Originally Posted Dec 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mother’s Day is coming up. This will be my 11th Mother’s Day without my mom, but I still think of her every day. She would love to go downtown with me and window shop on the Magnificent Mile. If she was still here today, I know we’d want to spend part of Mother’s Day eating some great food and enjoying wine at Eataly.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Welcome to food heaven

Eataly opened in Chicago around Thanksgiving. Friends messaged me, asking if I wanted to see it with them. An entire mega-store food-court filled with imported Italian foods and wines? A Dean and Deluca on steroids? Two floors of food goodness that took over an EPSN Zone? I’m in!

I first went on a Saturday at 6pm a few weeks after it opened. It was total chaos! I thought Fresh Farms on a Saturday was insane; it was nothing compared to Eataly’s crowds. I tried to forget the crowds and focus on what was in front of me: rows and rows of pasta, wines, cheeses, jellies, fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh truffles, freshly made mozzarella??? It’s a culinary overload and I didn’t really know where to go first.

I’ll be blunt. Eataly is expensive. They have two locations in the US, some in Japan, Istanbul, Dubai and a handful in Italy. When Japan and Dubai are in the mix, you know you’re not going to have bargain basement prices.  Amazing fresh bread that was… $6 a loaf? I’ll pass. However, I did find a nice 4 pack of jams for $9 that go with cheese and crackers that I’ll likely purchase somewhere else (like Caputo‘s).

The everyday food, including fresh fish counter, are really for those high rollers who don’t flinch when they see a sushi grade tuna for $29/lb. I wanted to pass out Grocery Gal cards telling passers by they could get the same exact quality of tuna at Fresh Farms for literally half that price. Farmed raised salmon for $15??? Pfft. Fresh Farms offers two types of wild salmon lower than that price. too.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

Nice looking, but overpriced, fresh fish

So, why am I writing about Eataly if I’m dissing on the prices? Eataly is more about the experience than a place to buy groceries at. This is the place I want to meet my friends at, grab a table, some wine and a plate of snacks. I’ll recommend anyone visiting the city to stop in for a drink. It is chaotic, but it’s brilliant at the same time. The second time I stopped in at Eataly was at 4pm on a Thursday. It was like the quiet before the storm, and it was perfect.

Grocery Gal Eataly Chicago

If I still worked downtown I’d be bellying up to one of these every week.

If I was in Italy, I would’ve sat at the bar alone, had a nice afternoon Prosecco and maybe a small cheese plate. Instead, I wanted to get home to my family, so I grabbed a few slices of focaccia to go. They wrapped up the slices in paper just like in Italy. In the seven plus times I’ve visited the country, I’ve never had focaccia better than what I had at Chicago’s Eataly. The bread/crust had a bite to it that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. They bake all their bread onsite in brick ovens; if their $6 loaf of bread tasted this good, then it was probably worth it. A slice of marghertia and squash/ricotta focaccia set me back $6, and was totally worth every penny.

Grocery Gal Focaccia eataly chicago

Grab multiple flavors of focaccia to go

You can easily get lost inside Eataly. The place is so huge they offer maps when you walk in. On that quiet Thursday afternoon I stumbled upon areas that I never even knew existed: the meat take-away, preserved condiments and tomatoes & sauces. I knew those areas would just take me to the financial dark side, so I slowly exited the area until I found myself at the Salumi & Formaggi station.

grocery gal blog eataly chicago

food porn eataly style

I think I sighed out loud when first saw the cheese counter with the various smoked meats dangling from the ceiling. I knew my mom would’ve loved this. Combined, we would’ve spent too much money, consumed too many calories and laughed about it all over glasses of Valpolicella. Since we were in Eataly, I could convince her to forgo her usual (insert hand rub) Chardonnay. What a great way to spend a Mother’s Day, right?

I miss my mom dearly, but I think about whenever I’m searching for delicious, interesting food at the best price possible. Her influence is what made me Grocery Gal. And it’s not all about the good deal; it’s also about enjoying life with my loved ones. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Eataly Chicago Market. 43 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611. 312-521-8700. Open 7 days 10am-11pm. You can sneak in at 8am for coffee.


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

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

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputo's Cheese Market

Caputo’s Cheese Market is more than just cheese

Grocery Gal Caputos Cheese Market

Sea salt – both coarse and fine – for 99¢

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Behold, the cheese market

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

What looks good today?

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Different levels of spiciness

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Gluten free ravioli in the freezer case

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

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

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Caputos Cheese Market

Mariano’s $14.99, Caputo’s $8.99

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

This recipe was adapted from Vegetarian Times.

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

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

Suggested Dippers

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

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

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

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