leaves Chicago Ameera Grocery GalEntering Ameera was an adventure for me. While I didn’t exactly know how to cook much of the food they sold, I knew it’s a great resource to share on Grocery Gal. And next time I cook a whole chicken, I might stop in to get a freshly slaughtered on from Ameera. I’ll admit, it’s a little easier to digest when you don’t have to see the what happens behind the curtain.

Grocery Gal Ameera Food

Ameera Food. 6410 N. Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645. 773-338-8400.  Chicago Live Poultry. 6421 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL 60645. 773-381-1000.