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Gourmet Food Shops in Chicago? Pastoral, Fox and Obel, and...

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Hi Chicago Hounds,

We're coming to Chicago at the end of May and are searching for the best gourmet food shops in town. So far, we have Pastoral, Provenance, Fox and Obel, and August Grocery on the list but there must be many others.

We're going to be in Wicker Park/Bucktown, Lincoln Park/Old Town, and Dowtntown so any place in those neighborhoods would be great, though if there's a must in another neighborhood, please share!

Thanks so much!

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  1. >> we have Pastoral, Provenance, Fox and Obel, and August Grocery on the list but there must be many others.

    Not necessarily.

    One thing that has characterized Chicago's high-end grocery segment is that, unlike many other cities, we don't have many high-end stores that sell a wide variety of all foods. Our stores tend to be more specialized, with high-end butchers, high-end fish markets, markets that specialize in fresh produce, bakeries, cheese shops, wine/liquor stores, etc. So when preparing an elaborate meal for company, we are accustomed to making stops at as many as half a dozen stores to pick up all the ingredients we need.

    Fox & Obel is a relative newcomer here (they opened in 2001) and was really unique in Chicago. It's probably hard to believe now that they're so well established and well known, but before that there really wasn't any one food store that had such high quality in so many areas. (Foodstuffs, in the suburbs, has been around for a while, but their selection in many areas is limited and the quality is nowhere near as consistent as at F&O.) This is different from, say, New York City, where Zabar's, Balducci's, and Dean & Deluca have been around for decades, and where there are also grocery stores in neighborhoods throughout the city that offer a very high level of quality.

    That's just the way it is here. It's not that you can't get the highest quality foods here; you can. You just don't usually find them all in the same place.

    Here are discussions with recommendations for specialty stores you might want to stop at:

    Butchers:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/561594
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/380774
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/477536

    Fishmongers:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/321210
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/418724
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/477536

    Croissants:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/367903

    Pastry:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/542316

    Chocolatiers:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/374386

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you SO much for your thoughtful reply, Nsxtasy. I'm going to post in a sec on our current general picks by neighborhood and look forward to your input.

      Suebee

    2. nxstasy is right about comprehensive gourmet stores. The only place I in the city that I really get that kid in a candy store feeling is Fox & Obel. Foodstuffs has improved and brought their prices down; if you are going through Evanston might be worth it, but they don't have much that you can't get at F&0, except for the best gummy worms in the world. (Not kidding.)

      Also, the Spice House:

      http://www.thespicehouse.com/

      1 Reply
      1. re: bibi rose

        Yes, the Spice House - one more stop along the way for those special dinners! The Spice House and Penzeys, which share a family relationship between their founders, both have multiple locations around the Chicago area:

        The Spice House ( www.thespicehouse.com ) - Chicago/Old Town, Evanston, Geneva, and Milwaukee WI

        Penzeys Spices ( www.penzeys.com ) - Naperville, Oak Park, and additional locations nationwide

      2. August is right across the street from me so I'm a devoted fan of George and his sister's foodstuff. While its fantastic for its purposes, serving a small neighborhood with gourmet, hard to find items, I don't think its necessary destination worthy unless you wanted to check out George's cooking lessons (which I hear are fantastic). There is usually a one selection of beef, lamb, chicken, tuna, and some other type of fish. Their spices are pretty limited, as is their produce. However, their cheese selection switches out monthly, which is why I visit about once a month to get a gander at whats new.

        1. I dunno if it's changed much, but Treasure Island has some interesting buys as well.

          1. I have not been there, but people seem to love Zaleski & Horvath Market.

            http://www.zhmarketcafe.com/

            1 Reply
            1. re: rubinow

              Quick note - Z&H is in the Kenwood neighborhood, six miles south of the Loop and convenient to Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.

            2. I was just reviewing this post and it occurred to me that the best example of gourmet market in Chicago is undeniably the French Market in the Ogilvie station. I had such a good saturday, wandering around, picking at the samples, wondering what "gypsy bacon" was and salivating at Patisserie Vanille's amazing offerings. If you're coming to chicago and want a gourmet market, the French Market should meet every single one of your needs.
              http://www.frenchmarketchicago.com/

              4 Replies
              1. re: Eaterlover

                True. However, the French Market has only been open since December, so it was not yet open when this topic was active almost a year ago.

                1. re: Eaterlover

                  I made my first trip to the Market several weeks ago, and didn't like it very much. New, yes - seemingly undercapitalized and not very attractive . . . yes, also. If I were in the neighborhood maybe I'd stop in to check things out, but I don't expect to recommend to people that they make a special trip to see it.

                  1. re: gomexico

                    That's odd. I liked it A LOT - partly because, in one place, it brings together smaller outlets of some of the very best that Chicago has to offer, not just whatever schlocky place was willing to pay the rent. You would have to be traveling all over the city to get things from Pastoral, Vanille, Canady, and Delightful Pastries, none of which is near each other, but the French Market offers "one stop shopping". And although the shops are not carrying the entire selection from their original locations, there's enough variety that you can find enough to surprise and delight even the most dedicated foodie. No, I wouldn't recommend that anyone make a special trip TO SEE IT, but if someone wants to buy a variety of high-quality food items without going all over town, I'd recommend it in a heartbeat. It's also one of the very few places to offer extreme convenience to those traveling there by public transportation as well as by car (with free validated parking in the adjacent garage to the north).

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      yep all the reasons that Nxstasy stated are precisely why I love the new french market. Even though Vanille is 1.8 miles away from my apartment, I rarely venture over because the walk isn't very pretty. Having had both Lovely's and Alliance's attempts at macaroon, I was totally blown away by Vanille's. They actually had me flashing back to Paris, and only really good food does that. Maybe I'm just an odd duck, but I could easily while away a saturday afternoon here. Maybe when the vendor selections expand, there will be even more reasons to go!

                2. A bit old, but we visited Trotter's to Go when I was in town and quite liked it.

                  1. If you have a car and can spare the time venture up to Skokie. On Touhy just west of 94 on the north side of the road is a huge grocery called Fresh Farms. It used to be Grand Market / International Market. It's in the same lot at Walmart, Kids R Us and is fantastic! I've been to all of the places listed in all of the comments and by far this is the most interesting. Yes, it's a massive grocery store but it's geared towards the unusual and ethnic. They have an amazing fish/seafood section as well as meat counter. I recently came across veal brains, liver and breast all fresh cut and displayed. They have just about everything you could want from any local shop all in once place. They have Asian, Eastern European, Indian, Greek, Jamaican, Kosher, and the list goes on.......
                    I can really appreciate the experience at a small shop that specializes in certain types of food but this place is absolutely worth the trip. Bring a cooler, you're going to need it.