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.


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


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.


My first introduction to Coop grocery store was during college with the Neighborhood Co-op, located in Carbondale, Illinois. It was on the north side of town, in one of the more historical buildings, next to Longbranch Coffee House. It was a small shop filled with long-time residents (read: hippies, but in a good way) of Southern Illinois, where I could find vegetarian food and bulk dried goods. I spent a semester documenting the store for one of my photography classes.

After graduating I had gone back to eating meat (well, both my parents were from Europe…), and knew where to find quality food throughout Chicagoland, so my interest in co-ops faded away. Fast forward twenty years, and I came across an article on Chicago Market, a co-op in the organizing and start up phase to be located on the north side of the city. They were having an informative meeting the next day in my old stomping grounds of Sheridan Park.

Grocery Gal Chicago Market Coop Meeting

Saturday morning in Chase Park

Being a Saturday and coming from Jefferson Park, I knew I could get there faster on my bike than my grocery getter. I’m going to a meeting about a co-op, how dare I drive there!  I showed up at the Park District (albeit a little sweaty) to a group of about 15 interested people learning more about the concept of Chicago Market. Do co-ops make you think of granola, hippies, patchoulli and bulk foods? Well, that’s not the image of Chicago Market. Their nice, clean logo, well designed website and collateral material pulled on my graphic heart strings and screamed modern and urban, but by no means hipster.

Grocery Gal Chicago Market Logo

Gotta love good design

The brains behind the co-op, Greg Berlowitz, along with 5 or so members of their Steering Committee, told us more about their vision. They answered some really frank questions: What makes you think you’ll succeed? (My answer: they’re organized and passionate) If you don’t make your goal will we get our money back? (Their answer: Yes, after any startup loans have been paid off). They have addressed the ten most common questions on their website, so I won’t repeat them all here.

These people have their shit together; and while that might read as funny, it’s nothing but accolades. They’re organized, professional and passionate about making Chicago Market successful. They want to build community, small businesses and a sustainable way of life. I envisioned myself taking my stepson (or a bunch of girlfriends) to a cooking class hosted by a Chef Moya. I could see my friends at Molter Family Orchards selling their delicious organic produce at the store. I could share my suggestions on carrying some of the amazing (and affordable) homemade sausages from local stores like Montrose Deli and Amish Farmers, which not only exposes more people to their great products, but also builds these local businesses.

That’s why I signed up that Saturday to be a member (I’m number 206). It wasn’t something I planned to do. I didn’t have a spare $250 just lying around, but I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. Since the meeting, they’ve offered a more palatable payment plan, where you can spread the cost over ten months. Help Chicago Market reach their goal of getting 1000 members in 100 days by joining up now. Even if you’re not ready to commit, sign up for their newsletter and follow them on Facebook to see when their next informative meeting works with your schedule.

Chicago Market – A Community Co-op.


As I’ve written before, I love to host and cook for friends. We had an impromptu brunch with a friend who was visiting Chicago for the weekend. It was last minute, so I had to come up with whatever I had in the house.

Grocery Gal La Criolla

Spanish tortilla adapted from La Criolla’s recipe

We had enough potatoes and eggs to whip up our go-to brunch recipe: Spanish Tortilla. My husband follows an authentic recipe from friends in Barcelona, and I’ve been adapting mine from a spice-filled recipe from La Criolla’s website. While his thinks it’s tortilla blasphemy to add garlic and spices, I love it. So we created a scenario that was the best of both worlds: my husband’s authentic one, my spice filled one, and our friend could try both. I had gotten some garlic tops from Amish Farmers the previous Friday and I added those to my tortilla. I even cut the potatoes two different ways so there was not questioning which tortilla was which.

Grocery Gal LaCriolla spice

Her and His spanish tortilla components

Along with two types of Spanish tortilla we also had manchego cheese, a staple in the Grocery Gal household. Unfortunately we were out of Cava (my stash from Vin Chicago had been exhausted), so we couldn’t make our standard brunch drink of Cava with apricot nectar. It seemed as good of a time as any to continue our Spanish theme and open up a box of Beso del Sol Sangria. Sangria for brunch? Why not!

Beso del Sol Grocery gal Caputo's

Beso Del Sol Sangria – 3 liters in one handy box

I am usually skeptical of premixed drinks. I found Beso Del Sol at Caputo’s, and after reading that it was imported from Spain, I thought I’d give it a try. My original intentions were to bring the sangria to a barbecue I was going to later that day, but with 3 liters hidden in one handy box, I thought it was ok to test out a few glasses in advance.

We drank the sangria straight, with no fruit. The only reason the drink was sans fruit was I couldn’t  remember what type of fruits to put in the drink. Apples, yes… but I’d have to go downstairs and get some out of the fridge. Oranges, oh yeah! But I didn’t have any in the house. Had they recommended fruits to add on the box, I would’ve bought them when I bought the sangria. Fortunately the sangria was perfect on it’s own – it didn’t need any fruits.

What I loved about it was it wasn’t too sweet. It had a slight sweetness to it, but nothing so sweet that you couldn’t drink more than one glass.

So round one of entertaining with Beso Del Sol’s sangria was a success. How would it be a few hours later at a summer barbecue? I’d have to wait and see.

There were beverages a plenty at the barbecue, but I seemed to be the only one enjoying the sangria. It had cute, bright packaging – but no takers. Was it the boxed wine stigma? Perhaps. Had I transferred it from a box to a pitcher filled with fruits, it might’ve sparked more interest. It wasn’t until the hostess brought the box and some glasses to a table of friends that everyone tried the Beso Del Sol, and subsequently fell in love with it, too. They agreed with me – it wasn’t too sweet and was refreshing on a warm summer day. They couldn’t believe that tiny box held 3 liters of tasty goodness, and was only $19! Fortunately, all my friends have an outpost of Caputo’s near their homes or work, and I’m pretty confident they’ll be picking up a box or two real soon: one for brunch and one for their next barbecue!

Beso Del Sol Sangria. I bought mine at Angelo Caputo’s in Elmwood Park.

 


I’ve written about the pleasant aromas in many of the delis I’ve stopped in at. Each time I stop in at Danny’s Old World Market, I’m also hit with an aroma, but not always the most pleasant. It’s not bad; it’s just a combination of the variety of spices which can be off-putting to some. However, I don’t let that ever discourage me; I’ve been coming here for at least ten years.

Grocery Gal Old World Market Uptown Jamaican

Free parking available

Old World Market is in an nondescript strip mall on Broadway, north of Asia on Argyle and south of Foster. They specialize in African, Jamaican and Caribbean foods and has been my go-to spot for years for Jerk seasoning and Ting grapefruit soda. Yeah, now I can find some of those items at Fresh Farms and Pete’s Fresh Market, but if you live by the lake, I highly recommend stopping in, getting some jerk seasoning and chicken legs and prepare yourself for a great barbecue treat.

Grocery Gal Old World Market Uptown Jamaican

So many choices; choose any “hot” one and you’ll be happy

There are a lot of items at Old World Market that I don’t know how to cook with: which are namely palm oil, dried fish and goat. I love Jamaican style curried goat – when I’m ready to make it one day (hard when living with a vegetarian), I’ll definitely stop here to get the meat.

Grocery Gal Jamaican Old World Market

Dried Fish at Old World Market

Grocery Gal Jamaican Old World Market

I love curried goat. When I will make it one day, I’ll come here to get it

Jamaican style sodas Grocery Gal Old World Uptown

Jamaican style sodas

My purchases at Old World are limited: the aforementioned jerk seasoning and maybe a Ting to go. With a handful of Caribbean recipes in my purse, I feel I could have a more well-rounded experience at Old World market. I might just have to start searching that curried goat recipe….

Grocery Gal Old World Market Jamaican Uptown

Who needs some habaneros?

Danny’s Old World Market. 5129 N Broadway St #1, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-989-4440. Open 7am-10pm. Closed at 8pm on Sundays.


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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square

The Hüttenbar for some delicious German Adult Beverages

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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

A mecca of German goodness in Lincoln Square

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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

The original signage from Meyer Delicatessen greets you in Gene’s

Grocery Gal in LIncoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Two levels of goodness

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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Schnapps they way it’s supposed to be. From Austria.

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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Little Rheinlanders – first time I’ve seen them outside of Wisconsin

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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage ShopMy 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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square's Gene Sausage Shop

Hot Leberkäs and Alpine Sausage

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.

Grocery Gal in Lincoln Square

My favorite European shop in all of Lincoln Square – Merz Apothecary

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.


To say I have a love-hate relationship with Fresh Farms off of Touhy Avenue in Niles might be a little too harsh. I love everything about it. The hate comes because I really can only ever get there on a weekend when it’s pure chaos. However, this is a true one-stop international market with one of the best fresh fish selections I’ve ever seen. So you might want to do a little mediation and park as far on the outskirts of the parking lot before going in, because you’re food mind will be blown.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Park far away, take a deep breath, and grab a cart on your way in.

I decided to feature Niles’ Fresh Farms sooner than later for two reasons. The first reason is because the fish selection is just insane – quality and prices are out of this world. Thick, sushi grade wild ahi tuna steaks for $14.99 a pound? Yes, you read that right. The second was a Facebook challenge. A friend wrote he could never truly appreciate Men At Work until he could try some Vegemite. If anywhere in Chicago would have Vegemite, it had to be Fresh Farms in Niles. Grocery Gal was on the hunt!

While this Fresh Farms is a sister store of the one in Rogers Park, it’s a true international market catering to all different ethnic backgrounds. I seem to be the only person there who’s native language is English – and it’s not limited to one continent or region within the continent. It’s a true Grocery Gal store.

I first learned about Fresh Farms through a random text I received from my dad. My dad is awesome; he’s 71 going on 35, but not big in the world of texting. A picture of fresh fish appeared on my phone. A lot of fresh fish. All for sale. I replied back “Where is that??” but of course there was no response. I had to wait to get the answer in person.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms International Market Niles

Fresh fish as far as they eye can see. Turn around for more!

Fresh Farms has a great location somewhat off the Edens, which could be why it’s packed all the time. I think the Jewel across the street has felt Fresh Farms’ impact. I’ve made the mistake shopping on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and any Saturday or Sunday, but it’s still worth it. I’ll just grab a sample of wine to help me make it through the masses. If you’re able to make it during the week at all, your sanity will thank you.

You’re welcomed into Fresh Farms with an amazing, but chaotic, produce selection. It’s a true variety o produce, each appealing to the different ethnic palettes shopping there. The quality is outstanding. The prices for Grocery Gal are fair. I can’t do everyday shopping here, because I know where I can get it a little cheaper. But by no means is Fresh Farms overpriced. I usually come here for one thing: seafood. Then I grab whatever else I’m missing, along with a handful of choice finds, while I’m there.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Fire up the grill for calamari and octopus

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Oysters

My family is crazy for blue point oysters. At 75¢ each, who wouldn’t be?

There’s always a lot of samples to try, but they’re pretty strict on doling it out. There’s usually an older gentleman cooking up some fish with a lemon/garlic coating on it. They give you tips on how to cook the fish, and the quality and prices are unheard of. Afraid of a whole fish? They’ll clean it, remove the head and filet it for you, if you ask. But why waste it? The cheeks have yummy meat you’ll miss out on, but it’s ok to stay away from the fish eyes. I’ve never bought a bad piece of anything here. I get their emails that highlight weekly specials, just tempting me to come in… even on a Saturday.

Grocery Gal Chicago Fresh Farms

Oooh! Mussels on sale this week? Break out the vino and grab some fresh bread!

After making it through the produce and seafood areas, the place seems like a traditional grocery store – except each aisle is like it’s own ethnic specialty store. This is great when you have wasabi powder, jerk seasoning, olive oil and fresh ricotta all on the same grocery list. Normally, that would be 3 Grocery Gal pit stops, but at Fresh Farms I’m finding the same brands (no sacrifices here) all under one roof. Since that saves me time, I’m fine dealing with slightly more expensive produce and the crowds.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Greek cheeses made from goat and sheep milk

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Dried dates and figs from the Mediterranean and the Middle East

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ukrainian style pierogis

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Canned clams and sardines from Spain

So on this trip I was on the hunt for Vegemite for Brian. I was on my third grocery stop for the day, so I although I was a little tired by this time,  I still zipped through the aisles in searching for Vegemite. No dice. This makes me think it either is unavailable in the Chicago area – or I missed it. But I did find some nice finds I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Croatian Section” which usually just consists of Vegeta, Ajvar and Kras wafers, I saw they also had Cedevita, the Tang-like drink I’d have every morning at my Aunt’s house.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Ready for a Croatian breakfast?

But don’t worry, my Austrian heritage is well represented, too. Milka Chocolates originally come from the Vorarlberg province of Austria, where my mom was from. The company has since been bought by Nestle and then Kraft, but I grew up with those purple cows. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t like milk chocolate, so I’ve never been a fan of Milka. Doesn’t mean it’s not tasty to everyone else, though!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

Milka comes in pallets to Fresh Farms

Some of the other things I buy from Fresh Farms is their olive oil. They have a nice collection of Greek and Tunisian olive oils, also at unbelievable prices. It feel like the Greek brand is somehow owned by the family owning Fresh Farms; they’re always pimping it out. I love the organic one, but each time I go I still try a sample with some fresh bread, even though I already know how good it is.

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

Try and buy their extra-virgin olive oil

They also have a great selection of items you don’t think of, like pot stickers and fillo dough. The fillo doughs are from the different Mediterranean regions, so you can choose which brand you prefer based on country of origin.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms Niles

So many fillo choices to choose from

Items I haven’t touched on that are also great are their bakery, butcher shop, prepared foods, deli and, well, just about everything. They have a small liquor section to pick up wines, but the beer selection has some opportunity to improve. So while they don’t carry Vegemite (I’m convinced it’s just outta stock…), it’s probably one of the best grocery stores in the entire Chicagoland area. Don’t let the crowds scare you. They’re just all on to a really good thing.

Fresh Farms International Market. 5740 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714. 847-779-7343. Open 7 days 7am-10pm. www.myfreshfarms.com

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi organic foods

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

 

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi organic foods

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

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

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Old Oak Farms Purple Potatoes

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

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Rosso Pesto and Pesto Alla Genovese

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

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Aldi Kerrygold cheese

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

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

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


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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

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

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

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

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

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Prepackaged smoked meats from local Chicagoland markets

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

grocery gal a&G fresh market chicago

Who wants fajitas tonight?

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

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market Chicago

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

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Country style old world pickles. Y U M!

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

Tiny vials of baking extracts. Perfect size & price.

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

Grocery Gal A&G Fresh Market

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

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