Monday, October 10, 2005

Eating at Home or Shopping in Chicago

As a unit, the VI family loves eating out. We do it often for convenience, for instance when Mickey's and its tasty Big Mickey's are right there between soccer games. We like the spectacle of a Todai or Fogo de Chao. We like the chance to dress up and feel like a high roller (like here or here). A lot of eating out I think comes from wanting to sample so many types of food. Indian today, Afghan tomorrow, Shanghainese during the week, Czech on weekends. Finally, I know some of it comes from the fact that no one in our clan much likes to clean up. So, we eat out a lot. But eating in, I am coming to realize, may be as good if not better.

For one thing, the ingredients available to the home cook are far superior to all but what the best restaurants are using. Granted, I am not buying Waygu beef briskets too often, but I do have great local sources. I will write soon (really) about what's in the Farmer's Markets about now. Today, I want to mention a few stores we have recently visited.

Caputo's Cheese Factory

When we started visiting this store in Melrose Park, owned by one of the Caputo brothers, it was truly a factory. Then, it sold mostly cheese and served up cheap lunches including chicken sandwich that managed to be both grilled and fried. Over time, the factory has moved out and the space taken over by more and more stuff. For a while, they tried to sell fresh produce but that did not take. Today, Caputo's is mostly about cheese with a smattering of great deals on other products. They make excellent fresh mozzarella, and we nearly always buy some. They are also especially strong in grating cheeses and provolone. It is near impossible to walk out without some of the ricotta decorated with ridges from its molding.

Argo Georgian Bakery

Or the place with the oven in the middle of the floor. It's hard to believe that for a while, I did not like this place, victim of a stale bread that I was too dumb to realize was a fluke. Now, we visit every time we hit Da'Bomb. The breads, either round or long and skinny are about as primal a loaf as possible. You really taste the flour and yeast. For the kidz, we buy up all the hatchapuri's on offer. These are a flaky pastry encasing a blend of cheeses--a blend made to simulate fresh Georgian cheese. The hatchapuris are one of the few things we know daughter number 2 will always eat for breakfast. See here for some great Argo pictures.

Elliott's Dairy

What's with the dairy thing? The milk department is nothing special. Elliott's is a supermarket that competed with Jewel and Dominick's in like 1957. As they grew, Elliott's stayed the same. If I lived in the neighborhood, I might shop for a few things. Overall, it is not that special of a store. Yet, what is worth stopping in for, are a few items. Mainly, the corned beef. Chicago, since the demise of Winklestein's, is not a town of great corned beef. It IS a town of very good corned beef, and oddly enough, one of the best sources is this store just outside of Chicago on Nagle. Maybe because they know what they do well, Elliott's is set up for the full corned beef spread. They sell very good Chicago style (i.e., not so sour) pickles from a quasi-barrel and Rosen's premier rye, one with an actual crust. They always seem to find some kinda condiments not seen at Costco. Yesterday they had Da' Coach's mustards.

Avenue's Supermarket

If Elliott's long ago stopped competing with other supermarkets around town, it has come of late that the biggies have been eclipsed as well. Chicago is, in my opinion, receiving a supermarket renaissance. Of course there is Whole Foods for Amish milk and good bread, but the real action is in the hoods, massive A&G with its extensive selection of offal along with canned goods from every corner of the map, sparkling Mexican outlets like Carneceria Guanajunto, the various "Fresh Markets" and a host of Polish markets well below most people's radars.

Avenues is a true supermarket, with aisles stuffed with stuff, several varieties of jellies and jams, a whole section of wild Polish mushrooms in cans, the requisite quasi barrels with pickles, and three kinds of sauerkraut. The deli counter is huge. I was not sure if I could manage it when the numbers were being called strictly in Polish. But the turkey looked especially good, so I managed. Once I managed to "hear" my number by watching the ticker, the staff spoke enough English for me. Most of the stuff in the cases is clearly marked, although there are all sortsa smoked sausages and smoked ribs without labels. At another counter we got herring in both vinegar and oil for only $2.99 /lb for each kind. Like all Polish stores, it is a great source for dairy--here the dairy bar name would fit, and we got a log of Amish butter as well as farmer's cheese and kefir.

New York Kosher

When I wrote the section on Da'Bomb for the Slow Food Chicago book, I lamented the state of the kosher markets remaining on Devon. New York Kosher is not what I would call a stellar store. It nearly makes Elliott's look like Zabar's, but they have a couple of neat things buried in the dreck. They make a "Persian whitefish". I am not sure what Persian Whitefish is, Google left me bare. What New York Kosher sells is a white fish, like cod or haddock, breaded with a coarse crumb, then fried. It holds up very well though as cold dish, and there is something in there, perhaps the Persian part, that gives it a neat taste. At times, there are other fresh things in the case worth buying including grape leaves, a potato salad with something red in the dressing and a good beet salad. My wife likes the ample supply of Mantiowoc Farms breads.

Caputo Cheese Market
1931 N. 15th Avenue
Melrose Park, IL 60160

Argo, Inc. Georgian Bakery
2812 w. Devon ave.chicago, IL 60659-1502

Elliotts Dairy & Deli
4800 N Nagle Ave
Harwood Heights
(708) 867-9044

Avenues Supermarket
Somewhere west on Belmont, past Oak Park Avenue

Moshe's New York Kosher
2900 W. Devon
Chicago, IL 60659
773 338-3354

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