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May 12, 2003 04:51 PM

Alef Sausage & Deli?

  • c

Taking my car for service in Libertyville last week, I stumbled onto an Eastern European deli in a strip mall adjoining the Cub Foods in Mundelein on Townline Road. I must preface my review by mentioning that without any English-speaking staff or signage to speak of, I was very much on my own in the little pantry-style grocer/deli. Only about one-third of the items throughout the store carried those little English translation labels that can be so helpful (and required??) in foreign food stores. From what I could tell, the focus seemed to be on Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia and Latvia. The common bond of all the countries represented seemed to be an intense affinity for pickled tomatoes, as an entire aisle and a portion of another was devoted to them--of varying brands from various countries. Pickled vegetables and spreads of all kinds abounded in every aisle--there was even an infant formula brand from Lithuania. As that label was also indecipherable, I could only suspect that its base ingredient was also pickled tomatoes. I picked up jars of this and that as best I could, but the real interesting part was the long deli case that ran along a side wall, and which contained a good assortment of meats, roasts and sausages, the contents of which I could again only guess at. An awkward exchange with the woman behind the counter resulted in only two ascertainable English words--"spicy sausage" which she proceeded to slice and wrap for me without waiting for my assent. In the meantime, I pointed out great-smelling savory items that were steaming from large aluminum trays atop the deli case. There was a breaded fish, something resembling kugel, and long coils of cooked sausage. I concentrated on the selection of dumpling/bun-type things variously filled with livery tasting ground meat & onions, potato and cheese that my Polish-German background could only associate with pierogi, but which were more bread-like than dumpling-esque. I polished off all three of them in my car en route to Libertyville and immediately made a mental note to hit the gym ASAP. Subsequent research online has led me to believe that these are called cepalinais or cepalini, and the base of the dough is potato flour. I think they were less than a dollar each, which could lead to serious weight gain if this place were on my normal route.

The spicy sausage that the counter woman sold me tasted somewhat like pepperoni, and was indeed spicy. It was great at home with Polish mustard on Latvian rye (!) that I also purchased there. The breads are varied but not the freshest. Most came from the same bakery in Chicago whose name escapes me--not Baltic Bakery though. The rye went moldy only two days after I purchased it, but it was excellent while it lasted--moist and rich. The short back wall was lined with frozen-refrigerated cases containing frozen sauerkraut, borscht, trays of other unidentified prepared foods, jars of pickled fish, cheeses and meats that carried no English explanation whatsoever. The place is clearly not targeting even the adventurous English speaker--I believe the sign itself only read "Deli" and it wasn't until I looked at the top of my receipt at home that I saw the name--Alef Sausage and Deli. Directory assistance has no listing for the place, so I'm not sure what name the place actually goes by, but what a great discovery in the midst of Lake County. I would appreciate any additional intelligence on this place or its offerings that might make my next visit more productive and enlightening. Skanaus!

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  1. Hi!

    There is another eastern european deli and vegetable market in Mundelein. IT is where Route 60 and Route 83 meet, in the area where the Krispy Kreme is. My Mundelein friend claims there is a growing East European population around Mundelein-Libertyville.

    There was a larger "International" market in Libertyville on Milwaukee Avenue behind the Bakers Square. It was recommended many times, I never got over there and it has since closed.

    I have a Russian-speaking friend as well as a Polish-speaking friend who live nearby those stores. We could meet sometime with them, who could help us explore these two stores more effectively!


    2 Replies
    1. re: Cathy2

      Cathy, could we be referring to the same store? The one I went to is a door or two down from a little Mexican grocer (which was pretty disappointing after the place I'd just been to). If there is more than one, so much the better. The place was jumping when I was there, so I would tend to agree with your demographic assessment of the growing E. European population. I kept asking myself where all these people were coming from. I am absolutely up for a return trip to the place with a knowledgeable guide. Keep me posted. Thanks!

      1. re: CoolerbytheLake

        Your experience pretty much reflects mine. Good stuff but no English. I did try a couple of smoked fish and they were very good.

        Also in the area, on Townline at Butterfield is a newish Polish deli. I haven't tried it yet.

        Very good Hungarian sausage, made in house can be found at Bende and Son in Vernon Hills off 45. They also carry a lot of pickeled stuff packaged under their own brand. Every thing I've tried has been good.

        Bende Inc.
        875 Corporate Woods Parkway
        Vernon Hills IL 60061

    2. Hi There Coolerbythe Lake! I'm of Russian descent. I came to the States when I was 6 years old and feel very much a duality to my nationality. I definitely think of myself more as an American, but cannot part with some of the Russian traditions I was brought up with. I know many Russian immigrants who arrived to this country in 1980's feel the same way.

      I felt I had to offer that introduction before I explained what's actually happening at Alef Deli and sausage. Back in the 80's no Russian delicatesen would have existed without someone there speaking at least some English. But I'm affraid it is not so these days. The Russian population, now very present in Buffalo Grove, Vernon Hills, and Mundelein, not to mention the other Eastern European people who may reside in these areas, allows places like this Deli to not have English speaking employees. This deli's popularity is so huge that prior to having 20 people at my house this Weekend, I will make a trip out to Mundelein fromnDeerfield to buy some classic goodies for my party.

      Because of my American-Russian heritage I will keep my goodies to the "best bang for the fat"! What I mean is, I have to stick to those foods which I don't mind eating not withstanding their calorie content; ie: amazing creps, seaweed salad (not Russian, but a must in every Russian store), caviar (a total staple!), sauteed vegetables, baba ganoush (Israeli salad) and maybe some beef salami are there.

      By the way "Alef" as the deli is named is the first letter of the hebrew alpha-bet (notice the hyphon means that the alpha comes from Alef. Anyway, most Russians who originally immigrated in the 80's are Jews. Therefore the kugel you observed and the babaganoush, and hummus, and kosher salami. : ) Hope this helps, although I have no idea how someone who doesn't speak Russian could ever know what's going on in one of these places. I'm affraid, in this respect, we're following in the footsteps of the Russians in Brooklyn, N.Y.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Deziner

        Another place to go to closer to the city is European Market on Oakton in Skokie. A great place to get pilmeni and Russian beer and vodka. Also good deli items such as salamis, cheeses, etc.

        1. re: igorm

          My husband and I love love love experiencing the different ethnic opportunities in the Chicagoland area, from little Korea to Argyle for Vietnamese. That being said, I do appreciate some english being spoken so we can communicate a little. We have a Polish deli down the street way out in the burbs (Lake in the Hills) where no one speaks a word of English, and they're not very friendly. As a result, we will never go back. I'm in the foodservice business and am all about supporting the independents, but when the shopping/dining experience becomes uncomfortable, it's just not worth it. Not that our business will make or break anyone, but it's a shame none the less.