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High End Chicago Market?

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  • JedT Dec 19, 2010 05:09 AM
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In town for several days (staying downtown) and wanted to take several items back home to Mississippi to cook for the holidays. I've heard of Trotters to Go and Fox and Obel. Are these or other places the best sources for high end seafood, meat, game and cheeses or are there better sources?

Thanks for any help!

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  1. Fox & Obel is the best place for high-end seafood, meat, prepared foods, baked goods, etc. It's easily the best one-stop-shopping place for high-end foodstuffs in the entire Chicago area. www.fox-obel.com

    I've been to Trotter's To Go and they have some very good prepared foods, but they don't have anywhere near the variety of Fox & Obel, and it's really not the place for raw ingredients like seafood and meats.

    If you don't mind making multiple stops, Chicago has a lot of specialty food shops where you can get top quality and a nice variety for one specific type of food, much more so than many other cities. So if you're preparing for an elaborate dinner party, it's not unusual to go to a butcher for meats, a fishmonger for seafood, a market specializing in produce for the vegetables/salad, etc. That's just the way it is here, for whatever reason. It's no knock on Fox & Obel, and if you want to do all your shopping in one place, and again that's still THE place to go. But here are some suggestions among those specialty shops.

    For cheeses, Fox & Obel is very good but you'll find an even better selection at Pastoral, which has the original shop in Lakeview, a shop on Lake Street in the Loop, and a stall in the French Market in the train station just west of the Loop. www.pastoralartisan.com

    For meats and fish/seafood, the quality at Fox & Obel is as good as anywhere, but you'll find greater variety at our specialty butchers and fishmongers, who are recommended in the following topics:

    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

    I don't usually shop for game and I haven't noticed whether they have it at F&O. I've seen quite a variety of game in the freezer at the butcher in the northern suburbs where I shop, Zier's in Wilmette. www.ziersprime.com

    Given your situation, I would go straight to Fox & Obel and see if they can fill all your needs. You might find that you don't need to go anywhere else.

    Oh, and don't miss the baked goods at Fox & Obel. I love their rich cinnamon swirl rolls, they do a wonderful hearty fruit-and-nut bread whose name I forget, they have great brioche and other breads as well as pastries too.

    HTH

    1. F & O is excellent without question, however, the Whole Foods on Kingsbury is one of their biggest & newest stores. It carries far more than F&O. It's my go-to option when I want to shop in one place. Nsxtasy's recommendations for specialty butchers, fishmongers, bakers, etc. Is a good one but harder for a visitor to get around to that many purveyors. Either WF or F&O will have advantages & disadvantages but either should meet your needs.

      10 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        I've been to the Whole Foods on Kingsbury numerous times, and although the selection is huge - the store is way bigger than most of their other stores (although the one in Northfield is pretty big too) - it's the same level of quality as most other Whole Foods. While the quality is generally better than your typical neighborhood supermarket, I just don't think their products have the same quality level as those at Fox & Obel. There's very little at Whole Foods that "wows" me, yet I am constantly impressed with the items at Fox & Obel. To me, the difference between them is like night and day.

        The Whole Foods on Kingsbury is also quite a bit less convenient to downtown than Fox & Obel, but the huge difference in quality is the main reason I recommend going to Fox & Obel rather than Whole Foods.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          As I said, there are advantages and disadvantages to both and I am suggesting the Whole Foods on Kingsbury (not any other) as an alternative. No question that Fox and Obel has some higher quality and more exotic options than Whole Foods, but the OP is from Mississippi which doesn't even have a Whole Foods.

          Depending on where one is staying and how one is getting around would determine the convenience of Whole Foods (Kingsbury) v. Fox and Obel. I find the traffic and parking more inconvenient for F&O than WF.

          For the full experience of high quality options and everything available, I stand by my recommendation of WF. My own first visit to that store for foodie me who had been to other WFs many times was a little mind boggling with everything that was available. For the full experience of high quality options and everything available, I stand by my recommendation of WF.

          And I wouldn't bother with Trotters-to-Go (which is further still from downtown). It's primarily prepared foods and IMO mostly not fabulous enough to bother with the shlep.

          1. re: chicgail

            >> I find the traffic and parking more inconvenient for F&O than WF.

            I disagree 100 percent. I find the traffic and parking surprisingly convenient for Fox & Obel, and maddeningly congested for that particular Whole Foods. F&O is less than a mile from most of downtown Chicago, and coming from the north or south, it's right off Lake Shore Drive. The immediate area around the store - sometimes called "River East" - is surprisingly uncongested, and you can drive right into the well-marked garage for which they offer free validated parking. (It's just down the street on the left; look for the orange F&O sign at the entrance.) They have well-marked, designated parking spaces in the garage that don't take long to get to, and when you go up the elevators and walk outside, you're right across the street from the store. Compare that to the horrendous traffic jams in the area around Whole Foods on Kingsbury, as well as inside their parking garage which will take you a much much longer time to navigate because it's so congested. I've had occasions where I've had to cruise for a while looking for spaces in the WF garage, and that has never, ever happened with the F&O garage. Plus the WF is about three miles from downtown Chicago, which will give you the lovely experience of Chicago's congested Kennedy Expressway or congested local streets. Again, there's no comparison, it's like night and day.

            As for the quality, that too is like night and day. I stand by my recommendation. Fox & Obel offers the highest quality of everything, and Whole Foods is not even remotely close.

            We will just have to agree to disagree! It doesn't happen often - your posts are often among the most insightful and relevant on this board - but on this particular point, our opinions are clearly diametrically opposite.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              << As I said, there are advantages and disadvantages to both and I am suggesting the Whole Foods on Kingsbury (not any other) as an alternative. >>

              This isn't an either/or - right/wrong - better/worse thing. F&O is better for some things/WF is better for others.

              While my experience is regarding quality, traffic and parking couldn't be more different from yours, but both experiences are valid. And according to googlemaps, unless you're talking about the South Loop, WF is probably closer to 2 miles than 3 from "downtown" and why would anyone take the Kennedy to go from downtown to WF anyway?

              Bottom line: now JedT can take both places into consideration and either choose one over the other or maybe check out both.

              1. re: chicgail

                >> And according to googlemaps, unless you're talking about the South Loop, WF is probably closer to 2 miles than 3 from "downtown"

                Not true. If you start out in the center of the Loop at State and Madison (arguably the center of the area known as "downtown"), according to Google Maps, it's 3.5 miles to Whole Foods if you take the Kennedy, and 2.8 miles if you take local streets.

                >> why would anyone take the Kennedy to go from downtown to WF anyway?

                Seriously? This question surprises me, coming from someone who is familiar with the city. The Whole Foods is right near the Kennedy interchange with North Ave. As long as it's not in prime commuting hours, the Kennedy is in many cases the quickest way to get there, depending on where in the huge "downtown" area you are starting from. For example, it's not how I would go if I were around the Hancock, but from anywhere in the Loop or West Loop or South Loop, or even the parts of River North near the river, absolutely! Of course, during peak commuting hours or from other parts of downtown, I would use the local streets that I mentioned in the same phrase as the Kennedy.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Of course it's longer to get to WF if you take the Kennedy. You have to go west from the Loop and then back east on North Avenue.

                  When I originally checked googlemaps from Wabash and Madison to Kingsbury and North Ave, it said 2.4 miles. Maybe I made a mistake or you googlemapped something else.

                  My suggestion of the Whole Foods on Kingsbury was as another option besides Fox and Obel. I don't think that one is "better" or "worse" than the other. They are different. People have different points of view about them. Each has things to recommend it and to detract from it.

                  So that someone else can have the last say, this will be my last post on this topic.

              2. re: nsxtasy

                My two cents, having been to Fox and Obel only once.

                Hugely impressed with the quality of their baked goods, especially the bread and viennoiserie. Hugely disappointed in everything else. Not that it was bad, but versus my very high expectations given the reputation of the store, I thought the selection of items was very limited. I really saw nothing I couldn't buy more conveniently at Whole Foods

                1. re: rjka

                  I couldn't disagree more. And I'll give you very specific examples of why I feel that way. As it happens, I was at Fox & Obel this morning, at about the same time you were typing your post. I bought a number of baked goods which are not only better than Whole Foods, but significantly less expensive (such as $4.49 for a huge loaf of braided challah, and $4.25 for small dessert tarts that go for $5 at WF). I got some of their wonderful chocolate brut, a type of chocolate-flavored bread pudding that you won't find at Whole Foods. At the prepared foods counter, I bought a couple of portions of "chicken enchilada lasagna" topped with mole sauce which is much much MUCH better than any prepared food I've ever had from WF. So is the cream of mushroom soup I bought from the soup/sandwich refrigerator for $4.99 ($5.99 at WF), just MUCH better. At the cold cuts counter I got some of their "Brooklyn pastrami" which isn't even available at Whole Foods. (I actually like the pastrami even better at Steve's and Kaufman's, but theirs is still decent.) At the smoked fish counter I bought a piece of kippered salmon which you won't find at Whole Foods and is the best in the city, i.e. just as good as, and cheaper than, at Kaufman's. I didn't need any fresh meats or fresh seafood on this trip but everything looked as good as always, such as the great-looking skate wing that they don't have at Whole Foods. These are examples of foods that are absolutely terrific, and you won't find them at Whole Foods. And that's just what I happened to buy this morning!

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    You misunderstood part of my post. I said the breads and viennoiserie (ie brioche, cinnamon buns, croissants etc. were excellent at Fox and Obel and probably better than a lot of supposedly high end bakeries in Chicago.

                    I don't buy prepared foods at WF (or anywhere) so I can't compare. I thought the selection of fish was not great - I'd note WF used to carry skate wing, but unfortuntely they have been admittedly cutting on their range as well. I just didn't see anything other than the baked goods that would justify an out of the way trip.

                    I'd also note that I generally frequent ethnic oriented markets in the Northern suburbs and am not a huge fan of Whole Foods, but I didn't see anything special about F&O and was frankly disappointed given its great reputation. I found it difficult to find enough stuff to buy to get my free parking.

                    1. re: rjka

                      >> I don't buy prepared foods at WF (or anywhere) so I can't compare.

                      That's perhaps the thing that Fox & Obel excels at more than any other, with the possible exception of the baked goods. Although there are a lot of other items (like the smoked fish, cold cuts, charcuterie) where their selection is the best in town as well.

                      >> I just didn't see anything other than the baked goods that would justify an out of the way trip.

                      It's not out of the way for the OP who is downtown. For me, places in the northern suburbs are more convenient (and I go to those, too) but I often stop at Fox & Obel when I'm already going downtown by car for some other reason, as was the case this morning.

                      >> I didn't see anything special about F&O and was frankly disappointed given its great reputation.

                      Sounds like you didn't look at the prepared foods, the cold cuts, the charcuterie, or the cheeses. :)

                      >> I found it difficult to find enough stuff to buy to get my free parking.

                      I've NEVER had them ask to see my receipts to make sure I've exceeded the $20 minimum for the parking. Even when I don't buy all that much, the folks at the customer service desk have always been happy to validate. (And no, they don't know me as a repeat customer.)

        2. JedT - We can let these two argue about who is right and wrong but in my opinion, your best bet is to go with Fox & Obel. I too find it very convenient as opposed to the Whole Foods on Kingsbury (which I find very inconvenient). I think that you would find Whole Foods to be an oversized grocery store. As it may serve it's purpose for most people and their daily needs, I think your needs for a high-end specialty store (for a special occasion) would be better served at Fox & Obel. Good luck and I hope you enjoy your stay in Chicago.
          http://www.fox-obel.com/

          1. I'd definitely suggest Fox and Obel as first choice - their cheese counter is wonderful and I've been introduced to some amazing cheeses by their team like the one who provided tastings of 10 blue's before knocking me over with the St Augur. Their meats are wonderful and the selection is broad and even fairly priced for the quality. Their fish as well.

            I also enjoy shopping at the Kingsbury Street Whole foods - and if you don't have WF near you, it really would be a great second stop. The store is pretty astonishing in terms of range of products and their produce is way beyond F&O for selection and quality. I'd stock up on produce, organic staples and also find their breads quite nice.

            F&O is for me a treat location - I don't "shop" there but instead indulge myself with a few special items. WF is for "shopping" - stocking the pantry with very good quality items and ... I have to admit it ... tast testing the day's gelatos!

            Enjoy your visit!

            1. Fox and Obel is good. The last time I was there they have free parking if you spend $20 or more.
              Another option is a very good Italian small market in the South Loop - called Pazozzo's Italian Market
              If you're looking for a upscale butcher, try Paulina (Lakeview) or Gepperth's Market (Lincoln Park)
              For seafood, I think your best bet is to go to the meat packing area and buy direct, I like Isaacson & Stein on Fulton.

              1. One last thought. Don't be dumb like me.

                I was visiting Austin, Tex., and without thinking purchased a locally produced bottle of barbecue sauce to bring home. I tossed it in my carry-on, totally forgetting about FAA regulations, and guess who wound up with my bottle of bbq sauce? I just hope the folks at TSA enjoyed it as much as I would have.

                3 Replies
                1. re: chicgail

                  I keep a large plastic ziploc and two sheets of bubble wrap in my suitcase - I travel a ton for business and these come in super handy when I run across a bottle of local wine or sauces I want to bring home. Toss into checked luggage and all's well.

                  1. re: Siun

                    I've never bothered with bubble wrap, because clothing provides plenty of cushioning when needed. But I do bring ziploc bags, in case of an unexpected spill, leak, or breakage. And checking luggage is still required, because they won't allow liquids over 8 oz in your carry-on.

                    Fortunately, you can usually buy bottles of barbecue sauce over the internet and get them shipped home. I order mustards from the Mustard Museum ( www.mustardmuseum.org ), and if you happen to be in Madison it's a great visit because you can sample them there. It's not so easy with wine, as there are laws prohibiting them from shipping between states, depending on the states involved.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      Ah, I carry back wine from BC (my favorite riesling from Tantalus is not available here) and breads from Montreal and sauces, jams and such from all over plus salts from odd markets I run across ... I wrap in clothes but like the wrap for those extra fragile bits.

                      The liquid limit in carryon is 3 oz - and it must all fit into that one tiny quart bag so checking luggage is essential.

                2. JedT---Can you say what items you are looking for? And how you will be returning home (car or plane makes a big difference).