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What local products to bring back from Chicago?

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Hi there,

Am visiting your city in 2 weeks and I was looking for suggestions of local products to bring back from Chicago as I always like to bring back home some food related gifts. For example, Blue bottle coffee from San Francisco, Pierre Herme macarons from Paris, Cava from Barcelona...you get the idea.

So what are some items that I should bring back? Thanks a bunch!


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  1. Garrett's Popcorn! Garrett's makes caramel popcorn (with or without pecans or cashews), cheese popcorn, or the "Chicago mix" of caramel and cheese. If you're flying back from O'Hare you can pick some up from one of their stores in Terminals 1 and 3; otherwise you can get it from their several locations downtown. www.garrettpopcorn.com

    You can also get frozen half-baked deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, depending on how long your trip is and your ability to keep it frozen between the time you buy it and the time you get home. www.loumalnatis.com If this doesn't work for you, there's a website where you can order frozen Malnati's pizza and other frozen Chicago specialties to be shipped to your home - see www.tastesofchicago.com

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Garrett's has an awfully short half-life and while I agree it's a good idea, the quality drops off after 8 hours and then plummets. It's getting harder and harder to find "unique" products that are otherwise unobtainable out of state. I often sent the Malnati's pizzas to my sons when they were in college. If that's something that appeals to you then you'd be crazy NOT to order online. You can get 6 pizzas for $100 including shipping. Nowhere near worth carrying it home yourself.

      The Tastes of Chicago site has pretty reasonable prices for most of its offerings.

      1. re: ferret

        >> Garrett's has an awfully short half-life and while I agree it's a good idea, the quality drops off after 8 hours and then plummets.

        I agree.

        I've also found that, regardless of quantity purchased, it seems to disappear rapidly on the way home. :)

        >> It's getting harder and harder to find "unique" products that are otherwise unobtainable out of state. I often sent the Malnati's pizzas to my sons when they were in college. If that's something that appeals to you then you'd be crazy NOT to order online. You can get 6 pizzas for $100 including shipping. Nowhere near worth carrying it home yourself.

        They also pack it in dry ice, which may keep it frozen better than you can do by hand-carrying it home.

        Another one of my favorite local products is the cinnamon swirl buns at Fox & Obel. I often stop there when I'm driving out of town. I bring a heavy duty ziplock bag with me, and they last a couple of days.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          How to eat Garrett mix the next four days and really enjoy it.

          Keep the bag tightly sealed AND then just before eating put in a bowl and microwave for 10 - 15 seconds.

          1. re: jbontario

            >> Keep the bag tightly sealed

            The bags they sell it in are not all that airtight. I recommend using a heavy duty ziplock bag (either transfer the contents, or put the entire Garrett's bag inside).

            >> AND then just before eating put in a bowl and microwave for 10 - 15 seconds.

            Never tried that. Thanks for the tip!

    2. Hot giardiniera!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Eli's cheesecake
      Vosges Chocolate.

      Vosges Chocolate
      520 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL

      1 Reply
      1. re: gordeaux

        Oh yeah, that reminds me, the thing I most often bring from Chicago when visiting friends and relatives out of town is chocolates from Piron in Evanston. It's always well received! www.belgchocpiron.com

      2. Consider Koval liquers from our very own local distillery ... the ginger is stunning.


        3 Replies
        1. re: Siun

          Just remember, if you're flying home with liquids, they will have to go inside your packed luggage. If you only have carry-ons, the liquids will be confiscated by airport security.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            I figured anyone who mentions bringing back Cava is an old hand at carrying liquids. ;->

            1. re: Siun

              That depends on when they did so. It's only been a little over four years that significant quantities of liquids in carry-ons have been banned.

              It never hurts to post a reminder, right?

        2. You could stop at the Swedish bakery to pick up some Swedish style cookies. Be sure to have a slice of Princesstårta while you are there. (Marzipan covered, custard-layered yellow cake with whipped cream.)

          Some folks like to pick up a box of Frango mints at Macy's---a remnant from Marshall Field's.

          You've got some good suggestions here!

          2 Replies
          1. re: twodales

            >> Some folks like to pick up a box of Frango mints at Macy's---a remnant from Marshall Field's.

            Many Chicagoans still lament the acquisition and renaming of Marshall Field's by Macy's. What's ironic is that Marshall Field's began selling Frango mints as the result of the 1929 acquisition by Marshall Field's of the Seattle-based Frederick & Nelson department stores which originally created them!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Ironic isn't it?

              BTW I was hoping I wouldn't start a Macy's-Marshall Field's war here...holding my breath...

          2. Not from Chicago per se, but rather downstate Illinois: Little Bloom on the Prairie cheese from Prairie Fruit Farm is a delicious artisanal cheese. You should be able to fine it in the specialty cheese/gourmet shops in Chicago. Way easier to pack than a Malnatti's pizza.

            11 Replies
            1. re: masha

              I am going to have to hunt this cheese down. Never heard of it.

                1. re: twodales

                  The link didn't tell which retail shops stock the cheese in Chicago, as far as I could tell.

                  1. re: brentk

                    No, it didn't. You could call them up. Or, you could try calling Pastoral, Chicagoland's best cheese shop and the one most likely to have it. www.pastoralartisan.com

                    1. re: brentk

                      No, it did not tell you which shops carry it---if any, but it did mention markets: Oak Park, Green City and Andersonville on Wednesday afternoons. They also said: " We can also ship our cheeses either UPS ground or 2nd Day Air depending on where you reside. If you prefer to have our cheeses delivered to your doorstep in the Chicago area, we have a couple of distributors in the Chicago area with whom we can connect you."

                      1. re: twodales

                        Availability at markets might not help the OP, who is visiting in two weeks. Most of the farmers markets don't start until May. The Green City Market is an exception, but a visit in two weeks may put it outside the market's April dates of April 9 and April 23 (see details at www.greencitymarket.org ).

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Apologies to the original poster...My last response was directed specifically to brentk. If there had been a retail store listed on the website, I would have posted that of course. There are options for both the original poster and for the rest of us. If you don't care to hit a market you can have the cheese directly shipped in the same vein as "Tastes of Chicago". One can also contact Prairie Fruits Farm for a local distributor. Hopefully this is helpful to anyone including the original poster.

                        2. re: twodales

                          If OP will be visiting Oak Park (e.g., to see the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio and/or Unity Temple), I know that the Marion St. Cheese Market in OP does stock Prairie Fruit Farm cheeses.

                          1. re: masha

                            Thank you for your helpful contribution masha. I have contacted PFF to see if they have any other outlets here.

                            Here is their response: "Yes, Pastoral carries our cheeses, Whole Foods has our chevre and there are several other small independent grocery stores around Chicago that carry our chevre as well (I believe the Dill Pickle Coop and Green Grocer are a couple that I know of). Occasionally, Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park carries some of our aged cheeses.
                            hope this helps.

                            1. re: twodales

                              Sounds like my suggestion to try Pastoral was an equally helpful contribution as well.

                              You're welcome. :)

                  2. re: masha

                    Great tip on the Goat cheese Masha! It makes me wonder how many other treasures are out there...

                  3. I go to Chicago (from SF) every month or so. I usually bring back a bag of Intelligentsia coffee, as I find they're comparable to the best roasters we have in SF, but a little different. Their cafe on W. Jackson also serves coffee and great baked goods.

                    1. I agree with all of the following goods:
                      -Garrett's Popcorn (do not worry about it going stale.. it wouldn't be around long enough to go stale)
                      -Frango Mint Chocolates (a tribute to Marshall Fields--regardless of which side you're on)
                      -Intelligentia Coffee
                      -Lou Malnati's pizza--if possible to transport the frozen version

                      I do not particularly like them... but many like the candied nuts from Nuts on Clark.

                      (I love cinnamon... as a Chicago native, I might have to try them out.)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: GraceW

                        As far as Garrett's freshness goes, I'd agree that it was a good idea for quick consumption but the OP wants to bring it home and didn't specify when it was intended to be consumed, If it's a gift for friends then it really depends on when they'd see the friends and when the friends would consume it, so if it's going to sit around for a few days before use then I'd avoid it.

                      2. Another place to find good stuff is Fox & Obel, as well as to sample their excellent cafe. I know they have Intelligentisa Coffee there, and would imagine there are other local goods to be purchased as well. Perhaps nsxtsy or others can comment on whether this would be worthwhile for the OP?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: RichInMV

                          >> Perhaps nsxtsy or others can comment on whether this would be worthwhile for the OP?

                          One thing to consider is the ability of various foods to travel, and how long items purchased will keep in transit. Depending on how you're traveling, there may be portions of the trip where refrigeration (an actual refrigerator or just a cooler full of ice) isn't available, and some items will keep better than others. Even non-refrigerated items like popcorn and bread won't last forever, although you can extend their freshness by bringing heavy duty ziploc bags with you on your trip. All of this is true regardless of where you buy things.

                          When I go to Fox & Obel, I buy an assortment of items. I rarely buy packaged goods they get from elsewhere, although that's certainly a possibility and those items would likely travel just fine. Most of the breads made at F&O will travel fine without refrigeration; my favorites include their cinnamon swirl rolls, bran muffins, rustic fruit and nut loaf, and brioche loaf, all of which IMHO are the best you'll find anywhere and are worth bringing back as long as you plan to consume them within a few days. Some of the desserts and pastries at the bakery counter require refrigeration for any length of time, such as the bread pudding, chocolate brut, and various tarts. Virtually all of the food from the prepared foods counter would require refrigeration; you may be able to get by without it a little while for certain items such as smoked meats and smoked fish. Things like sandwiches, salads, and soups all require refrigeration (and soups wouldn't be allowed in carry-on luggage on airplanes). Note that some of these items requiring refrigeration would still last a few hours without it, long enough so that if you bought them to consume on a plane flight, they would survive the trip to the airport and the wait before boarding.


                        2. Mild, Medium, or Hot Giardinera (Spelling...help please) from Bari's Italian Deli.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: boucherie

                            Wow, you guys really hit it out of the ball park, thanks for all the great suggestions! There is such a wide array of products in Chicago but there is not enough time for me to try everything so it's great to have them pointed out to me.
                            I was already planning a trip to Fox & Obel (must try those cinnamon rolls that you speak so highly of) and the Green City Market (whoo hoo, will be in town on the 23rd). I love exploring local products so will definitely check out some of the items mentioned.
                            The pizza idea is great but might be difficult to fly back home with. I will just have to eat it in Chicago ;)
                            Lastly, thank you all again for the suggestions and for looking out after me. Will definitely not travel with liquids and check in my bag :)
                            I have 7 days worth of eating to do in Chicago, will report back later, take care!

                            1. re: Ani

                              As per my suggestion, cheaper and easier to have pizza shipped home.

                              1. re: ferret

                                After your visit you might want to check out the http://www.tastesofchicago.com/?gclid... web site, as suggested here by ferret, nxtasy and yours truly.
                                It should satisfy any Chicago cravings you might have down the road. I have sent some of these items to ex-Chicagoans around the country with good effect!
                                Have a great time and hope you find some treasures.

                          2. Oh my goodness. I grew up in Chicago and am living in Minneapolis now. There are so many things I'd like to take home from visits. I don't know what you have available where you are now but one of my favorite places is D'Amato's Bakery, it's Italian. I recently brought home focaccia, pizza slices, and cookies. I brought a large storage container for the pizza and it travelled fine. I cannot get anything close to the taste and quality of their products here in Minneapolis...perhaps you can where you live.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: scarter66

                              D'Amato's does an excellent whole wheat Italian bread too.

                              Locals in the north suburbs who don't want to go all the way to D'Amato's in the city can buy their products at Market Place on Oakton in Skokie. They often run out of the whole wheat by late afternoon.

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                Do they have the pizza and focaccia there too? That is so much closer to where I usually stay when I visit. On the other hand, I just enjoy going to the bakery as it brings back so many wonderful memories.

                                And I agree, their bread is great.

                                1. re: scarter66

                                  I've never seen the pizza at Market Place on Oakton. I'm not sure about the focaccia. I suspect that these other two breads may not travel well, due to their high moisture and oil content, respectively, as well as normally being sold out of a pan at D'Amato's rather than individually bagged for travel as their loaves are sold, although I am just guessing here.

                                  1. re: scarter66

                                    There are two D'Amato's bakeries, both run by Victor since the passing of his father. The one at 1125 West Grand is wholesale only with products sold in quite a few grocery stores and labeled Victor D'Amato's. The original bakery on the north side of Grand has the coal-fired oven and does very little wholesale distribution. I have never seen any of their products in a grocery store.

                                    The tomato focaccia from the wholesale bakery is quite different from the various versions in the retail store. I have bought it at HarvesTime Foods, A&G Fresh Market and Angelo Caputo's Elmwood Park store. Caputo's gets a pretty good supply (at least a dozen on the shelf late yesterday afternoon) while the other two frequently run out. The focaccia is sealed in plastic rather than the paper bags used for the bread.

                                    I agree that Victor D'Amato's whole wheat bread is quite good. I have seen it at Market Place on Oakton and some Treasure Island stores in addition to the three mentioned above.

                                    Market Place Cafe
                                    207 W Main St, Bensenville, IL 60106

                              2. I just had a belated thought on this topic: Milk & Honey granola, which originated at the Milk & Honey Cafe on Division, is sold in grocery stores here, and it is fabulous - I particularly love the original flavor. I don't know if it's sold in other cities as well by now.

                                Milk & Honey Cafe
                                1920 W Division St., Chicago, IL 60622

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: solon

                                  I agree. Best granola I've ever tasted.

                                2. You didn't say where you are visiting from but if you don't have a Trader Joe's at home, I have often encountered visitors at Trader Joe's stocking up on wonderful things. The downtown one is just a block west of Michigan Avenue, on Ontario between Rush and Wabash, in the same building as the Four Points Sheraton.

                                  1. The OP has come and gone, but for others reading this great thread, my recommendation is:

                                    Nicole's Divine Crackers!

                                    They really are divine. I brought back 14 boxes. (in 6 flavors) from my last trip to CHI. In fact, that's all I bought at Fox & Obel!

                                    They're also available at Whole Foods, Binny's, and various upscale groceries around town.