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The Goddess and Grocer

From Issue No. 12, November 05 – Gourmet/Prepared Foods - Part 2

Debbie 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.

Moms 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.”

The 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.”                                                                                                                       Nancy Maes

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. Middle: Mahi 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.

Cooking Fools
From Issue No. 12, November 05 – Gourmet/Prepared Foods - Part 2

This 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.” 

The 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. 

Southport Grocery and Café

From Issue No. 12, November 05 – Gourmet/Prepared Foods - Part 2

With 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.

This 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.

The 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 jalepeño sauce.

La Cebollita
From 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.

From 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
From 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 ripened perfectly.

Three Tarts Bakery and Café

From 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 “home-style” cakeschocolate, banana, or coconutthe 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.
Top: Vanille Pâtisserie at 2229 North Clybourn, Chicago. Middle: Tartes Profiterolles. Bottom: Flaky almond, chocolate, and plain croissants.
Vanille Pâtisserie
From Issue No. 10, May 05 – Pastry Shops - Part 1

In 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.

The 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 croissantsplain, 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 doughtoo 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 Paris.
Tanya Fritz

Julius Meinl

From 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 interiordesigned and built in Austriahas 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 Meinl.

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 powder.

Top: 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.

Belgian Chocolatier Piron
From Issue No. 9, Feb 05 – Chocolate Shops

There 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 samesome say even betterchocolates 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 exquisitechocolate diamonds filled with a blend of milk chocolate and hazelnut praline laced with diced pecans. Insanely good chocolate Marzipan rectanglesso hard to findare 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.

The 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 here.

Top: Belgian Chocolatier Piron, 509 Main Street, Evanston. 
Middle: An assortment of chocolates all handmade in the classic Belgian style. 
Bottom: Almost too pretty to eat: marbleized Fruits de Mer filled with a chocolate hazelnut praline.

Coco Rouge

From Issue No. 9, Feb 05 – Chocolate Shops

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.

The 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.”

Like 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.  

                                                                          Top: Coco Rouge is available by phone order at 1.888.681.COCO. 
                                                                          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.

Top: bon 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.

bon bon
From Issue No. 9, Feb 05 – Chocolate Shops

Bon 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.

The Artisan Cellar
From Issue No. 8, Nov/Dec 2004 – Wine Shops

The 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 on.

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 Plaza, 
Suite 116 (Main Floor), Chicago. 
Bottom: Handwritten notes based on 
wine buyer Gregg Wilson's observations 
describe every bottle in the store.

From Issue No. 8, Nov/Dec 2004 – Wine Shops

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, friendly staff.

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. 

Kafka Wine Co.
From Issue No. 8, Nov/Dec 2004 – Wine Shops

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 wines shimmer.

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.
Swedish Bakery 
From Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2004 – Andersonville

The 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 sugar icing.

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 homemade.

Wikström's Gourmet Foods 

From Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2004 – Andersonville

To the 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.

Needless 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 breakfast. 
Top: Wikstrom's Gourmet Foods, 5247 N. Clark St. 
                                                                                                      Center: A top sirloin roasted to perfection, ready for sandwiches. 
                                                                                                                 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: Assorted baklava.

Middle Eastern Bakery & Grocery 
From 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 every time.

What 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 with flavor.

Petersen's Restaurant, Ice Cream Parlour & Sweet Shoppe

From Issue No. 6, July/Aug 2004 Ice Cream/Gelato

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 of customers.

Village Creamery
From Issue No. 6, July/Aug 2004 – Ice Cream/Gelato

Expect 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.

Guests are encouraged to taste, so I chose to explore the more unusual variations, and save my typical favoritemint chocolate chipfor 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 teacertainly not your standard ice cream indulgences.

Now 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 cereal.

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 rage.

Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop
From Issue No. 5, May/June 2004 – Fish Markets

Owner 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.

Left top: Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop at 2070 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago.
Middle: An array of whole fresh fish. Bottom: Beautiful red tuna.

Hagen's Fish Market

From Issue No. 5, May/June 2004 – Fish Markets

Smoked 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.

All 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 idea."

Right top: Hagen's Fish Market at 5635 W. Montrose, Chicago.
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.
Patel Brothers
From Issue No. 4, Mar/Apr 2004 – Devon Avenue

What 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 peanuts.

Argo Georgian Bakery
From 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.

Top: 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 bread. 

Joseph's Food Market
From Issue No. 3, Jan/Feb 2004 – Butcher Shops - Part 2

Joseph's 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 samplequite 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 pepper.

NorShore Meats & Deli
From Issue No. 2, Nov/Dec 2003 – Butcher Shops – Part 1

You won't 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 infrom 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.
Paulina Market
From 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 blocks north.

Paulina 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.


Bari Foods
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.

Top: 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' specialties. 


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 each time.
                                                                                                            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 oils.
Fox & Obel
From Issue No. 1, Sept/Oct 2003 – Gourmet Foods to Go

For 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 remoulade.