Back in my Uptown days when I struggled to find good quality, affordable foods, I would spend Sundays in Rogers Park, shopping at places like Fresh Farms and Kamdar Plaza. However, I still had to buy mineral water, meat and, if I was lucky, some Bende smoked tenderloins. Fortunately, I just had to drive a few blocks west on Devon to Kedzie to get that and more at City Fresh Market.

Grocery Gal City Fresh Market DevonCity Fresh Market is small, but it is a powerhouse for Central and Eastern European and Mediterranean foods. It’s a family owned market that’s been around since 2004. I love whenever I find a place that carries Croatian wine and a variety of products I grew up with as a kid.

Grocery Gal City Fresh Market European Wine Grocery Gal City Fresh Market CheeseIt was at City Fresh where I first noticed products from Green Ridge Farms. They’re a local supplier of European style smoked meats and sausages. Since this visit, I’ve seen them at a few other local grocery stores. I grabbed a package of the thin, smoked sausages during this visit. Although they were good, they still couldn’t compare to the fresh, dried sausage from Montrose Deli City Fresh Market Devon Green Ridge FarmsCity Fresh Market Devon Smoked MeatsIn addition to prepackaged meats and cheeses, they offer a full deli counter, meat counter and a very, very busy bakery counter. In fact, the bakery counter was so packed when I was there that I wasn’t able to take any photos! They offer traditional European multilayered cakes (and by multi, I mean more than 6!), like Dobos Torte, many cream filled cakes like I had seen in trips to Croatia, and staples like baklava. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I think I’ll stop by before visiting my dad next time with a few options for him!

As any good European deli should, City Fresh Market has a wide variety of feta cheese to choose from. I didn’t realize this the last time that I was there, but they also offer slow-roasted pig, goat and lamb. Finding that out while writing this post makes me want to hop in my grocery getter and head on over now. Slow roasted lamb on a spit was the norm at summer barbecues as a child; there’s nothing else really like it. They also make their own meat specialties in house: Cevapi, Pljeskavica and Sudjuk.

City Fresh Market Devon FetaAnd for those not into all the Eastern and Central European specialty meats, City Fresh Market is a solid market in its own right. Decent produce and a well-stocked meat section. The cuts of meat were all fresh and and well priced.

City Fresh Market Devon ButcherFinally, for those fans of Central and Eastern European mineral waters and beer, City Fresh Market has you covered, too. They have a good variety, including my favorite Croatian beer: Karlovacko.

City Fresh Market Devon BeerIf you haven’t had a chance to try Eastern specialties like roasted lamb, cevapi, or a Dobos torte, you should make it a point to stop in a City Fresh Market soon.

City Fresh Market3201 West Devon Avenue, Chicago, IL 60659. 773-681-8600. Open 7 days.


If you live in Chicago there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Co-op Sauce – a locally made hot sauce that benefits Chicago youth – offered at many different restaurants. They offer a number of varieties including The Barrel, Green Mash-ine, Too Hot, and my favorite, probably the mildest in their bunch, Poblano. While you can buy their sauces at stores such as Gene’s Sausage Shop, Paulina Market and Whole Foods, I like to stop at Sauce and Bread Kitchen in Rogers Park to buy directly from the source.

SBK is a collaboration of Co-op Sauce and Crumb Chicago, and is located on Clark at Devon. They have a wonderful bakery and cafe, where each table features at least 6 varieties of Co-op’s hot sauces to try.

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKThis is the place to find all of Co-op’s sauce varieties, along with some locally sourced foods.

grocerygal-coop-miscWhen I go, I always pick up 2-3 bottles of the poblano sauce. They often have limited edition sauces that I think are only available at SBK.  Their hot sauces use real ingredients you can understand on the label – and they’re full of flavor, not just heat. These are also great gifts – I brought a bottle of their Rum Barrel Hot Sauce to a rum fanatic friend when I went to visit. It’s a nice, unique souvenir from Chicago.

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKGrocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKI bet the Peppers in a Bottle sauce would go great with a Jibarito! That and the Poblano Mustard will be on my next to-buy list!

Grocery Gal Co-Op Hot Sauce SBKSBK partners with local farms to bring interesting flavors to their cafe menu, and also for sale such as Morel & Leek Jack cheese. So, if you’re in the Rogers Park neighborhood, stop in a SBK, grab a bite to eat, perhaps locally made pickled vegetables or whatever else they’re featuring in their market, along with a few bottles of Co-op’s Hot Sauce for you and a friend.

Sauce & Bread Kitchen. 6338 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660. 773-942-6384


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

Grocery Gal Kamdar Plaza on Devon

Kamdar Plaza in Rogers Park. Spices, chutneys, snacks and cookware.

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

Grocery Gal - Kamdar Plaza Cinnamon Stick

1 lb of cinnamon stick for $2.49 and some Apple Pie schnapps to give as holiday gifts.

Grocery Gal - Kamdar Plaza Chutney

Chutnies as far as the eye can see at Kamdar Plaza

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

Grocery Gal - Kamdar Plaza Snacks

A variety of homemade snacks from Kamdar Plaza. My favorite is in the upper right – the slightly spicy Mullu Murukku.

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

Grocery Gal - Kamdar Plaza Cookware

Stainless steel cookware from India at Kamdar Plaza

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


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

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

Fresh Farms

Fresh Farms, 2626 N. Devon Ave.

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

Grocery Gal Chicago Bungalow

Jumbo octagonal Chicago style bungalow with tile roof and stained glass windows. A Rogers Park beauty.

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

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

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

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

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Official parking signage

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Ginger, Ginger, Ginger!

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Fresh Farms’ bean selection, which includes fresh garbanzo.

Grocery Gal Fresh Farms

Stockpile for 3 day juice cleanse!

 


I have a lot of first-generation American friends. They like food, but they’re not as incessant as me to scour the Chicagoland area for the best place to buy something. I was trying to think of why I’m this way, and it really comes back to my parents. I remember our Saturday visits to Edelweiss Delicatessen for a Leberkäs Semmel growing up in Palatine. In the summers when my dad would want some Croatian-style roasted lamb on a spit,  we would drive an hour to some grocery store in the South Suburbs that had the best lamb. Don’t worry, I’m going to ask him more about it and will report back!

My last real family food road trip memory was in 1998 while looking for my first condo with my parents and sister. After we were done checking out Sheridan Park, my dad insisted he had to take us to this market that had great cherries. For those familiar with Chicago we drove up Clark Street from Wilson (4600 North) all the way to almost Touhy (7600 North). Really? For Cherries? Were they that good? Honestly, all I remember is him pulling into a parking lot and the store was on the east side of the street. He was going to take “just a minute,” which means at least ten, and for some reason we weren’t allowed to go in with him… but that’s my dad. He was right. They were good.

I was driving up Clark street toward Evanston yesterday and I thought, now that I’m writing a blog about food, I should at least check out the cherry place! The only problem is I couldn’t remember which place it was.  I found two – and convinced myself it was the second place, because the parking lot was bigger.

Azetca and Chapala

Azteca looked older but was a butcher shop; Chapala had a familiar awning but a new facade. I went with Chapala

Chapala

The entrance to Chapala’s parking lot with Romanian Deli in the background. Stay tuned for a further post about Romanian!

The parking lot was packed, so I went in ready to fill up on produce I was planning for an experimental 3 day juice cleanse. I was sadly disappointed. No, it wasn’t just because there weren’t any cherries, but there wasn’t any produce I’d want to bring home. It was more of the I-need-to-make-tacos-for-dinner-let-me-grab-an-avocado-zucchini-tomato-stop-before-home place. But how was that parking lot was packed?!? I turned the corner and saw tables filled with families on a Sunday afternoon. Wilted produce and a packed taqueria? In the name of research I decided to find out why this place was packed. I ordered two tacos: a pastor and carnitas one. It’s hard for me not to like a taco, but I was disappointed, here, too. The pastor taco had bits of pineapple making it promising, but lacked the flavor that those huge spits of rotisserie meats at the Mexican-meets-Döner Kepab joints.  I expected the carnitas one to have bits of crunchy fat filled with flavor, but it tasted like a bland pork loin. Bummer. The most interesting things I did see were a great selection of religious candles and bags of jamaica – hibiscus flowers – which would be perfect for making tea at home.

Supermercado y Taqueria Chapala, 7117 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60626.

produce not quite up to my standards

Produce not quite up to my standards

tacos

Carnitas and pastor tacos

religious candles

Religious candles