Eating and Cooking Well in Chicago - HELP!
Hey Chowhounds: An Australian Hound is heading to Ann Arbor Michigan and Chicago and is in need of help in finding where to shop and where to eat! Please serve up some great finds to show him that we know how to dish it up! We need some great specialty stores: Cheese, Vegetables etc, and GOOD supermarkets. And some great restaurant finds. ANY information will help.
One great supermarket chain (a small one, but with outposts in several neighborhoods) is Treasure Island. They all have a whole middle section devoted to ethnic foods, and I find their meat and fish to be good quality. Fox and Obel is our premier fancy food store, though I am often disappointed by their cheeses (have been burned by too-old cheeses, or cheeses that aren't old enough!). For cheese I prefer Binny's on North Clark, or two cheese shops in Lincoln Square, The Cheese Stands Alone, on Western, and Bouffe, on Leland east of Western. I like L'Appetito (2 locations in the Gold Coast area) for Italian meats, cheeses, and grocery items (more accessible for me than going to the old Italian neighborhoods).
Where to eat? Just look at this board. But a few favorites are Blackbird, for excellent contemporary American, Jackie's Bistro in Evanston (French), Meiji, at 623 W. Randolph for superb Japanese (sushi included, of course), Alinea (if you want to spend a small fortune for the meal of your lifetime), Avenues (less expensive than Alinea, but ranked right under it, IMHO), Spoon Thai in Lincoln Square (order off the Thai menu for some unusual dishes that most Thai places don't serve), Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown - Whew! That's all I can think of at the moment. Oh - Spiaggia for great haute-Italian (though I also like Vivere, in the Loop, a lot), and Essence of India, in Lincoln Square on Lincoln, for wonderful Indian food.
There's a great book called "A Cooks Guide to Chicago" (by Marilyn Pocius) with hundreds of listings for food/wine stores, cook's supplies, ethnic stores, etc. Anything you need. You can get it at any local bookstore, or for that matter Amazon if you're not in the area yet.
Be sure to get the recently revised second edition that came out this summer. There have been a lot of changes.
I note that the publisher's web site (lakeclaremont.com) hasn't been updated for this edition yet. The publisher is a small storefront operation, so getting books out may be more important than updating their site.
Two stores in Chicago that are outgrowths of ethnic fruit and vegetable markets should be considered:
The Cermak Produce mini chain varies quite a bit. Some of the stores are almost exclusively Mexican. The large Kedzie store has much larger and better meat and produce sections than the two big chains' stores along with many packaged goods for all sorts of Hispanics and others. Customer mix includes Chowhounds, yuppies, women in Islamic garb, Eastern Europeans, Asians, Mexicans and practically every other Hispanic group in the North Side.
A&G started as an Italian fruit and vegetable market but expanded to fill a former department store that occupies most of the 5600 block of West Belmont. The produce department is even larger and more varied the the largest Cermak Produce store, but the meat selection is not quite as large. A&G has quite a lot for the Polish and other Eastern European markets.
Neither of these store carries full lines of normal American packaged goods and nonfood items. What they do carry is a better assortment of the good stuff at prices lower than the big chains. The produce prices are notably lower than Stanleys, which beats the big chains all hollow.
4234 North Kedzie
5600 block of West Belmont
I'll second The Cheese Stands Alone, on Western a couple blocks south of Lawrence. I would direct a hound to Chicago's ethnic food, depending on the person's taste preferences. I'm guessing that an Australian is used to access to great Asian food, so I would suggest Pilsen and Little Village for Mexican, Milwaukee Avenue for Polish, etc. I haven't gotten to these places often enough recently to make specific recommendations, but I'm sure others have. Also, all American barbeque-- my own favorite being Hecky's on Emerson at Green Bay in Evanston. Jamaican along Howard Street (we usually buy from Jazmin's on Dodge in Evanston, but I hear there are better places on Howard, near Damen.) And of course, Chicago hot dogs.
re: Anne H
Well, if we're recommending neighborhood ethnic, we can't forget Argyle Street, for great Chinese and Vietnamese groceries and restaurants. Though primarily a Vietnamese shopping strip, many, if not most, of the population are Vietnamese of Chinese ethnicity. Many great Vietnamese groceries with a lot of Chinese staples - for places to eat, you can't go wrong at Sun Wah Bar-B-Que, which has a sit-down restaurant as well (very bare-bones, but great food), Hai Yen or Cafe Nhu Hoa. There's also the Thai Grocery, on Broadway where Argyle ends, and a few Thai restaurants, like Thai Avenue, or Thai Pastry, both on Broadway south of Argyle. Argyle Street runs between Broadway and Sheridan, and can be reached by the Red Line L from the Loop (get off at the Argyle stop, and you're right there).
Shopping - big second to Fox & Obel and Treasure Island. Supermarkets are not that great in Chicago, really - two big chains had a lock on the city for a long time, and the pickings ranged from slim to sloppy. But other stores are finally starting to muscle in around the suburbs (if you're out west, go take an hour's tourist walk through one of the Woodman's Markets).
One terrific city grocery is Caputo's on Harlem Ave, Elmwood Park. Best produce in Chicago (certainly the best variety), and they still have real butchers in the meat department, not just re-wrappers. Watch your feet near the veal counter - that's usually where they put the big tin buckets of water with fresh snails swimming around. Neighborhood is mostly Italian/Polish, so you'll see a lot of imported specialties on the shelves.
For cheese, my mecca is Caputo's Cheese Mart on 15th St. in Melrose Park (west of city). I have not seen a comparable variety (and quality) of domestic, imported and homemade cheeses anywhere in Chicago. Love Binny's, but I make special trips out of my way to the Cheese Mart. Also they have great Italian deli items and cheap, cheap imported house brand pasta. P.S. the prices are way cheaper than the stores named in previous posts, which are located in primetime real estate. Cheese Mart is in a mostly-industrial working class area, across from a mattress warehouse. Call for hours before you go.
Don't know anything about Ann Arbor, but there is a very nice supermarket chain in Michigan called Meijer. Don't be put off by the superstore appearance - they generally have decent produce (not as good as Whole Foods, but Meijer can sometimes surprise you by bringing in produce from local growers) and good meat.
I'll second the motion for Woodman's as being awesome and low prices plus Wisconsin has no food tax. And if your all the way up in Kenosha don't miss Tenuta's, it's one of the most unique stores around, the focus is Italian with 100's of wines, cheeses and an excellent deli. Also add to the list of great northern suburb grocers the newly opened Lewis Fresh market on Grand Ave in Waukegan, for outstanding produce and meats.
With the bankruptcy of the Eagle chain in 2003 and the closure of about 30 Cub Foods and Dominick's stores, there have been a lot of open storefronts that have been swallowed up by local entrepeneurs who generally offer BETTER food at a lower price than the large chain supermarkets.
Here are some ideas:
Supermarkets in Ann Arbor... stay away from the Kroger chain! Especially the one on U of M's North Campus. Try either Bush's or Hiller's markets. Smaller, good service, decent selection. I love Bello Vino on Plymouth Road. Has a terrific selection of wine and beer. Local produce, quality meat. Great deli section, baked goods, cheeses and specialty food items. Not much more expensive than the chains. Kerrytown area... There's a lot in the Kerrytown Mall. Check out Sparrow Meats and Monahans Fish Market, Everyday Wines. And right across the street is the (in)famous Zingerman's deli. Very expensive (some say overrated) but if you need Australian wattle seeds or $100 olive oil, that's your place. And there's an excellent farmer's market every Saturday and Wednesday.
Also, Morgan & York for artisan cheeses, charcuterie and interesting wine selection.