The Goddess and
Issue No. 12, November 05 – Gourmet/Prepared
Foods - Part 2
Sharpe is a globe-trotting gourmet. She started
preparing for her travels when she was growing
up in Melbourne, Australia. In 1984, Sharpe launched
a catering company in England. She traveled the
globe preparing food for touring rock stars and
gathered information about ethnic culinary specialties
and ingredients along the way. On
a tour in the U.S. with Paul McCartney, Sharpe
decided to settle in Chicago where she owns three
restaurants: Cru Cafe & Wine Bar, Half &
Half, and Feast. She opened The Goddess and Grocer
in the bustling Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood
in the summer of 2004. The premise was simple.
“I’ve lived in the area for 15 years and we didn’t
have a deli in the neighborhood. I work all day
and I don’t have time to cook so I wanted to open
a place where you could buy nice things at reasonable
prices,” she explains.
with strollers drop in for the big triple chocolate
chip cookies laced with bits of white, milk, and
dark chocolate. For lunch they sit at the communal
table up front and plop their children into highchairs.
Little ones can gobble up a Psycho Baby Jelly
Belly sandwich made with peanut butter, jelly,
and banana slices. Mothers can enjoy one of the
many prepared or choose-your-fixings salads. Dressings
include the Goddess that blends tahini and honey.
Or they can have one of the 30-some sandwiches
listed on a chalkboard. Sharpe’s favorite is the
Garden Goddess, a wrap filled with lettuce, tomatoes,
carrots, bean sprouts, and avocado, inspired by
vegetarian ones popular in Australia. “It’s yum,”
she says. “It’s very juicy.”
friendly staff know the names of the people working
in the neighborhood who stop by regularly to pick
up sustenance for lunch. The after-work crowd
hurries in for prepared take-out dishes such as
turkey meatloaf, or comforting macaroni and cheese,
made for a sophisticated palate with a combination
of Parmesan, cheddar, and mozzarella, or a panko-crusted
chicken breast. “People like their fried foods,
don’t they,” Sharpe comments, “but I like to use
panko, which I think is crispier and keeps the
chicken moister than bread crumbs.”
Top: The Goddess and Grocer, 1646 North Damen Avenue,
Chicago. Middle: The Goddess Garden wrap delivers
vegetarian goodness. Bottom: Balsamic and herb duck
breast with caramelized shallots, mushrooms, carrots,
and red wine gravy.
Top: Cooking Fools at 1916 West North Avenue, Chicago.
mahi with sweet and sour onions and a sprig of fresh
cilantro. Bottom: Colorful grilled eggplant foldovers
filled with aged Gouda, spinach, chopped tomatoes,
and pine nuts.
Issue No. 12, November 05 – Gourmet/Prepared
Foods - Part 2
sun-filled, streamlined Bucktown gem on a busy
stretch of North Avenue could be easy to miss
if it were not for the giant stainless steel whisk
pointing you to a bevy of flavor-packed foods-to-go
prepared daily. It’s worth tracking down. On my
first visit and since, I have been impressed with
the substance of the store’s selections.
Each dish seems to have a lot going on: a fair
number of ingredients, a multitude of flavors,
and different ethnic influences. “I wanted to
have a healthy menu that incorporated a lot of
international influence so that we could have
more fun just as cooks preparing it,” Faitage
explains. “We really don’t have any rules about
what we can make as long as it’s relatively healthy.”
cases are flush with variety: Jamaican jerk chicken,
Thai turkey meatballs, French lentil salad, and
green beans with shitakes, red pepper, garlic,
and sesame. You’ll probably spot the grilled marinated
flank steak with chimichurri sauce, but you won’t
see much other red meat. Instead, the menu relies
heavily on poultry and fish. After 5:00 p.m.,
juicy, roasted chickens) are pulled out of the
oven, coated with mango-curry, Caribbean, or ancho-barbecue
sauce. It thrills me to see the attention paid
to fish. Four or five kinds are offered daily.
I adore the sesame-crusted seared tuna and the
shrimp and scallop cakes with citrus aioli. The
latter are meaty and bound with ground seafood
instead of breadcrumbs, which are used only to
coat the outside. Warm up one or two cakes, add
a salad, and you have a light and easy dinner.
Issue No. 12, November 05 – Gourmet/Prepared
Foods - Part 2
the holidays not too far off, what better excuse
is needed than to do some boutique shopping on
Southport Avenue, including of course, a visit
to Southport Grocery and Café. Start your day
with the café’s delectable bread pudding pancakes
topped with cinnamon-sugar butter or break for
a leisurely lunch over vibrant soups, salads,
and sandwiches, like the signature grilled brie
with spinach and sautéed mushrooms on ciabatta
or a warm bowl of ginger carrot bisque. Make sure
you leave time to check out the grocery area.
dual concept reflects the passions of owner Lisa
Santos who combines her love of food and cooking
under one roof. Santos previously led a successful
career in financial services at CNA, but she found
herself taking trips to check out food stores
and at the same time felt an underlying tug to
return to her lifelong love of cooking. She eventually
enrolled at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute
of Chicago at night and put her business skills
to use toward shaping her own business.
culmination of Santos’s efforts is a contemporary
venue set in a long, brick storefront that blends
eating and shopping. “Modern, simple, and fun
food experiences” is the motto behind Southport
Grocery and Café. The vibe is comfortable, casual,
and friendly. A long chocolate brown banquette
the length of the café is set against a pale blue
wall lined with simply set tables drabbed in white
tablecloths. Seating is also available at a large
communal table (great for parents with kids) and,
during the summer, outside in front. The
café offers comfort food with a twist and the
grocery has a small but well-edited selection
of specialty foods.
Top: Southport Grocery and Café
at 3552 North Southport
Avenue, Chicago. Middle: Regulars love the casual
dining atmosphere. Bottom: The grocery area offers
quality, domestic foodstuffs.
Top: La Cebollita, 1723 South Ashland Ave. Bottom:
A selection of homemade tamales, from left to right:
pineapple / raisin, cheese and chile, pork with
red chile guajillo sauce, and pork with green
Issue No. 11, Aug 05 – Pilsen
The Cuadra family runs this tidy, quick-food place, with son
Omar overseeing the Pilsen location (a second location is near Midway airport).
You place your order at the counter for carryout or to eat in. The
restaurant’s tamales are made fresh on site daily in four varieties: shredded
pork with a green jalepeño sauce, pork with a mild, red chile guajillo
sauce, a cheese and poblano/jalepeño chile, and a sweet, bright pink version
with pineapple and raisins.
They are eaten plain or with either of the two salsas
offered, a green tomatillo/jalepeño or a red tomatillo/chile de árbol
(spicy), and priced at $ .75/each or $7.00/dozen. Tamales are also often eaten
with some crema (sour cream) on the side and sometimes spiffed up with
shredded fresh cabbage or lettuce. Steaming hot when served, the tamales are
tender and satisfying. My favorite is the pork with red chile guajillo
that has just enough spicy kick.
Issue No. 11, Aug 05 – Pilsen
It’s easy to get a
little giddy when you walk into BomBon. This charming and brightly colored pastelería
mainly sells beautifully decorated cakes, mini cakes, and fruit tarts that
reflect the sophisticated style of Mexican pastry historically influenced by the
Europeans with the arrival of Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife Maria Charlotte
in the 1860s. The cakes, or pastels, and pastries are attractive,
colorful, and creative, and indisputably some of the best in the city. The
prevailing flavors in all the pastries are fruits, especially tropical fruits,
Mexican chocolate, cinnamon, pecans, almonds, and coconut.
Cakes range from the traditional Mexican tres leches cakes to various
chocolate to the Mexican version of cheesecake (with ricotta-like cheese and
Maria Berta galletta cookie crust) to signature items that mostly use fruit.
BomBon’s specialty is the tres leches cake, or “three milks” cake,
which it makes in eight flavors (see box). Every region in Mexico has its
variation, but BomBon’s version is one from Mexico City that consists of
vanilla sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and regular milk
with a hint of rum, sweet vanilla cream, and a touch of Mexican cinnamon to
create a rich, moist cake that takes creaminess to new heights.
Top: BomBon at 1508 West 18th Street. Middle: An
assortment of BomBon's beautifully decorated cakes.
Bottom: Stacks of buñuelos:
the ultimate in crispiness.
Top: La Casa del Pueblo at 1810 South Blue Island Avenue. Middle:
A plethora of produce. Clockwise from left: calabacitas,
poblanos, huanzontles, verdologas, large and small
tomatillos, fresh garbanzos, xoconostle, and tatuma
squash. Bottom: Jarritos, Mexico's first national soft drink made in
a variety of tropical flavors and now the best-selling Mexican soft
drink in the United States.
La Casa del Pueblo
Issue No. 11, Aug 05 – Pilsen
Pilsen residents have been relying on La Casa del Pueblo, the
area’s only independent supermarket, for their general grocery needs since
1962. Located on South Blue Island Avenue just south of 18th Street, it’s an
easy stop for purchasing many ingredients under one roof if you’re delving
into Mexican cooking or simply seeking an interesting food excursion. There are
several sections worth checking out.
From fresh nopales to tomatillos and all kinds of
chiles and peppers, the produce section will pique a foodie’s curiosity.
According to Casa del Pueblo’s president, Nicholas Lombardi, Sr., about
one-third of the produce comes from Mexico. Some half a dozen chiles and peppers
are in abundance, including chile guero (hot banana), habanero,
poblano, jalepeño, scotch bonnets, serranos, chile manzano/perón, Thai
hot peppers, and the not-too-commonly available chile chilaca. The noplales,
or cactus paddles, come with or without the needles, and even chopped up in
handy convenience bags. They can be used scrambled with eggs (very typical), in
salads, or in a sauce on meats.
Tomatillos come in small (milperos) and
bigger sizes, and are a common ingredient in Oaxacan cuisine. Distant
broccoli-looking huanzontles is a favorite during Lent, but is offered
almost year round at Casa. Other interesting items available seasonally include
fresh garbanzos, fava beans, jicama, purslane, yucca, namé (like a
potato but starchier), calabaza (fresh pumpkin), chayotes con espina
(which some people prefer over the already peeled ones; like a squash), and xoconostle
(used in stews). The avocados on my visit were big, beautiful, and
Three Tarts Bakery and Café
Issue No. 10, May 05 – Pastry Shops
- Part 1
Over the past seven years, Three Tarts has gained a
reputation on the North Shore as one of the area’s best bakery destinations.
The selection has something to please everyone. Youngsters peel in after classes
from the nearby ballet school and press their noses against the glass case in
excitement about what beautifully decorated cookie to choose. Grownups will
probably find it harder to select from the cinnamon rolls, Danishes, muffins,
scones, brioche pinwheels, croissants, cakes, cookies, and miniature pastries.
“Everything you see here we make,” co-owner Kate Coyne explains,
“including our own breads.” Over time, Coyne and partner Ann Heinz have
developed a diverse selection of tempting treats, all the while staying true to
their belief in traditional ways of baking and using quality ingredients, most
notably butter. You can taste the difference when you bite into one of the
banana, or coconut—the
comforting, simple kind of cakes mothers and grandmothers made. Always available
are the beautifully decorated Garden Cakes, in chocolate or yellow cake with a
mousse, preserve, or ganache filling. You can conveniently have one inscribed on
the spot to take home with you.
A French influence is seen in the fresh fruit tarts; petit
fours; Pear Frangipane tart, an almond cream tart with pears finished with
apricot preserves; and the simple but delicious Colombier, a dense, moist almond
cake coated with a rum orange-almond glaze that
releases a heady fragrance of lemon and orange zest when you cut a slice. The
ultra dark chocolate-coated éclairs are divine. What I like about the sour
cream coffeecake, the Danishes, and cinnamon rolls is that as much flavor comes
from the dough as from the fillings or finishes, which are flavorful and not too
sweet. Muffins are made from true muffin recipes rather than cake batter (which
generally has more sugar). Scones are crumbly. Cookies go beyond the typical
favorites and include more than 35 different kinds daily: you’ll find almond
crescents, shortbreads, soft lemon halos, rugalach, and assorted mini tea
cookies, some of which are made with a French butter cookie dough called nantais.
All of Three Tarts’ pastries are made in normal portions rather than
gargantuan sizes, allowing you to savor something sweet without going overboard.
Top: Three Tarts at 301 South Happ Road, Northfield,
IL. Middle: Something for everyone: brioche pinwheels,
cupcakes, muffins, and more. Bottom: powder-sugared
buttermilk shortcakes, cioccolatti, almond bear
claws, pecan tartlets, and lemon-coconut squares.
Vanille Pâtisserie at 2229 North Clybourn, Chicago.
Profiterolles. Bottom: Flaky almond, chocolate,
and plain croissants.
Issue No. 10, May 05 – Pastry
Shops - Part 1
two years, Vanille Pâtisserie has become a small mecca for sweets in Chicago.
Owners Dimitri and Keli Fayard bring a welcome dose of French influence in
Vanille’s tempting and rewarding assortment of petit fours, entrements
(miniature mousse cakes), tarts, éclairs, handmade chocolates, and other French
pastries. Their gorgeous delicacies exhibit their creativity and talent for
working with complicated pastries such as the Tarte Profiterolles ($4.25), a
tart made of vanilla bean cream and chocolate-filled miniature profiterolle
cookies drizzled with rich chocolate sauce. And then there is the Blue Mountain
entrement, which marries a winning combination of milk chocolate-coffee mousse,
caramel cream, and caramelized hazelnuts ($4.75). Every dessert presents a small
pantheon of flavors.
Fayards believe in fresh ingredients and make every pastry daily. They keep the
flavors in the pastry cases lively by continually creating new concoctions such
as the Amelia ($4.75), which Keli describes as, “If sexy tasted like
something, this would be it.” I wasn’t completely sure what she meant until
I had a bite. The chocolate mousse, passion fruit cream, pineapple confit, and
coconut sable cake all lovingly coated with a shimmering chocolate icing is a
perfect mix of sweet, salty, and tangy flavors that truly is sexy.
One of Vanille’s most tempting yet common offerings are its croissants—plain,
almond, chocolate, and cheese. Yes, croissants are easy to find but they are not
easy to find perfectly made. Vanille’s croissants are flaky where they should
be, airy where they should be, and sweet, salty, and buttery in each perfect
bite. Dimitri chalks this up to knowing exactly how long to proof the dough—too
long and they become greasy as the butter runs out; too short and the airy
pastries end up resembling hockey pucks. Vanille’s pain au chocolat are, in my
opinion, easily the best in Chicago, if not the best this side of Montreal or
Issue No. 10, May 05 – Pastry
Shops - Part 1
Just when everyday life seems out of control, stopping in at
Julius Meinl for a piece of fine pastry and a rich cup of Meinl coffee served
Viennese-style on a silver metal tray against a backdrop of calming classical
music is a refined respite. The interior—designed
and built in Austria—has
a traditional Viennese coffeehouse feel but with simple, contemporary tailoring.
Light from the large windows illuminates the golden color of the walls, which
are contrasted by dark wood flooring, tables, and chairs. It was through the
coffeehouses of Austria and Hungary, steeped in centuries of history and
tradition, where the creation of tortes and sweets was elevated to a gastronomic
art, producing such legendary creations as the Sachertorte, Linzertorte, and
Dobos Torte. And it is for the times that I want to sit and linger over a
fabulous piece of pastry amidst the smell of fresh coffee that I come to Julius
You’ll find Austrian, European, and other captivating creations. If chocolate
is your favorite, there’s a tempting selection. Customers can’t get enough
of the Mohr im Hemd, the warm molten chocolate cake, which I was
surprised to learn is a long-time Austrian recipe rather than an American
concoction. Another regular customer favorite is the buttermilk chocolate cake
with chocolate mousse filling and chocolate buttercream frosting. Nothing short
of fabulous is the Vienna torte, a flourless Callebaut chocolate and almond cake
covered with a thin layer of apricot jam and a thin layer of marzipan, all
cloaked in a mantle of chocolate ganache and finished with a dusting of cocoa
Julius Meinl at 3601 North Southport Avenue. Middle:
Milk Chocolate Bavarian torte accented with a crunchy
hazelnut nougatine alongside a Gianduja torte, melding
hazelnut-chocolate mousse with various forms of
chocolate. Bottom: Farmer's cheese is mixed with
cream cheese and sour cream to make a rich, creamy
filling for topfenstrudel.
Issue No. 9, Feb 05 – Chocolate
are Chicagoans who have traveled to Europe and
fallen in love with the chocolates in Belgium.
What they discover when they return home is that
they didn’t need to stock up on all those boxes
of chocolate at the Brussels airport; they can
get the same—some say even better—chocolates right here in Evanston at Belgian Chocolatier
Piron. The minute you walk into this charming
small European-style shop, the aroma of fresh
chocolate wafting from the kitchen in back beckons
you to ogle the beautiful assortments of chocolates
stacked neatly on small gold-ruffled trays displayed
in two cases. Some 30 varieties are offered, with
most available in milk or dark chocolate. As far
as what to expect, “Belgian chocolate is very
delicate,” explains co-owner Bob Piron. “And they
have to look as good as they taste. That’s one
of the Belgian philosophies.”
And they do. There are beautiful marbleized Fruits de Mer in
the shape of sea shells, prawns, and escargot
filled with a divine chocolate hazelnut praline.
The Paté de Noisette are exquisite—chocolate diamonds filled with a blend of milk chocolate and
hazelnut praline laced with diced pecans. Insanely
good chocolate Marzipan rectangles—so hard to find—are decorated with fine white stripes. Unsweetened cocoa dusts
the very popular truffle made with a milk chocolate
cream center dipped in semisweet chocolate. A
perfect chocolate rosette coiffs the Grand Marnier
semisweet chocolate cup.
Pirons use only the best, purest ingredients,
including fresh butter and cream (and never any
tropical fats, preservatives, stabilizers, or
extenders), as well as fruit compounds and liqueurs
imported from Europe. “We use the real deal,”
says Bob, “and that makes all the difference.”
The chocolate-covered candied orange peels, for
instance, are made from a Spanish orange, which
the Pirons find to be less bitter than others.
The dipped glacéed apricots are of a premium quality
from Australia. And the chocolate-covered cherries
are a French Morello cherry soaked in brandy.
It’s hard to go wrong with anything you select
Top: Belgian Chocolatier Piron, 509 Main Street,
Middle: An assortment of chocolates all
handmade in the classic Belgian style.
too pretty to eat: marbleized Fruits de Mer filled
with a chocolate hazelnut praline.
Issue No. 9, Feb 05 –
Few Chicagoans know about Coco Rouge’s chocolates as most of
the company’s business for the past three years
has been in serving boutique hotels around the
country. Hard-core foodie types who have tracked
down the source have memorized the toll-free number
for phone orders
and some lucky souls have discovered the
luxurious chocolates at a handful of specialty
shops around the city. The good news is that just
recently these delicacies have begun selling at
Whole Foods stores in the Midwest and are now
more widely available.
philosophy behind Coco Rouge is to take classic
ideas and turn them into contemporary, interesting
creations; to balance simple flavors with complex
and unusual ones. Some 30 different kinds of the
world’s highest quality chocolate are used in
varying combinations to make Coco Rouge’s different
bouchées (or “bites”). “In the chocolates themselves
are distinct flavors,” says co-owner Jeremy Brutzkus.
“And if you pay attention to that, then you come
up with flavor combinations almost organically.”
alchemists, Brutzkus and partner Erika Panther have fun spinning
together such esoteric ingredients as Tasmanian
honey, eucalyptus, Egyptian jasmine, Tahitian
vanilla together with garnishes of lavender petals,
candied kumquats, Tellicherry pepper, or blueberry
brittle into complex plays of flavor. To devise
their combinations, the two favor ingredients
that are organic and from artisanal purveyors
around the world. Like the honeys, some of which
are made from just one kind of flower, or Turkish
rose oil, fragrant Tahitian vanilla, or an almond
paste from a small Sicilian producer. The magic
that results is a collection of 14 beautiful bouchées,
each piece made entirely by hand.
Coco Rouge is available by phone order at
Middle: Every Coco Rouge bouchée
is made entirely by hand and artfully garnished.
Bottom: Each box of chocolate comes with a detailed
description of the whimsically named bouchées.
bon at 5410 North Clark Street, Chicago. Middle: Buddhas,
pyramids, crowns, and hearts are just some of the
interesting shapes of bon bon's chocolates. Bottom:
Customers love the specially made tins that change
in design periodically.
Issue No. 9, Feb 05 – Chocolate
bon’s confections start with French and Belgium
couverture, the highest quality of chocolate with
at least 36 percent butterfat that gives it a
silky smooth feel in the mouth. Then owner Elizabeth’s
creativity kicks in. She finds some of her inspiration
in ancient Egypt and exotic spices. She molds
dark chocolate into the shape of a pyramid and
flavors it with arbol chili and Ceylon cinnamon.
A white pyramid is redolent of cardamom. A regal
white Cleopatra is a seductive mix of seven spices
such as nutmeg, ginger, and star anise. “I go
to the Spice House weekly where they grind the
spices for me,” says Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s spiritual side combines with her love of objects
that reflect light in her dark Buddha dusted in
gold and the silver one sprinkled with silver.
“The luster dusts are made from natural earthen
minerals,” she explains, “so they are completely
safe for most people.” Her Jewels are glistening,
multifaceted chocolates in gem tones. The Red
Jewel is a dark ganache filled with cherries macerated
in Kirschwasser, the Green Jewel is flavored with
mint, and the purple one is white ganache with
lavender and honey.
When Elizabeth creates chocolates in traditional shapes she
adds her own unique touch to them. A pink heart
is sweetened with fragrant rose petals and a gold
one is sweet caramel. Delicate lollipops shaped
like roses are hand-painted. For Valentine’s Day
the shop will have a series of molded tablets
with raised images from the Kama Sutra packaged
in gold boxes tied with a cord in the same color.
Issue No. 8, Nov/Dec 2004 –
Artisan Cellar is one of the few stores around
that exudes the charm of a quaint European shop.
Not only is The Artisan Cellar a great destination
for wine, but the aroma of freshly made espresso
invites a steady flow of customers to escape the
bustle of the day with a break at the espresso
bar, a grilled panini for lunch that can be enjoyed
at one of the store's small tables, or an afternoon
indulgence in a gelato or biscotti against the
backdrop of calming classical music. At this well-stocked
shop, everything is done by hand (even receipts
are written out on paper), staff are intimate
about their products, and service is very hands
As its name implies,
The Artisan Cellar evokes a cellar-like environment
with its claret-colored walls and array of wines
displayed on richly toned cherry shelves. It also
offers exceptional artisanal products from a number
of small boutique wine and cheese producers. Over
the past six years, the shop has shown a particular
strength for finding unusual wines and products.
The Artisan Cellar is about selling wines that
proprietor Phil Bernstein and wine buyer Gregg
Wilson are enthusiastic about rather than selling
something that is the hot deal of the moment.
They try every wine that comes in. The shop focuses
on finding wines from small producers that are
rarely available in most markets or wines made
with off-the-beaten-path varietals, from grapes
like carignane, aglianico, and primitivo.
Top: The Artisan Cellar
at 222 Merchandise Mart
Suite 116 (Main Floor), Chicago.
wine buyer Gregg Wilson's observations
describe every bottle in the store.
Issue No. 8, Nov/Dec 2004 –
This is a store where people do make a difference, and they
do it with just the right amount of plain old-fashioned
service. Schaefer's is run by brother-and-sister
team George and Gene whose father, George Schaefer,
bought the building in 1936 when it was a tavern.
Schaefer's has maintained its reputation for getting
wines from small producers, which these days,
come from all over the world. At the same time,
Schaefer's has never had the objective of becoming
the next big retailer. Instead, you'll find a
great selection of wines in a manageable amount
at competitive prices sold by a well-educated,
Serious wine collectors will want to check out
the phenomenal collection of Bordeaux wines and
ask about the rare vintages, but as George Schaefer
says, it's the inexpensive wines that really get
him excited. This sentiment is echoed by Sterling
who favors wines in the $7 to $10 range. Schaefer's
is also a great destination for gourmet food.
Regulars head for the store's Signature Market
for its artichoke dip (the No. 1 seller), guacamole,
sun-dried tomato and horseradish dip (recommended
with Frito scoops), and more than a dozen patés.
In addition, an impressive array of more than
100 cheeses is offered, which are carefully selected
and sold at their prime.
Top: Schaefer's at 9965 Gross Point Road in Skokie.
Bottom: "Staff pick" signs mark Schaefer's
wine consultants' favorites.
Issue No. 8, Nov/Dec 2004 –
The name of Kafka Wine Co. might evoke the angst-ridden writings
of author Franz Kafka and lead you to expect a
dreary shop, but nothing can be farther from the
reality at this place where wine buying is stress-free.
The name came from Joe Kafka, co-owner of the
business with Michael Scharber, and was chosen
because it was catchy. Scharber says he wanted
the 1,000-square-foot shop to look like a gallery
with wines presented as works of art. The walls
are creamy white, accented by light-colored wood
and a touch of poppy red to symbolize the passion
people have for wine. Bottles in bins are backlit
making the wide array of luscious colors of the
The intimidation quotient is nonexistent.
A bottle of each wine stands upright at eye level on top of
the bins so you can easily read the label. A handwritten
red price tag is hangs from each one. There is
no fear of choosing a wine beyond your budget
because more than 250 wines from around the world
are priced at $15 or less. Some tags have recommendations,
so if you're going to one of the nearby BYO restaurants
you can find one that complements pizza or Thai
cuisine. Some are accompanied by silly Polaroid
snapshots of staff members or customers that are
inscribed with personal testimonials.
Top: Kafka Wine Co. at
3325 North Halsted St., Chicago.
Bottom: Wines are arranged by flavor, including
spicy and floral/herbal.
Top: Swedish Bakery, 5348
N. Clark St. Center: From top left, braided Andersonville
cardamom coffee cake; limpa bread; Marzipan Princess
Torte; toska torte; and two small marzariners. Bottom:
A long-standing assortment of Swedish cookies.
From Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct
2004 – Andersonville
Swedish Bakery is Andersonville's only remaining
Swedish bakery and is a bustling one at that.
After an expansion in 1992 that tripled
the size of the bakery, shoppers are now greeted
with a mind-boggling array of Swedish and European-style
pastries and cakes, as well as some American favorites.
Just about all the items are made from scratch
from whole ingredients every day. Many of the
pastries come in small sizes or by the slice,
making it easy for those with a sweet tooth to
pick up a variety of goodies to try.
The Swedish Bakery continues
to nurture Swedish traditions. If you are an almond
lover, this is the place for you. Among the treasures
to be found is the toska bitar, a small
rectangular pastry of almond cake topped with
slivered almonds and coated with chocolate on
the sides and bottom. A larger, round cousin (in
three sizes) is the toska torte finished
with caramelized, sliced almonds. Just as hard
to pass up is the biskvier, an almond macaroon
cookie bottom with light chocolate
buttercream dipped in chocolate, or the
marzariner, a dense, rich almond cake in
a cookie dough shell decorated with an oval of
It's impossible for me to walk out without a piece
of marzipan cake, an airy yellow sponge cake with
one layer of luscious custard filling and another
layer of perfect whipped cream, cloaked in beautiful
light green marzipan. It's available by the slice,
by the log, or as a whole cake. It's something
you just don't find it in that many bakeries these
days, and what makes it even more special, is
that the Swedish Bakery still makes its own marzipan
from scratch. The thick, velvety custard is also
Wikström's Gourmet Foods
From Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct
2004 – Andersonville
uninitiated shopper, Wikström's
Gourmet Foods appears to be your typical charming
Swedish delicatessen decorated in primary hues
of red, yellow, and blue. Not so. It is today
the largest Swedish delicatessen in the United
States. This shop, started by Ingvar Wikström
and his wife Alfhild in 1975, (and in business
for 15 years on Touhy Avenue before that) entices
customers from all corners of the globe.
Swedish food is
simple food, Ingvar ("Ing" for short)
explains to me. It consists of fish "in all
shapes and forms," pork, beef, potatoes,
brown beans, and plenty of cheese and dairy products.
The cuisine reflects an agriculture of a northern
climate that was limited by short growing seasons,
and is based on the frugal ingenuity of farmers
who, for instance, made use of every part of a
pig in all sorts of preparations since meat was
an expensive commodity. Many dishes were, and
still are, sweetened with a tiny accent of sugar.
to say, in a country so surrounded by sea, herring
is a popular item. Wikström's makes three
different kinds (pickled, sour cream, and mustard)
that Ingvar has trademarked as "Herr Ing."
The Matjes herring in its reddish spiced sugar-vinegar
brine is also carried, which, in the south of
Sweden is typically served with potatoes, onions,
a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of chives.
Various Scandinavian brands of herring are also
available by the jar in a wider range of sauces
and marinades. As to be expected, a multitude
of packaged caviar, caviar spreads, shrimp spreads,
kippers, codfish quenelles, patés (such
as smoked herring, salmon) are also available.
Try them with the crispbreads or the thin European
flatbreads. I am absolutely hooked on the low-fat,
German three-grain thin fiber bread buttered for
Top: Wikstrom's Gourmet Foods, 5247 N. Clark St.
Center: A top sirloin roasted to perfection, ready
Bottom: Fish products are sold in
every imaginable form.
Top: Middle Eastern Bakery
& Grocery, 1512 W. Foster Ave. Center: From
upper left, fava bean salad, tabbouleh, smoked
eggplant salad, and Moroccan eggplant salad. Bottom:
Middle Eastern Bakery &
Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2004 – Andersonville
Make it and they
will come. Make it fresh, all natural, and full of flavor, and
they will keep coming back. This is Middle Eastern Bakery
& Grocery's real-life script. After converting an old
oven in what once was a Swedish bakery to bake pita and other
Middle Eastern breads, the Khalifeh brothers opened this
unassuming store in 1983 to serve the varied Mediterranean
community living in Andersonville at the time. Fast forward to
today: the neighborhood has changed to where most of the
customers are Americans who simply love the food, which has
stayed true to its Middle Eastern roots. What's more, the
prices are reasonable.
A remodeling of
the store over the summer had regulars initially in a panic
when they thought the Khalifeh brothers were moving.
Fortunately Middle Eastern Bakery is staying, just now a bit
more spiffed up. But there's another reason this store
shines, and it is its absolute devotion to fresh, pure,
natural ingredients. The Khalifehs are serious about making
and buying food that lets the real flavor of individual
ingredients come through. All the prepared foods are made from
scratch in the kitchen on site daily, with no additives or
preservatives used whatsoever. Because only an amount of food
that will sell that day is made, you might not find everything
fills my shopping basket are the wonderful cold
salads and appetizers, or meze. Of the four eggplant
salads offered, the house specialty is one made
with smoked eggplant, smoked chile, and red pepper.
The Moroccan eggplant (with mushrooms and red
and green peppers) and spicy fava bean salad (fava
beans, tomato, red pepper, onion, parsley, olive
oil, lemon juice, and salt) happen to be two of
my favorites. It's hard to pass up the others,
though, including marinated artichokes, zucchini
sauté, cucumber yogurt, tzatziki, Jerusalem
(cucumber, tomato, tahini, parsley, olive oil),
and of course, tabbouleh.
Other appetizers include plenty of dips and spreads,
including four kinds of baba ghanouge, harrisa,
roasted red pepper, mashed fava bean, sun-dried
tomato, roasted garlic yogurt, olive spread, and
avocado spread. All relatively simple, but bursting
Ice Cream Parlour & Sweet Shoppe
Issue No. 6, July/Aug 2004 –
Founded in 1919 by Danish immigrant Hans Petersen, Petersen's
is one of country's oldest ice cream parlors in
continuous operation, and quite possibly the oldest
in the Chicago area, which is what makes it so
special. It's a place where generations of families
come to share the same classic ice cream favorites
as when they were young and where kids' sundaes
still come with little paper parasols.
What people line up at the door for, truth be told, is the
hot fudge turtle sundae where every detail is
thought out to gustatory perfection. Petersen's
"bottoms" and "tops" its sundaes
in the same way that has been done since 1919.
The turtle sundae is bottomed with caramel sauce,
followed by your choice of ice cream, which is
covered with another dollop of caramel sauce.
This is then topped with homemade whipped cream
made from gourmet heavy whipping cream, and a
bright red maraschino cherry, of course. Served
on the side are butter-roasted pecans and a terrine
(which keeps the sauce hot) of chocolate fudge.
This presentation lets you enjoy your sundae without
ever running out of topping. I must say, the combination
of the luxurious creaminess of the ice cream with
the slight saltiness of the nuts and velvety warmth
of the chocolate is one to experience.
This Oak Park institution is the place to consider trying
selections you can only get at an old-fashioned
parlor, specialties that are almost becoming lost
arts. Amazingly, much of the original soda fountain
equipment is still used today to make them. Highly
recommended is the chocolate soda made with heavy
cream and thick chocolate syrup that is fizzed with
soda water, then topped with ice cream, whipped cream,
and a cherry. It comes with a side of soda water to
make sure you enjoy the end of your soda as much as
the beginning. Other nostalgic favorites include
fabulous phosphates, made from soda water and
high-quality syrups (try the blueberry).
Top: Petersen's, 1100 Chicago Ave., Oak Park.
Middle: The turtle sundae is a long-time favorite
Issue No. 6, July/Aug 2004 – Ice
surprise and delight when you enter the Village
Creamery, the ultimate mom-and-pop shop that
combines traditional flavors of the old country in
two spic-and-span suburban locations. At first
glance, it looks like a standard 31-flavors sort of
ice cream shop, but after a quick peruse of the ice
cream, adventurous eaters wish they'd skipped
lunch. A number of the recipes are based on
traditional Filipino flavors from immigrants Lito
and Ann Valeroso, who set up shop in 2001 using
recipes from Ann's grandparents, who owned an ice
cream place in the Philippines.
are encouraged to taste, so I chose to explore
the more unusual variations, and save my typical
favorite—mint chocolate chip—for
another visit. Some of the exotic flavors include
avocado; macapuno, coconut ice cream with sweetened
young coconut pieces; ube, Asian purple yams;
passion fruit; lychee, the refreshing fruit of
southeast Asia often found as a dessert in Thai
restaurants; jackfruit, another Asian fruit similar
to pineapple; queso, vanilla ice cream with a
Kraft cheese made in the Philippines; and green
tea—certainly not your standard ice cream indulgences.
son Rod Valeroso has taken things up a notch,
if you will, by introducing innovative flavors
that appeal to daring palates, like the chocolate
berry merlot. It consists of dark chocolate ice
cream with a touch of blackberry flavoring and
a hint of merlot with some juicy cranberry pieces
tossed in, resulting in "a fruity chocolate,"
as Rod describes it. Other new adventures include
cool, freshing calamansi sherbert, made with Filipino
lime, and the very popular halo-halo fiesta, an
intriguing blend of vanilla ice cream mixed with
coconut gel, pineapple gel, jackfruit, red beans,
white beans, sugar palm, coconut, and crispy rice
Top: Village Creamery, 8000 Waukegan Rd. Niles
and 4558 W. Oakton St., Skokie. Middle: The delicious
ube (purple yam) and avocado flavors are some
of the most popular. Bottom: Bubble shakes made
with your choice of ice cream and tapioca balls
at the bottom have hit the Midwest as the newest
Fish & Gourmet Shop
Issue No. 5, May/June 2004 –
Dirk Fucik's knowledge shows in his selection
and explanations of ways to prepare any kind of
fish. Most of all, he truly wants you to enjoy
your fish and discover new types and new ways
to cook it. The fish always looks freshly cut
and moist, and that's because it is. "I get
most of my fish whole, keep them under ice, and
cut them up as we go," Fucik explains. "I
encourage you to eat it today because that's the
whole point of fresh fish." The noticeable
difference in quality comes through. My sampling
of sautéed flounder at home was impeccably
tender and flaky.
The fish selection
varies, and if you don't see what you want, Dirk's
can get it for you with advance notice depending
on what's in season and weather permitting. Fresh
fish can be flavored with one of six to eight
marinades made daily, such as teriyaki or soy/orange,
or with something like Japanese panko crumbs for
an extra crispy crunch.
top: Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop at 2070
N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago.
An array of whole fresh fish. Bottom: Beautiful
Hagen's Fish Market
Issue No. 5, May/June 2004 – Fish
lovers will want to visit Hagen's Fish Market. This friendly
family-run business has the only hardwood smokehouse remaining in
the city of Chicago, and produces exquisitely smoked fish from an
old-fashioned cinderblock smokehouse using natural hardwood fire.
Three generations of family have been smoking fish the same way ever
since. Locals, of course, know of Hagen's, as do Scandinavian
customers. But there are also those in the know who make the special
trip from far away. For me, I discovered my new favorite place for
smoked fish and pickled herring.
of Hagen's fish is smoked on the premises in the
smokehouse in back three days a week, more often
during the holiday season. "There is no secret
recipe," says Scott Johnson, who married
into the family. "It's natural fish, salt,
and smoke. That's it." Fish is soaked in
a salt brine the day before, then hung in the
smokehouse the next morning. It is smoked for
four to six hours depending on the size of the
fish. "We like to keep the fish whole or
cut into steaks," which keeps the fish moist,
Johnson explains. "This is the way Grandpa
Hagen always did it, and I think he had the right
Right top: Hagen's Fish Market at 5635 W. Montrose,
Middle: Mounds of smoked salmon. Bottom: Stacks
of smoked whitefish.
|Top: Patel Brothers
at 2610 West Devon Avenue, Chicago.
Top, right: Spices (or masala) have
evolved over the years in their blends
and styles to play an important role
in Indian cuisine.
Bottom, left: Condiments such as pickles
(made from vegetables and fruits), pastes,
chutneys, sauces, and relishes are regarded
as essential contributions to the overall
flavor of a meal.
Bottom, right: Co-owner Talashi Patel
scoops one of the 56 dried snacks available.
Issue No. 4, Mar/Apr 2004 – Devon Avenue
began as one of the first Indian grocery
stores on Devon Avenue 30 years ago, Patel
Brothers has today become a flourishing
empire in the Indian food business throughout
the United States. Today, brothers Talashi
and Mafet Patel oversee a nationwide chain
of 30 stores and operate a wholesale distribution
business in Chicago and New York. In the
Midwest alone, Patel Brothers supplies almost
800 retail customers. The business also
includes seven restaurants, a travel agency,
and Raja Foods, one of the largest Indian
food import businesses.
As you can guess by now, if you are searching for Indian ingredients,
you'll probably find everything you need
at Patel Brothers. This well-organized functional
store stocks the full range of ingredients
for all types of Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
Since much cooking is still from scratch,
you see mainly shelves and shelves of raw
ingredients. Perhaps the one unifying thread
of all the different regional cuisines is
the extensive use of spices and seasonings,
all of which you will find in abundance.
Also reasonably priced are nuts, including
almonds, cashews, pistachios, and jumbo
Argo Georgian Bakery
Issue No. 4, Mar/Apr 2004 – Devon Avenue
Argo is the only Georgian bakery
in the United States, and it's located on the
western end of Devon Avenue in Chicago, home to
a number of Eastern European stores. On a chilly
winter day, there's no better place to walk into.
The bakery is warmed by a large, tandoor-like
deep brick oven called a "tune." You
can watch native Georgian bakers at work hand
forming their traditional breads, an assortment
of sweet and savory items made with puff pastry,
and a few other Georgian and Russian specialties.
The bread is a lavash-like bread,
with a light but firm crust and wonderfully chewy
consistency. Two types are made: a round loaf
called puri and a long, narrow loaf, called
shoti. This bread has substance. It is
all natural, made simply from flour, water, salt,
and a little yeast. A steady stream of customers
stops in throughout the day to buy various pastries,
which are baked in small quantities in a separate
oven every 15 to 20 minutes. A must try is the
traditional Georgian specialty called hachapuri,
a flaky, four-corner puff pastry that is filled
with a mix of fresh feta, farmer's, and mozzarella
cheese that just oozes when you bite into it warm.
Argo Georgian Bakery at 2812 West Devon Avenue,
Chicago. Top, right: A fresh batch of hachapuri.
Center: Freshly powdered sweet tapluna, "Georgian
baklava." Bottom: Crusty loaves cooling.
Top: Joseph's Food Market at 8235 West Irving Park Road, Chicago.
Center: A large selection of brand name items. Bottom: Homemade
Joseph's Food Market
Issue No. 3, Jan/Feb 2004 – Butcher Shops - Part 2
Food Market is a family-run business that is packed with
quality Italian specialty food.
Joseph's is known for its meat, but has an equally excellent
reputation for its fresh seafood (from Wednesday through Sunday) and
huge selection of Italian products, many of which are homemade. The
morning I visited, the store was beginning to fill with the aroma of
freshly baked focaccia. Soon after, I found myself indulging in a
warm and crisp tomato, spinach, and ricotta sample—quite possibly
the best I have ever had.
The congenial John Nasti, son of owners Maria and Joseph Nasti, and
his sisters had me feeling welcome in no time. Everyone helps run
the store. John heads up the meat department, Joseph helps
customers, while wife Maria and daughter Elena specialize in making
a variety of focaccia and bread, as well as the sauces, pizzas,
salads, and other items. Lina, the other daughter, helps manage the
store, while nieces and nephews work up front at the checkout.
The stores sells a lot of beef, which is
Limousin Supreme. The resulting meat is flavorful, and happily, has
less fat than conventional beef. All steaks are cut to order, and
John will dry age steaks upon request. The meat department also
carries the full range of meats most commonly in demand, including a
nice selection of pork, veal, and lamb. All sausages are freshly
made and all natural. There are a few marinated items, such as the
chicken breasts, turkey breasts, and boneless pork chops. I
recommend the thick, marinated boneless pork chops, which are
seasoned lightly with fragrant Italian seasonings, garlic, salt, and
NorShore Meats & Deli
From Issue No. 2, Nov/Dec 2003 –
Butcher Shops – Part 1
find anything prepackaged or precut at NorShore
Meats & Deli. All meat is prime and choice,
and prepared with great care for you in precisely
the way you want it when you walk in—from
the cutting to the packaging. Even the beef is
ground only when you order it. You can't
get much fresher than that. Another NorShore specialty
is dry-aged beef (7 to 21 days), done mostly for
steaks. In addition to the extensive beef offerings,
you'll find a nice selection of poultry,
pork, lamb, veal, sausage, cold cuts and cheeses.
Around Thanksgiving, there's a big demand
for fresh turkeys and spiral-cut hams (Jone's
dry-cured and Hillshire).
Top left: NorShore Meats & Deli at 421 Ridge
Road in Wilmette. Top right: The hang rail above NorShore's immaculate
work area is still used to move meat deliveries to the interior meat
locker. Bottom right: Mike Ferrari, one of three family owners, trims beautiful
beef tenderloins with concentrated precision.
Top: Paulina Market at 3501 N. Lincoln
Ave., Chicago. Center: A variety of smoked meats in meal-size
portions are a wonderful addition to pastas and salads.
Bottom: Freshly made plump sausages of all kinds are a
long-time Paulina Market specialty.
Issue No. 3, Jan/Feb 2004 – Butcher Shops - Part 2
The aroma of more
than 100 varieties of fresh sausages, salamis, and smoked
meats makes it hard to not walk out of Paulina Market with
more than you planned to buy. For many Chicagoans on the near
North side, this West Lakeview old-world meat market is the
place to go for meat. It is one of Chicago's largest and
best butcher shops. Paulina Market got its start as a
neighborhood butcher shop at the intersection of Paulina,
Roscoe, and Lincoln more than 50 years ago in what was then a
German working-class neighborhood. Brothers Ray and Jerry
Lekan continue to run the business along with 12 butchers and
four sausage makers in its current, bigger location just a few
Market sells the higher-end prime and choice meats
and the highest quality of chicken and poultry.
They still get whole cattle as well as some boxed
beef, and do all the cutting on the premises.
Since the business buys in small quantities, meats
are fresher because orders and turnover are frequent.
"After 50 years," says Ray, "we've
got the timing right and our suppliers know what
we need and when we need it." No matter
what time of year you visit, Paulina Market is
a busy place. Their selection of fresh meats is
extensive and impressive. And if you don't see
something you need, just ask for it.
From Issue No. 2, Nov/Dec
2003 – Butcher Shops – Part 1
Bari Foods is one of those wonderful
quintessential neighborhood stores that all too
often seemed to have disappeared. Fortunately,
this jewel of a store continues to thrive. Bari
Foods is a small grocery store with a full-service
meat market carrying a wide selection of high-quality
choice meats (although not game and other unusual
items). The Pedotas will go the extra mile to
find whatever meat you need and prepare it any
way you want at no extra charge.
My friend and avid cook
Ernie Rossiello goes out of his way to buy his
meat here, where he has shopped for more than
20 years. “The meat is superb, top quality,”
he says. On top of that, prices are reasonable.
He likes to get the rack of lamb (frenched), crown
roast of lamb (tied and seasoned), and various
cuts of veal, including a nice saddle of veal.
Bari Foods at 1120 West Grand Avenue in Chicago.
Center and bottom: Homemade goods based on family
recipes and sausages made daily are Bari Foods'
Trotter's To Go
From Issue No. 1, Sept/Oct
2003 – Gourmet Foods to Go
Like the world-famous Charlie Trotter's
restaurant, Trotter's To Go is in a class of its own as a
distinctive urban food market in the Lincoln Park/DePaul area offering
exquisitely prepared gourmet take-out food. The store is consistent
with the philosophies and ideas of the restaurant, which are to
use only the best, freshest, seasonal foodstuffs and organically
raised products for the extensive selection of items offered. Not
only are foods fresh, but they are ingeniously creative and incredibly
flavorful. This cuisine is simply unparalleled.
As you walk into the open and airy store, you
are immediately drawn to the colorful and beautifully presented
bowls and platters of salads, vegetables, fish, and meats. Just
behind the counter, more meats are roasting on the spit rotisserie
and chefs are busy at work in the open-style kitchen area. In addition
to the regularly offered items, there are always some surprises
based on the creative whims of the chefs. Everything looks as though
it was just prepared, and that's because it is. Dishes are
made in small batches throughout the day and adjusted for flavorings
Top: Trotter's To Go at 1337 West Fullerton.
Bottom: Wide selection of salads.
Top: Fox & Obel Food Market at 401 East Illinois
Street. Left: Freshly baked foccacia. Right: Large selection of olive
Fox & Obel
Issue No. 1, Sept/Oct 2003 – Gourmet Foods to Go
years, Chicagoans have wondered why we lack the likes of a Dean &
DeLuca, Zabar's, or small European-styled prepared food shops.
We now we have our answer in Fox & Obel. Opened in August 2001,
this 22,000 square-foot gourmet food market in Streeterville offers
a dazzlingly and impressive array of the exotic to the everyday.
Customers can stroll by a bread and bakery area, prepared foods
section, butcher shop, fresh fish market, cheese section, produce
department, charcuterie area, wine and beer, and specialty foods.
Other areas include kitchenware, frozen foods, fresh-cut flower
market, and a section with whole-bean coffee, confections, and dried
fruit. Shoppers can round out their grocery lists with the more
everyday, albeit upscale items.
Fox & Obel features more than 75 prepared
foods and salads, some 400 types of cheeses from Italy, France,
and the Mediterranean, more than 120 varieties of olive oils and
vinegars, around 20 smoked fish choices, about a dozen different
hams and procuittos, and a dozen different kinds of hearth-baked
breads. The prepared foods are made on site daily and include such
varied offerings as savory wild mushroom and truffle rigatoni salad,
roasted poblano rajas, beef and veal meatloaf, Moroccan bean salad,
blackened grouper, barbecue pork ribs, soba noodle salad, and shrimp