In 2015, I’m making a conscious effort to stay away from processed foods. Once I started eating gluten-free in June, I began to feel better, but then found myself falling down the slippery slope of relying too often on gluten-free convenience foods. I normally wouldn’t eat boxed mac and cheese, but since it was gluten-free, I felt it was ok to eat an entire box for dinner. I realized this type of nonsense had to stop.

I came across a wonderful book called the Autoimmune Paleo cookbook by Mickey Trescott, and felt that it was time to eat with a whole foods approach. That philosophy isn’t anything new to me, it’s the way I grew up as a first generation American. Everything was always homemade; nothing ever came from a box. Granted, it’s hard cooking so much meat in a house with a vegetarian, but I’m fortunate my husband understands the importance of this. I’m not going to go into what the Paleo lifestyle is, but for those unfamiliar, Sarah Ballantyne sums it up nicely on her blog.

I was about to start an intensive two week reset and needed to buy grass fed beef and pastured pork and chicken. I also needed some less than glamorous pieces of meat, which included bones for making broth and beef liver. While I love and support Amish Farmers, it was the weekend, and I needed to find something in the city. I recalled seeing an Amish storefront next to the Empty Bottle on Western, so I hopped into my grocery getter and drove to Ukrainian Village.

Amish & Healthy FoodsThe store was bright and clean. I’ve since visited twice and there’s a mix of people in the store – the Ukrainian mother who thanked me in her native tongue when I opened the door so she could bring the baby stroller in, the twenty something hipster stocking up on vitamin supplements, and the older woman in yoga attire selecting fermented vegetables out of the cold case.

Amish & Healthy Foods Produce

Amish & Healthy Foods VitaminsI knew I was going to stop at Stanley’s to see what organic produce they had, so my focus at Amish & Healthy was meat. I couldn’t believe their offering, and I loved that the meats were frozen in convenient one pound packages. They carried both grass fed and traditional beef, all different types of organ meats (I know, it sounds gross, but it’s really good for you), bison, pork, turkey and chicken.  I chose some beef and chicken livers, soup bones and “small” beef bones to make my broth. I’m a sucker for turkey jerky, so I picked up a pound of ground turkey to make my own at home. After stopping at Amish & Healthy, I compared prices at both Whole Foods and Paulina Market. On all accounts, the prices at Amish & Healthy were cheaper, and I felt good about supporting not only a local business, but an Amish community in Indiana, all while eating cuts of meat that were better for me.

Amish & Healthy Foods ButcherThey have a small deli counter with foods that seem to rotate based on availability. I bought a bottle of their delicious ginger apple kombucha for $5.99 and their yummy paleo munchkies. It was at this time that I met the owner, Lucy. She explained how popular the kombucha was, and if I returned my bottle, next time I could get $1 off.

Amish & Healthy Foods PaleoWhile I didn’t need any at this time, Amish & Healthy sells a lot of dried fruit with no sugar added. And they’re not just your standard dried fruit fare: they sell sun-dried organic wild goji berries, freeze-dried cherries, juniper berries, and organic dried pomegranate seeds.  Amish & Healthy Foods Dried FruitThey do sell eggs for $5 a dozen. To me, that seems a little pricey, but I’m spoiled with Amish Farmers. Amish & Healthy also sell duck eggs with single or double yolks, for 50¢ and 75¢. The next time you plan to head out for some high quality meat, be sure to stop in at Amish & Healthy; you won’t be disappointed by the variety and the prices of their meat selection. And grab some paleo munchkins to go, too.

Amish & Healthy Foods StoreAmish Healthy Foods. 1025 North Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622, 773-278-1717. Open 7 days.


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


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.

 


Having a background in graphic design, I’m the first to say I’m a font snob. For years, I’ve boycotted stores with terrible logos (like Big Apple Bagels), so I wasn’t surprised when it took me so long to make it over to Produce World. Any store that would knowingly use the Hobo font as their logo wasn’t a grocery store I was dying to check out. However, driving home from work one day I didn’t have any other options and reluctantly pulled into Produce World’s parking lot at Cumberland and Lawrence in Norridge.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

Don’t let Hobo scare you off

Produce World is your typical European-style independent grocery store, similar to others peppered throughout Chicagoland. This store has a definite Slavic and Greek feel to it, and I was happy to see some items like canned gigantic beans and sour cabbage that my dad would use to make Sarma (Croatian stuffed cabbage) with. Thankfully, they weren’t using Hobo on any of their internal signage.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

I love gigantic white beans.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

Sour cabbage. Smells terrible, tastes great in Sarma.

Produce World was pretty solid. Good produce selection with decent prices. A long deli counter with olives and fresh feta available by the pound; Greek pastries and crusty breads were nearby. There’s a small fish and butcher counter, but I’m focused on other items while I’m there. It’s not a one-stop shopping place for Grocery Gal, but I can easily grab some necessities and Slavic specialties when I’m there.

Produce World Norridge Grocery Gal

Fresh feta imported from various European countries

There’s a huge wine section past the checkout area which makes it difficult to browse. I was searching for any Croatian wines, like a Dingač, but I never have any luck in Chicago. Where they did represent Croatian beverages was in their beer section with some nice 1/2 liter bottles of Karlovacko.

Grocery Gal Produce World Norridge Karlovacko Croatian Beer

Karlovacko Croatian Beer. Try one!

What keeps me coming to Produce World, though, is for the best deal on charcoal I’ve found. One of my prized possessions is my Weber Performer Grill, and we grill multiple times during the week. My preference is to always use real hardwood charcoal over briquettes, but I would go through the Cowboy Charcoal at Trader Joe’s too quickly. Often it would be our of stock, and overall it was just too pricey. Lo and behold, when I finally gave up my prejudice on the Hobo font, I found the charcoal motherload at Produce World. One 40lb bag lasts me the entire summer. If you’re someone who loves to grill with real hardwood charcoal, then get on over to Produce World! They have multiple locations; if they’re smart, they’ve got this at every one. Stop on in, get your very own 40lb bag, a couple of Karlovackos, and kick off summer right.

Grocery Gal Charcoal Produce World Norridge

40lbs of hardwood goodness for $20

Produce World. 8325 W Lawrence Ave Norridge, IL 60706-3129 (708) 452-7400 Hours: Mon-Thurs 8-9; Fri-Sat 7-9 Sun 7-8


I’ve always wanted to go into Moo & Oink. I remember their commercials growing up; I’d dream of the day I could have a barbecue big enough to warrant buying so much meat from them. I’d feel silly driving all that way for just a dozen drumsticks and some burgers.

When I used to take the Stony Island shortcut from the Skyway to Uptown, I’d see Moo & Oink with it’s great logo on the west side of the street. It was one of my must-write-about places for Grocery Gal. After getting my casings at Paulina Market the weekend before, I knew Moo & Oink was the place I had to go to buy pork to make my sausages.
When I finally got there on a Saturday in April, I was devastated (really, I was) to see Moo & Oink replaced with a Dollar Store. I was sad to see a Chicago institution gone, and was kicking myself for not getting their sooner. I searched the interweb and found Moo & Oink is still around (for over 150 years); they just focus on packaged meat sold at other retailers.
Grocery Gal Moo & Oink Chicago

Former Moo & Oink location on Stony Island

As Grocery Gal, I’m very deliberate when I shop. There’s no getting into my grocery getter and just driving. I have to plan my route and see what else is nearby to stop at. Yep, I’m a freaker and it’s exhausting, but I get a huge sense of accomplishment on my time management skills.  Attempting to go to Moo & Oink was part of a larger project of dropping off flyers for my husband’s furniture making company, Brokenpress Design+Fabrication, at local record stores before Record Store Day. Need audio furniture or record storage? I have an in with the owner, send me a message! After dropping some flyers at Record Breakers, I was heading West on Cermak, en route to another record store (which unfortunately had closed down). On my way, I came across Pete’s Fresh Market – a gleaming new grocery store on Cermak near California, and pulled right in.
Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Grocery Store

Pete’s Fresh Market on Cermak in Little Village

I went in with no expectations. Inside, I found a spotless grocery store that looked like it has just opened up minutes ago. I did a little double take – I thought I was at Mariano’s. Pete’s offered samples when you walk in, featured produce in wooden crates with the Pete’s logo branded on it, sold fancy cheeses and meats along with a lot of readymade/hot bar/to go items. Where it surpassed Mariano’s was a huge meat counter and prices much cheaper than Mariano’s. While I didn’t get to shop at Moo & Oink, I felt like I was in good hands with Pete.
Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market

Pete’s must be using the same interior design firm as Mariano’s

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Cheese

A nice selection of cheese, crackers and spreads

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market

Hot bar for those who want it to go

I couldn’t believe how every item on the shelf was pulled forward, the produce looked great, and the prices seemed good.  Their Jamaican Jerk selection rivaled Uptown’s Old World Market.

Grocery Gal Jamaican Jerk Pete's

Tied with Old World Market for the most extensive Jamaican spice selection in Chicago

While I did grab a few items, I came into Moo & Oink, errr, Pete’s for one thing: pork butt to grind into sausage. The people working the meat counter with their white coats and hardhats were super helpful. I was concerned at how large the piece of pork was; the butcher asked how much I needed, and sliced off a perfect 5 lb piece for me. Most other places, I would’ve been stuck with whatever prepacked sized they had available.

Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market Chicago

Fresh meat cut to size

I got what I needed, but as Grocery Gal, I still needed to check out the rest of the store. The endless butcher counter spilled into refrigerated cases where traditional and more interesting meat items were available. Not sure if I’m going to need pork spirals anytime soon, but when I do, I’ll know where to get them. And I bet they’re delicious. Grocery Gal Pete's Fresh Market PorkI was happy to get the fresh pork butt in the exact weight I needed, but what probably put the biggest smile on my face was some prepackaged meat I found: Moo & Oink packaged patties and links! Yeah, it wasn’t the Moo & Oink experience I was hoping for, but I think it was a little sign to give me the closure I needed.
Moo & Oink Grocery Gal

Moo & Oink lives on at Pete’s Fresh Market

If you live on the South side of the city, Pete’s Fresh Market is a great place for everyday grocery shopping. They have other locations in the South and Southwest suburbs; check their website for a location closer to you. While their name and logo aren’t as catchy as Moo & Oink (I have yet to see any commercials…), it’s definitely worth a stop!
Now I had the casings and the pork butt; the only thing left is the sausage making. That will be in an upcoming Grocery Gal post… stay tuned!
Pete’s Fresh Market. 2526 W Cermak Rd, Chicago, IL 60608. (773) 254-8400. 7am-10pm.

 


Wow, where there’s so much crossover in this and a few upcoming Grocery Gal installments, I was struggling on which topic to write about first. As you know, my European roots make me fond of meats of the smoked variety. Other than that, I’m not a big meat eater. It’s rare that I head over to an actual butcher, but I was planning on making my own sausages and needed to get some casings. I was told I could find them at Paulina Market.

Now that I live west of the Kennedy, I don’t make it to Lakeview often. I’m also not someone who traditionally buys steaks or large amounts of meat, because my husband is a vegetarian. If I did, though, I’d definitely go out of my way and visit Paulina Market for my special occasion meats. This isn’t a store where you’ll get some ground beef for tacos or poultry for beer can chicken. This is the place you go to when you want a special cut of meat, or something exotic. Forget Whole Foods; go support a Chicago staple since 1949.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago

Don’t be fooled by the 80’s brick facade.

Paulina Meat market’s entrance is on Lincoln Avenue. They have a few parking spaces behind the store, which is great when you’re sick of shelling out $1 for 30 minutes of street parking like I am. The 80’s brick facade doesn’t prepare you for what you’ll experience on the inside. Even if you don’t know what you want, start out by grabbing a number when you walk in.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat market chicago lakeview

Take a number!

Grocery Gal shops at Lakeview's Paulina Meat Market

Not sure if there’s anywhere in Chicagoland that can top this

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

a true butcher shop

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

Rabbit, Wild Boar, Pheasant, Poussin, Squab and Duck

Huge meat cases flank half of the store: fresh meat, fresh sausages and smoked meats. More exotic meats, game and fowl are in freezer cases which divide the store into quadrants. If you’re a breakfast person, grab a frozen pack of their Corned Beef Hash. Don’t worry about the $7 price tag – this is worth it! They’ve expanded their offering in 2007 and there just seems to be anything and everything you’d ever need related to meat.

The butchers (I think they’re all men), know their stuff and are ready to recommend anything you ask them about. What type of meat should I use for jerky? Eye of round recommended for at home, but would I like to try a sample of theirs which uses sirloin? Why yes, yes I would.

Grocery Gal shops at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

Paulina Market’s beef jerky sliced to order – super tender and not tough

What also makes Paulina Meat Market absolutely amazing for cooks is the breadth of their offering. I found out from Chef Martin at my DANK Haus sausage making class that Paulina Meat Market would carry natural casings to make your own sausage. When a woman working there showed me where to find it, I came across rendered duck fat, pork lard, pork crackling, who knew it was different than pork lard, and goose lard. So, if I made my own sausages and then cooked some fries in duck fat, I could create my own take on Hot Dougs!

Grocery Gal shops at Paulina Meat Market in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood

Rendered Duck Fat, Pork Lard, Pork Crackling, Goose Lard and plain ole butter

While I did pick up the Nature’s Best casings, a company based out of Chicago, I passed on getting the pork shoulder at this time. I knew I could find it cheaper somewhere else. Being so close to Wrigley Field, Paulina Market created some “Beat the Curse” Goat Brats, and I picked up one to grill at home. I highly recommend it whether you like the Cubs or not!

Grocery Gal Paulina Market Chicago

Fresh made brats, including the Cub Fan Favorite – Goat Brats. It was amazing!

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago Lakeview

Who doesn’t love the Sausage Font?

If fresh meat isn’t your thing, they have other options, too. Frozen meals, cheese, fresh bread, and a limited produce section which is more for the items you forgot to pick up at another store. Lots of fancy European snacks and spreads, with a particular nod to Germany. There’s a great selection of sauces and condiments, and Paulina Market does a nice job providing local brands.

Grocery Gal Smoke Daddy Lille's Q BBQ Sauce Chicago Paulina Market

Get sauced at Paulina Meat Market – including local Chicago brands

Overall, Paulina Market is so much more than a butcher shop. If you’re a chef that is cooking a special meal, head on over. If you don’t like to cook but want some comfort food, you can easily stock your freezer with their stuff. Have a question about meat? Not sure if anyone else can better answer your questions than these people. This is a great stop for out of towners with all the vacuum packed and frozen options; it’s easy to take stuff home. And on top of it all, everyone at Paulina Market seems to just love what they do. In true European style, they have limited hours, so make sure you get there on a Saturday if you don’t live nearby.

Grocery Gal Paulina Meat Market Chicago

Beyond the traditional smoked meat fare: goose, tasso, pork loin and turkey

Paulina Market. 3501 N. Lincoln Avenue (corner of Lincoln & Cornelia) Chicago, IL 60657. 773-248-6272. Mon-Friday 9am-6pm, open till 7pm on Thursdays. Saturday 9-5. Closed Sunday.


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.


I’m not going to go into detail here, but I know we’re all sick of snow. I dream about being on a beach feeling the sun’s rays on my skin and sipping a fruity cocktail. Then the alarm goes off and I’m off to another day of work. If I’m still dreaming of the beach on my way home from work, I’ll stop at Rio Valley Market to get the ingredients to make a feel-better fish taco dinner.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Rio Valley Market on Mannheim at Grand

I think the first time I went into Rio Grande I stopped in my tracks as soon as I walked in. Why? My favorite summertime beer, Tecate, was a mere $14.99 a case. OK, Pacifico is my favorite, but on a budget it’s Tecate. Somehow over the past few years Tecate has gotten into bargain basement pricing, and that’s fine by me. I’ve yet to see it cheaper anywhere else. They even carry Tecate Light – but, seriously, don’t waste your time.

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

So many choices, but the best deal is 24 Tecates for $14.99

In a perfect world, fish tacos are grilled over real hardwood charcoal on my Weber grill. When it’s 1 degree outside, I’ll have to settle for fish tacos from the kitchen. Rio Valley is by no means a fish market. They are a traditional, independent Latin-influenced market, nothing fancy and value priced. Think full butcher section with an offshoot of fish staples. They carry different types of fish – tilapia, basa, swai and catfish. I’m usually in a rush, so I grab some prepackaged fish for around $5 a package.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

No time to wait in the deli? Grab your fish to go. Don’t worry, every day is “today’s special” — doesn’t mean it’s about to go bad.

What goes with fish tacos? Well, mango salsa, of course! All the staples I need are here: fresh, ready to eat mangoes (not too ripe and not too hard), cilantro, jalapeño, red pepper, limes and avocado. The week I was there avocados were 4 for $1!. There’s also red cabbage for shredding and adding the perfect crunch to your taco.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

Who don’t love avocados?

I’m also a sucker for Crema – Mexican Style sour cream. I think it’s because it has a slightly salty taste to it; it’s replaced traditional sour cream in my house. Yes, it has a few more calories, but with so much flavor, you can use it sparingly. Lots of choices at Rio Valley and usually at least one brand is on sale.

Grocery Gal Rio Valley Market

So many Crema choices, so little time…

That’s it. My cart is filled with fresh tortillas (the corn ones are often still warm, they must get daily deliveries), fish, produce and a case of Tecate. I quickly check out, get in the Grocery Getter and head home to put a little sunshine in my family’s dinner that night. Why not stop in and grab what you need to make some for yourself? I’ve included my recipe for mango salsa along with my husband’s killer aioli recipe.  You can most likely feed a family of three for $15, which includes a few Tecates for the adults!
Mango Salsa

  • 1 Mango peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 red/orange/yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped (but not mashed)
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeds removed & chopped
  • 2 T chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes

Mix all the items together and taste. Feel free to add more/less of any ingredient, based on spice needs. Sometimes I add a 1/4 peeled/seeded cucumber.

Aioli for Fish Tacos

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (I prefer it with olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • dash of Lawry’s seasoned salt
  • 1-2 T Mexican-style hot sauce

Press the cloves of garlic with a garlic press. Mix everything together. This is a perfect “base layer” for your tacos. It gets so addicting, I’ve found myself using it as a dip!

Rio Valley Market. 2745 Mannheim Rd, Franklin Park, Illinois 60131. 847-451-8440. www.RioValleyMarket.com


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

 


Part of the allure of Grocery Gal is to give myself a reason to stop in a grocery store I’ve never been to before. On a recent trip home from work, I stopped at the glowing LED-lit Middle Eastern Market on Harlem Avenue at Irving Park Road. It was a Tuesday night and it the store empty. It has been open for five months, and seems to be family owned. One of the sons told me in the next week they plan on adding a hot bar with their own food they cook in-house. I felt I couldn’t do an honest write up without them being fully functioning, so I’ll go back. I felt I needed to still write about a middle eastern grocery store since I can only write about different smoked meats for so long before there will be an uproar. I have a great Middle Eastern recommendation from a friend, but didn’t have time to stop there yet. So I went to an old reliable shop, which I’m happy to hear will be expanding soon.

The Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery has been a staple in Andersonville for countless years. It’s a nondescript place with an old sign that I often forget about. When I finally do inside I think why has it been so long since i’ve been here last?  Since I was up in Andersonville running errands, I thought it’s as good of a time as any to go, and in the process grab some food to make a nice family Saturday lunch. While their name says bakery, and they bake their own amazing pita breads, the place doesn’t scream bakery. They have lots of packaged dried legumes, beans, snacks, fruit and spices, and all in nice manageable sized containers. I’ll buy spices I use a lot from Kamdar Plaza, but if I just need a little of something, the small containers at Middle Eastern Bakery are a great size.

Grocery Gal finds nicely sized spices at Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville in Chicago

Bulk spices in nice, manageable sizes.

In the back of the store is bakery area. They sell mini pizzas which are more like heavily-seasoned focacia bread. Some of them are vegan, too.

Grocery Gal finds homemade fresh mini pizzas at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Freshly baked mini pizzas

Grocery Gal visits Middle Eastern Bakery and Grocery Andersonville

Freshly baked savory pies

In the display case are different meat and vegetable pies, I’ve tried the lamb and artichoke cheese one. While they’re good, they’re even better with some of their Baba ghanoush added to it. The refrigerated cases stock a variety of hummus, Baba ghanoush, yogurt dips, marinated beans, vegetables and olives, This is a great place to get a variety of snacks for a party, but at $3 each container they can add up.

Grocery Gal finds homemade spreads & salads at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Snack goodness!

Grocery Gal finds homemade tzatziki at Middle East Bakery & Grocery

Tzatziki for one or party size

Also in the bottom of the refrigerated case are pickled turnips. I’ve never seen them anywhere else for sale in Chicago. If you’ve had a doner kebab outside of the US, or an amazing sandwich at Taste of Lebanon just across the street, you’ll know what these are, and how they have a delicious tangy crunch.

The pita I grabbed to go with my dips and falafel was still warm in it’s bag. I love how they have a variety of pita sizes and counts. All I needed was 5 medium pitas for $1.59. They also carry a great selection of jellies, exotic flavors like rose petal and hibiscus, that I grew up with as a kid.

Grocery Gal finds fresh coffee beans in East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville, Chicago

Turkish coffee, anyone?

For Turkish coffee lovers, they carry fresh beans and the proper tools to make it at home. I have a memory of my Croatian grandmother visiting us in the US, reading our fortunes from the grains left inside the cup of Turkish coffee, though I was too young at the time to drink the dark beverage.

Grocery Gal finds Baklava at Middle East Bakery & Grocery in Andersonville

Baklava Upgrade: Pistachio and Chocolate!

Middle Eastern Bakery will be expanding in the near future. If that expansion includes food service, it would be a great, and hopefully affordable, dining option in Andersonville. If you’re hosting a party or don’t feel like cooking a meal at home, stop by Middle Eastern Bakery and stock up on some great homemade foods.

1512 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60640. 773-561-2224. Monday-Saturday 9:30am-8:00pm. Sunday 11am-5pm.