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.


A few months ago, a Chicago startup contacted me to ask if I would try and review their product. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Relished, and gushed about their meal service to my Grocery Gal fans. More recently, they rebranded themselves as Home Chef, and I heard meals were available with many more dietary options.

My husband is a pescetarian and for years we’ve eaten vegetarian food for the majority of our meals. Recently, I’ve found I needed to remove gluten and soy from my diet, which had made making dinner together challenging at times, to say the least. So what’s a Grocery Gal to do? Call Home Chef to the rescue!

Home Chef now offers eight unique meals each week. Whereas previously I had to ask them to substitute meat with fish, they now cater to both traditional and specific diets including vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. I can set up my account for these restrictions, including general foods I just don’t prefer, like pork. They also offer fully organic meals for $1 more a meal.

Home Chef Grocery Gal

Dietary concerns are easily identified at a glance

Another improvement is including the measurements on the recipe cards. While this is great for spices, beans and starches, I’d still like to see it for the vegetables, too. There can be such a wide variety of sizes when it comes to a head of cauliflower or a red pepper, it would be nice to know how much is too much.

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Recipe cards now include measurements and dietary restrictions.

There’s so much to love about Home Chef.

I love that I don’t have to think. Those who know me know how I get shit done, so it’s nice not to have to worry about dinner for once.  What to cook? Do we have all the ingredients? Oh crap, do I need to stop at the store? It’s all there, ready to go. Why, thank you, Home Chef!

I love that the meals are often prepared in less than 30 minutes. My husband whipped up the Mahi-Mahi en Papillote for him and his son one evening.  They loved the tasty meal, and he loved the easy cleanup.

I also love how they list the ingredients for each meal on their website. I’m a sucker for roasted cauliflower, and wanted to try their Garlic Cauliflower Steak recipe — but it wasn’t listed as gluten free. I saw couscous and breadcrumbs were the culprits, so I ordered the meal and substituted with quinoa when I made it.

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Best of both worlds: I modified Home Chef’s Cauliflower Steaks recipe to make it both vegetarian and gluten free.

I love the value of Home Chef. Most meals are $9.95 a serving, which is still an amazing deal. The week of my delivery, my schedule was a little more hectic than usual. The ground bison in the organic bison tacos meal (my favorite of the delivery) was still frozen when the package arrived, so I put it in the freezer and created the vegetarian version for the entire family that night. Hooray! Another meal where all dietary restrictions were met!

Grocery Gal Home Chef

Bison tacos sans bison. I’ll use the bison next time!

If I’m gushing so much about Home Chef’s meal delivery service, I should be honest about the very few things I’d like to see them improve upon. One is to include the measurements of the vegetables. I think the Garlic Cauliflower Steaks recipe could have been even more delicious had I know how many of the leftover cauliflower florets should’ve been left over. 1/4 cup? 1 cup? I chose the latter and it was the wrong choice. My sauce ended up being  a consistency of red mashed potatoes while the beautiful yellow sauce in the recipe card’s photograph mocked me.  The meal was still yummy, but I know it could’ve been even better if I could make the sauce correctly. I think there also needs to be a better editing process to the recipe cards. I’ve seen errors, omissions and sometimes things don’t make sense. Hey, Home Chef, let me be your editor/test kitchen!

Overall, I love Home Chef; it’s an great value and service for busy people, aspiring cooks and people with dietary restrictions, like me, who don’t want to be using corn tortillas in 85% of their meals because they can’t think of what to cook after a long day of work. Maybe now I’ll be able to bring that percentage down to 50%.

Home Chef. Find them on Facebook, too.

 

 


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.


It’s 6:45am on a Saturday, and I’m driving on the Kennedy heading to Lincoln Park. Why am I doing this? I wake up Monday-Friday at 5:30 and this is the one day I can really sleep in… it’s not even 7 and I’m already in a car driving 60 mph on the expressway?

I’m on my way to Lincoln Park’s Green City Market to meet up with Efren Candelaria and Chef Gabriel Moya, two of the four partners behind Sobremesa Supper Club. The other two, Felipe Cabrera and Mayra Estrella, Efren’s wife, were busy with their own to-do lists for the next night’s dinner. I had strict orders to meet Efren and Chef Moya at 7:15am while they would be shopping for fresh, locally grown, sustainable produce which are the cornerstone of their amazing Sunday dinner events. If you haven’t heard of Sobremesa yet, shame on you! Chef Gabriel Moya has already been identified as one of Chicago’s “finest up-and-coming ‘underground’ chefs” by the Huffington Post. Their mission statement sums it up: they’re a Latin inspired, locally sourced dining experience that looks to foster community through food, relationships, and dialogue. The only thing that’s missing in their mission statement is how incredible the food tastes!

The Green City Market is easily Chicago’s go-to place for locally sourced food. From May to October they’re on Clark Street at Lincoln on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and from November to April in the Peggy Notebart Museum on Saturdays only. Chicago doesn’t offer a seven day traditional free standing market like my favorites La Boqueria Market in Barcelona or the Naschmarkt in Vienna do. The Green City Market started in 1998 and grew to Chicago’s premier Farmer’s Market, with the closest rival being the City of Chicago’s Daley Plaza Farmer’s Market.

Grocery Gal Green City Farmer's Market Chicago

The Quiet before the Storm at (what I think is) Chicago’s largest Farmer’s Market

And because the Green City Market is one of Chicago’s favorite markets, I had to meet bright and early at 7:15am. There are a ton of benefits to arriving early at the market: parking meters didn’t go into effect until 8am, the market was extremely manageable to walk through, the people at this hour were serious about shopping, and I could easily see Efren’s bright yellow Colombia soccer jersey as I walked over to meet them.

Grocery Gal Sobremesa Green City Market

There’s Efren in the middle of the photo

When I caught up with them (on time, too!), Chef Moya reminded me of myself as Grocery Gal: he was focused man on a mission; just let him go shop and stay out of his way while you just step back and take it all in. Shopping is just part of the long process; after you leave, and get to work on the prep. The Sobremesa chef has an idea what he’ll cook for their Sunday night dinners based knowing what produce is in season, but he refines his menu here based on what looks good at the market. It’s really amazing.

Sobremesa Supper Club Grocery Gal Green City Market

Looks like this will be on Chef Moya’s menu tomorrow

Chef Moya Sobremesa Grocery Gal Green City Market

Stocking up on more organic scallions from King’s Hill Farm

I really enjoyed watching Chef Moya purchase produce from a variety of farmers. Sobremesa supports the community of farmers at the market, not just one vendor. It follows Sobremesa’s theme of fostering community through food and relationships. The bulk of the ingredients used in their dishes are sourced from the Green City Market, and many of the vendors know Chef Moya well. What really stuck with me was the chef was the one choosing what he was purchasing; it wasn’t just placing an order and getting something delivered. It gave me a whole new appreciation of the care and thought that goes into each meal they create.

Grocery Gal Chef Moya Sobremesa Nichols Farm

Buying produce and talking World Cup with Nichols Farm

Yes, when it’s that early, you could get the best of what’s there to offer, and the throngs of people who enjoy the market a weekly social event had yet to arrive. But what I enjoyed the most was watching the dialog between the Sobremesa crew and the farmers.

A quick 30 minutes had gone by and both Chef Moya and Efren were saying their goodbyes. There was still a lot of prep work needing to be done for the next night’s dinner. As long as I was at the market and the crowds were still non-existent, I was going to do a little shopping myself. We said goodbyes and I couldn’t wait to see their creations tomorrow on Instagram.

The perimeter of the market focused on produce, while the interior parts were more artisan products including baked goods, jellies and honey, cheeses, meats and such. If you weren’t a cook, there were crepes and wood fired pizzas ready to order and eat there. There were a fair number of Wisconsin artisan food products, and one that caught my eye was Black Garlic North America: fermented black garlic that was super sweet and smelled incredible. I am aware of the many health benefits of eating fermented foods, so I picked up a clove. I headed back to my car by 7:56am, and I still had 4 more minutes before I’d have to feed a meter!

North America Black Garlic Grocery Gal Green City Market

Sweet and savory wrapped up in one: fermented black garlic.

So, the big question still is, what did Sobremesa end up buying, right? I was lucky enough to have them send me a picture of the day’s bounty. The rest of the images I grabbed from their Instagram feed.

Sobremesa Supper Club Chef Moya Grocery gal

Photo courtesy of Sobremesa Supper Club.

Diners at Sobremesa each get a hand written menu of their vegetable-forward meal. I’ve attended two of their events and have saved both menus because it’s just been such a wonderful experience. There’s so much love an passion in what they do it’s inspiring; and with their locally sourced vegetable focus reinforces community and thinking about where food comes from. They’re helping to support small business all while keeping a smaller environmental footprint.  Follow them on Facebook and get into one of their dinners as soon as you can.

Chef Moya Sobremesa Efren Art menu

It’s just perfect. Wish I had been there! Photo courtesy Sobremesa Supper Club

Sobremesa Supper Club Foodie Pilsen

The beautiful (and delicious) end result. Photo courtesy Sobremesa Supper Club.

Sobremesa Supper Club. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out about upcoming events.

Green City Market. Clark Street at Lincoln. Chicago, IL 60614 (773) 880-1266

 

 


I love sharing my Grocery Gal experiences to others. But sometimes it wears me out being Grocery Gal. Between my job and it’s commute, I have no energy to stop and shop – I just want to get home to my family. I also know of many readers who rely on public transportation, so this could be a good option for them. So I’m straying away a little from Grocery Gal’s original roots to highlight a food delivery service I use to help me keep a little sane and eat a little healthier.

I think I started my first organic food delivery program in 2005. For six years I used Timber Creek Farms Organics. They were a local business that delivered a box full of organic fruits and veggies to my condo every other week. It was great, but I felt at times I was stuck with a lot of food I just couldn’t eat before it went bad. A bag of apples and a bag of pears were great, but it was just too much for me. I felt like I was throwing out more food than I was consuming, so I stopped it. The folks there were very helpful and I felt like they knew me. The only downside was I felt like the food had to be consumed within the first few days, especially berries, or they would go bad. Granted, I have not used them in at least three years, so those experiences could have improved.

A coworker of mine sent me a link to try the company she uses, which was Door to Door Organics. She raved about them, saying the food was always of outstanding quality. If she ever had a problem with it, she would send an email, and Door to Door would send her a credit. I was still hesitant. When I finally realized I wasn’t buying as much fruit as I should be, I signed up for my introductory box.

When I first logged onto the website, I was very impressed. So many times before, I’d get some random produce in my delivery, say a persimmon, and I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with it. What’s great about Door to Door is they have tons of recipes on their website, highlighting what’s to offer that week. You can bookmark them and refer back to them easily.

Grocery Gal Door to Door Organics

Door to Door’s recipes are inspiring

The website is very user friendly. They also sell a full range of groceries here if you’re so inclined to shop this way. I’ve purchased additional eggs, but nothing else. I get the Bitty Box delivered every other week. It’s well packaged, which includes frozen packs in the summer. Just leave the old packaging out for them to reuse/recycle at the next delivery.

Grocery Gal Door to Door Organics

At home delivery. Save the box and packaging – they will recycle it!

Even better than the recipes, though, is the fact that you can substitute up to five items in each delivery. Not feeling grapefruit? Go sub it for some kale. You want two organic kiwi? Then trade in your gala apple for that second kiwi. Already have a garden full of zucchini? The last thing you need is another one from Door to Door. Go substitute it for a delicata squash.

The thing is, it’s a better bang for your buck to sub out to get more exotic items than say more onions, potatoes and garlic. I was running out of staples during my last delivery and added those as my substitutions. When I unpacked the box I felt a little cheated. However, there was no one to blame except myself.

Grocery Gal Door to Door Organics

In hindsight, I should’ve ordered more fruit and less staples

Starting in the Spring, they offer local produce boxes, featuring produce from local farmers like my friends at Molter Family Orchards. Like that logo? I designed it. The local box gives you the variety you want while supporting multiple local organic farms.

For me, spending the extra for organic food delivery is best when I focus on buying foods that really benefit from being organic: leafy greens, grapes, apples, celery, squash, berries and peppers. Save the onions and garlic for when you’re shopping at Amish Farmers. You’ll get outstanding quality with Door to Door, and have the convenience of just picking it up outside your door.

www.DoorToDoorOrganics.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

 


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!


It was hard to decide which store I would feature on my first blog. I didn’t want to break out the big guns on such an early post, so I let my stomach decide. It was a rainy night and I thought I’d pick up some stuff for dinner at a place I’ve seen for the past 2 months on my way home from work.

Amish Farmers Grocery Store

Amish Farmers located on Grand Avenue in Franklin Park.

You can easily miss Amish Farmers when driving by on Grand Avenue in Franklin Park. As a graphic designer, I immediately noticed the clean simple logo along a stretch of blah signage. Their tagline: organic real food sparked my interest, too. I pulled into a free street parking spot and went inside. I was immediately greeted with “tak,” Polish for hello. Not what I was expecting, but then I realized it meant one thing: they’ve got to have great smoked meat.

Amish Farmers Smoked Meat

Amish Farmers Smoked Meat. Sausages on left smoked “in the country” while larger cuts of meat smoked in-house.

I thought they would only carry vegetables, but they had a great selection of meats, dairy and dry and canned (literally through canning) goods. They’ve only been open for 3 months so far, and they carry products from Amish farmers in Indiana and Wisconsin. When I looked at above the meat display, “MEAT ONLY GIVES ASSISTANT!” I fell in love.

Amish Farmers Fresh Meat with No Hormones

Fresh chicken, pork, veal and lamb from local Amish Farmers. The meat is slaughtered fresh for the owners. All the animals are grass fed and have no hormones.

The prices were amazing. I bought 30 eggs for $6.50 and some gouda cheese curds for $2.25. They offered samples of the cheeses and the smoked meats, so l left with a little sampling of both. They had a great selection of dried goods and root vegetables. The woman who helped me said they have a larger selection of products on Fridays and Saturdays, similar to a Farmer’s Market. She recommended the brownies, but I said I’ll have to wait for next time. I’ll definitely be back, and you should, too.

amish-farms-bulk amish-farms-veggie

Amish Farmers, 9711 W Grand Ave, Franklin Park, IL 60131. (847) 916-2483. Hours: Monday-Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday 9am-3pm.