Archived entries for chicago food markets

Summer Guide to Chicago Farmers Markets

Springtime means its finally time to hit the farmers markets again. Here’s a quick overview of some need-to-know market terms and a guide to the top five Chicago neighborhood farmers markets. Article courtesy of Magellan Development.

photo courtesy of Blue Bike

Farmers’ markets are a wonderful opportunity for restaurants, chefs and local businesses to showcase their talents and creativity in the food industry.  With the summer being the ultimate debut for growing season, it’s time for us to put away our frozen pizzas and move on to better, greener things.  If you and your friends rent apartments in Chicago, it’s time to explore the fruits and vegetables of the earth and experience some of the city’s premier outdoor food displays.

Before you take on the markets, lets learn the lingo.

Common Market Terms:

Locally Grown: Agricultural products labeled “locally grown” are produced, processed, and sold within a certain region-defined by distance, state border, or regional boundaries.  The term is unregulated, meaning that each individual farmer can define the term based on their personal mission and circumstances.  Supporters of local businesses have argued that, organic or not, buying local is better for the environment because off-season organic foods have to travel long distances, using oil and fuel and increasing CO2 emissions.  Local produce may also taste better because  they are able to be harvested later and arrive quicker, ensuring that you are eating the freshest foods.

photo courtesy of Rhett Maxwell

Naturally Grown/All-Natural: If agricultural products are labeled “naturally grown” or “all-natural”, it means they meet the USDA guidelines, which state all “natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives or other artificial ingredients.

Organically Grown/Certified Organic: Similar to “all-natural”, if any product is labeled “organically grown” or “certified-organic”, it has to meet the USDA National Organic Program production and handling standards.  This regulation states that certification is mandatory for farmers selling more than $5,000 of organic produce per year, and includes annual submission of an organic system plan and inspection of farm fields and procession facilities to verify that organic practices and record keeping are being followed.

So what are some of Chicago’s best farmers markets and what makes them unique?

Here’s our pick of the  top five neighborhood farmers markets to check out this summer

Photo courtesy of Flickr User: Wahooo

1) Green City Market is Chicago’s only year-round farmers’ market promoting local, sustainable farmers, producers and chefs.  The market also combines educational programming and special events, featuring cooking demos by renowned local chefs, children’s educational programs, farmer workshops, as well as offering scholarships to encourage farmers to attend Chicago conferences to bring more high quality, locally produced foods to the city.

Location: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N Cannon Dr., Chicago, IL 60614
Time: 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM

2) Lincoln Square: The mission behind this market, displaying a smorgasbord of fresh fruits, vegetables, plants and flowers, is to enhance the life of the Lincoln Square community by creating both a social opportunity to gather and interact as well as an opportunity to support sustainable farming practices.

Location: City Parking Lot, adjacent to Brown Line Station, 4700 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60625
Time: Thursday from June 7th – October 25th 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM


photo courtesy of Ageless North Shore

3) The Logan Square Farmers Market is an independently run event open to the public every Sunday, beginning on June 5th.  This year’s vendors features an array of Chicago gems, including Cook Au Vin: a neighborhood bakery featuring sweet and savory crepes, Herbally Yours: a micro regional, family owned/operated herbal business located in Willow Springs, Illinois, Majestic Nursery, Inc.: a northern Illinois grower focused on sustainability and environmental responsibility, Roedger Bros. Blueberries: purveyors of fine Michigan blueberries – any many, many more!

Location: Logan Square, 3107 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, IL 60647
Time: 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM

4) The Andersonville Farmers Market offers a full entertainment experience, highlighting local, sustainably grown produce, honey, cheese, wine, fiber, live musicians, family-focused activities, chef demonstrations, coordination with local school programs and much more.

Location: Berwyn Avenue, between Clark & Ashland, Chicago, IL 60640
Time: Wednesday from June 22nd – October 19th. 3:00 PM – 8:00 PM / Sept. 14th-Oct. 19th:  3:00 PM – 7:00 PM

5) City Farm Market Stand is a sustainable vegetable farm offering a unique location that borders two very diverse Chicago neighborhoods: Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast.  The farm boasts thirty varieties of tomatoes as well as beets, carrots, arugula, gourmet lettuce, herbs and more!  All produce is grown in composted soil generated from various sources, such as restaurant trimmings from some of the city’s premium kitchens.

Location: River North, 1204 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago, IL 60610
Time: Every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, from July 12th – Sept. 30th 3:00 PM – 6:30 PM

Check out this full list of Chicago Farmers Markets listed by day.



A Local Trip to Japan: Mitsua Market

I love to travel and experience other cultures, so of course I want to share this with my daughter. However, at the moment a plane ticket to Japan is a bit hard to swing.

(photo courtesy of

But luckily, with Mitsua Market, a trip to Japan can be just a hop, skip and a jump away.

Thora checks out some dried mackerel.

A trip to Mitsua, isn’t just a trip to Arlington Heights, its an exotic shopping excursion to the Land of the Setting Sun. You can browse an awesomely authentic Japanese grocery store, a full range of Japanese shopping including a book store, a tea shop, an alcohol mart, a jewelry and cosmetic counter, a bakery and of course the awesome food court where you can nibble all of your favorite Japanese foods while you shop!

My main reason for visiting, is to stock up on my sushi supplies: short grain rice, sheets of nori and of course their awesome selection of fresh fish!

A few sweet bean cakes always end up in my cart too!

If you want an awesome trip to Japan without the 18 hour flight, check out Mitsua Market!  Thora loves it and you will too!

Manna From Heaven: Andy’s Fruit Ranch!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tammy Green

Whenever I’m near Andy’s Fruit Ranch on Kedzie and Laurence, I see a bright light accompanied by a choir of angels singing in heavenly chorus, pulling me into a tunnel which leads directly to their front doors. I am powerless to pull myself away. When I leave the tunnel and enter into the store, I realize, I’ve made it. I’m finally in heaven. This store is like 6 of my favorite stores in one. Let’s extrapolate:

Nestled in the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Albany Park, reasons 1-4 represent how sufficiently this store caters to its multi-lingual consumers.

Andy’s is…

1…an awesome Middle Eastern market

As are many of its neighbors, like Al Khayyam across the street, Andy’s carries a large range of Middle Eastern products, including a large selection of olive oils, labna and other Middle Eastern dairy products, a great deli selection of including a large range of affordable priced olives, meats including lamb and a large selection of feta cheeses. They also have an extensive range of pre-made filo dough which is quite impressive.

2…an awesome Asian market

Catering to the large Korean community, you can easily find a variety of Asian produce, canned goods, sauces, condiments and frozen foods.  Their butcher counter has a nice selection of fresh fish and seafood.

3…an awesome Eastern European Market

Local Polish residents are happy to come here to purchase their cases of salty Eastern European sparkling water, select from a range of Polish baked goods or peruse their refrigerated section of cured meats.  I particularly like the large slabs of Beef jerky which still have their hanging rope attached.

4….an awesome Mexican market

Andy’s doesn’t forget that no matter what neighborhood you live in, there’s bound to be a Hispanic population nearby in need of tortillas, corn chips, authentic spices, produce and affordable meats for fajitas, tacos and more.  This place is always stocked with anything you might want or need for your next fiesta!

5…An Awesome Produce Market.

Aside from the groceries listed above, the range of produce accompanied by awesome prices would alone make this store a shopping must.  No matter what your ethnic background, this place has the produce you want meaning the probability of your not finding what you want here is minimal.

As the name would imply, they have a wonderful range of fruits and other produce.  A photo is worth a 1000 words, so here’s the proof in the pudding.  A photo of one of their fruit counters show mangoes, plums, persimmons, peaches, nectarines, guava, pomegranates, Chinese pears as well as a large selection of apples!

6….Wait for it……an awesome LIQUOR STORE!

In addition to all the awesome produce, butcher counter, deli, and grocery departments, you can also buy alcohol here. HAAAAALLELUYA!  They have a long counter of wine, coolers full of an awesome beer selection including many micro brews from around the country, as well as a counter of hard stuff when you first come in.

There are my six reasons. Now do you see??  (Are you glad you don’t have to hear the word awesome again?)  This store has it all in one.  This store is Stanley’s mixed with Al Khayyam, Cermack Produce, Rich’s Deli, Chicago Foods, and a liquor store all in one!  Ahhh.  I can’t take it.  Check out their website, they even have a page where you can see what’s on special for the week!  Why can’t this be my local corner store.  I’m seriously thinking of moving.

A Free Guided Fishing Expidtion to Isaacson and Steins

I felt really intimidated going into Isaacson and Stein for the first time. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I was afraid of asking anyone questions for fear of bothering them, or being seen as an idiot. The piles of whole fish made me feel inept in my inability to clean them. But, it was all in my mind. People here are nice and there’s nothing to be intimidated of!

So you can make the most of your first I&S fishing expedition, here’s 8 tips for smooth sailing!

  1. Know the hours: They have weird hours. They’re never open past 4:15 during the week, although they are open 8-1 on Saturdays.
    1. Try to make it in during the week: its worth it. Saturdays are always busy busy and the selection is picked through. I go on Fridays when its pretty low key. If they’re not busy, the staff is way more willing to shoot the shit and help you pick out the right fish for your dish!
    2. Go early. If you go on Saturday, try to make it there as early as possible to get a good selection.

  2. Know the process:
    1. Grab gloves: There’s a box of plastic gloves on the table on your right when you come in. You’ll want them to handle the fish.
    2. Get your fish weighed: When you’ve decided on what you want, take your bag of fish to the table to the right of the door. Guys behind the table will weigh your stuff and give you a receipt.
    3. Pay for your fish: take your receipt to the guys at the window on your left and pay, cash or credit.

  3. Check the signs: Signs above the fish tell you more then just the name and price. It will also list where the fish come from, if its farm grown or wild, and if its fresh or previously frozen which guarantees you know what you’re getting.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re not sure which fish will work for your recipe, how you want it cleaned, or what’s the best stuff at the moment, ask someone. Just don’t be offended if they don’t give you a long answer. If they’re busy, they can be brisk. It is a whole saler after all. I’ve always found them to be very helpful!

  5. Get Your Fish Cleaned: Once you’ve paid, get in line at the two cleaning stations to the left of the payment windows. After your fish is cleaned, tipping is suggested. I have to make a confession, I never have (eek!). These guys are so covered in fish juice, with thick rubber gloves on, I don’t know where to put the money. Give it to them… put it in their pocket…. I’ve never seen any one else do it either. If anyone has advice on this, I’ll take it!!
  6. Use the Fish Bones in Stock: If your getting your fish cleaned, keep the bones and head. You paid for it, and you can use it for stock! They also usually have fish bones in the back corner you can buy for stock as well. I only use whitefish bones though, bones from salmon and other dark varieties make a really fishy stock which is definitely an acquired taste.
  7. Be Prepared:
    1. Don’t get grossed out: This place is stinky and there’s dead fish everywhere. There’s fish juice all over the floor. Like Cat B says, “Don’t wear flip flops”.
    2. Fish can rot: Raw fish and seafood are very delicate. Make sure you can go straight home afterward or carry a ice chest with you.
  8. Park your car! They have parking spots out front. How lucky! Well if you have a car.

Where Can I Find Fresh Fish In Chicago? Hellya: Isaacson & Stein!!

We get a lot of seafood sympathy from our seaboard friends for Chicago being landlocked and so far away from the coasts? (Lake Michigan grunts. Sorry Dude, you know what I mean). While its true, you’ll never see lobster for $3.00 lb here, not all the sympathy is warranted. So, is it possible to find fresh, reasonably priced fish in Chicago?

Ugh!! Did I hear you say Whole Foods? I’m sorry you’ve been paying so much! No, no no! The answer is Isaacson and Stein’s!

This has to be one of my favorite spots in Chicago, which the Yelper, Emily L. rightly describes as “Holy Foodie Heaven!” Isaacson and Stein, a fish wholesaler in the meatpacking district (Fulton off Halsted) which is, as it’s sign reads, OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!! If you’ve never been here, its worth a trip, just to look at the fish!

Ohh! Wild Caught Red Snapper!

“Ah, the smell of fish on a sunny afternoon. Once your nose adjusts to the waft of fish stank (if that is possible), this place is really a gem.”
-Scott A.

This store’s one big room is a weekly conduit of over 10 reeking tons of the most beautiful fresh fish and seafood in the city. If its good enough for the best restaurants in Chicago, its good enough for me! I’m no snob.

Their selection is awesome, ranging from the exotic to local, with rare South American varieties next to locally caught whitefish and perch. Classic seafood options are almost always available, including my favorite fresh muscles, succulent scallops and shrimpies of various sizes. Most of the fish is sold whole, but as the week wears on, you’ll see more and more piles of fillets all cleaned and prepped that day.

Whole fish? Don’t worry, after you buy the fish, you can take it over to the two cleaning stands and have one or their amazing mongers gut and clean everything for you, so you get to leave with the freshly cleaned fillets ready for your dinner.

Action shot: Cleaning an Alaskan Halibut! I’d never seen even a partially whole halibut before. This fish is huge and he filleted it in one solid quick motion. These guys really know how to wield a knife!

Okay, I know I sound like a paid commercial, but I’m not alone. People freak out about this place. Don’t believe me? Check out their 4 1/2 star yelp page.

“I LOVE this place…minus the fish juice I get on my shoes (don’t go in there in flip flops!)”
-Cat B.

Ha! Thanks Cat for the great tip! Speaking of tips, check our User’s Guide to Isaacson and Stein so you can make the most of your I&S fishing expedition!

10 Must Have Korean Foods

Its fun to look at exotic foods at the Korean market, but WHAT do you do with them? I have a few main staple items I go to Chicago Foods for. In addition to the cheap cans of coconut milk I mentioned in my last post, here’s my list of top 10 items you’ll often find in my shopping basket.

  1. Rice Vinegar: is my absolute favorite vinegar for its sweet tart flavor. I use it all the time in my salad dressings, as an added accent in my salsa and guacamole, or as a substitute for lemon/lime juice. I use so much of this stuff, I usually buy it in gallon bottles. When I can’t find it in a gallon I have to content myself with two large bottles (above).
  2. Miso

    Miso is a salty-sweet paste made of fermented soy beans which can be used similar to a vegetarian bullion due to its naturally intense flavors. Its definitely a fridge staple because it lasts forever, makes a quick soup broth or marinade and is a great thing to have in a pinch if you need to quickly give some added body to any dish.

  3. Frozen Dumplings:

    Although I like to make things from scratch, I also like dumplings ALL THE TIME! Found in the frozen food section are bags and bags of frozen gyoza, fluffy buns and all kinds of deliciousness. I like to buy a few bags to keep on hand to be steamed and served with rice for a quick dinner.

  4. Nori:

    Sheets of dried nori can be found in a few sizes, but I like the small rectangles (~3″ x 4″) which is sold wrapped with multiple single serving packets to keep the seaweed from getting stale. Its a tasty addition to miso soup, or great to wrap around rice for a finger food. If you’re grossed out by seaweed, you don’t know what you’re missing; nori is nutritious and delicious.

  5. Lemongrass:

    I like to think of Lemongrass as the Asian bay leaf as you don’t actually eat the stalks but boil it in your broth for flavoring. I keep some stalks in my freezer at all times to throw into my stock or broth for my favorite Asian soups.

  6. Fresh Fish

    The Chicago Foods fish counter is stacked full of fresh fish; heads still on and cheap! Buckets of clams. Shrimp for $2.99. Come on! This stuff may smell bad, but hopefully you don’t have that far to get home (although if you’re taking the blue line from the Belmont stop, the people on the train won’t like you so much).

  7. Mushrooms:

    Mushrooms can be expensive. Chicago Foods is a great place to find awesome prices on shitake and other exotic Asian mushrooms like oyster and beech difficult to find elsewhere. Because of their limited shelf life, its worth checking out their affordable selection of dried mushrooms to keep in the pantry as a quick substitution.

  8. Soju:

    Soju is like a Korean sake; its stronger then a wine but less potent and slightly sweeter then its Russian cousin. Its delicious, full of alcohol and ridiculously cheap. Good to drink; good to cook with.

  9. Sprouts:

    Chicago Foods is the only store I know of which has a year round sprouts station. $0.69 a lb. Do you know how many sprouts you get for in a lb? What I can’t figure out, is who needs 10 lbs?

    Radish sprouts adds a hot peppery kick to any salad or stir fry.

  10. Fish Sauce:

    Ever tried to recreate an Asian dish and you’re sure you’ve got all the ingredients in place but it still doesn’t taste right. You’re missing the fish sauce. This is my favorite brand and a bottle with last you for years.

A Fun Trip To the Korean Market

There’s nothing better for Sunday afternoon fun then a trip to my favorite Korean market, Chicago Foods.

Its a great place to:

get good prices on staple items like coconut milk (90 cents a can!)

peruse exotic produce including an extensive selection in varieties of radishes and greens,

and investigate items you’ve never seen before like dang-kwi, chun kung and a variety of other unknown dried roots and fungus.

What are the practical uses of these?

Do you eat it or use it to kill bugs?

Seasoned pig “trotters”, yum!

You can also shop for inexpensive cookware.

My favorite brand, “Cook Help” right next to the Love Home Magic Pan.

(While I was looking at the food, Ira was looking for funny signs)

Sometimes stacked in with the cookware, you’ll find a reasonably priced pair of shoes.

Here’s a slide show of all our pics if you still haven’t gotten enough.

This Showcase of 8 Awesome Foods and a Trip to Sunny Lebanon Can Be Yours If the Price is Right

Are you feeling extreme cabin fever from a week of below zero temps? Why not take a trip to sunny exotic Lebanon? You don’t need a passport or an airplane ticket. Just get on the brown line headed west to my favorite Lebanese market Al Khayyam, at Kedzie and Lawrence in Albany Park.

Perhaps you feel intimidated of going into an store whose ethnic products you aren’t familiar with. Here are 8 staples of my pantry/freezer for you to try which are my main reasons to keep visiting this store!

  1. Spices: This place has an amazing selection of spices at great prices. You’ll pay less then half for twice the amount other places offer! If you need whole cumin, fennel, or anise seed, this is the place to go. You can find exotic spices such as sumac and black caraway among others (i.e. I can’t remember or never knew their names).
  2. Lamb: They sell leg of lamb here ranging between $3.50 – $4.00 per lb, half the price of larger grocery stores (if they even have it).
  3. Pomegranate syrup: Also known as pomegranate molasses, this bittersweet syrup is an ABSOLUTE STAPLE in my house. I love using it as a sweetener for savory foods. The tart flavor tempers the sweet when adding to things such as soups or sauces balancing the flavors while giving depth at the same time. I can’t live without it!
  4. Baklava: The best in the city (in my opinion)! They have a great selection of different kinds of Baklava affordably priced at $6.99 per lb.
  5. Rose water: I love the subtle taste this can bring to a dish, especially apple pie. I originally found this store. Many years ago, I asked a Palestinian friend where I could find rose water in the city. She told me I could buy a small bottle for $7 at whole foods or I could get a large bottle at Al Khayyams for only $2. The choice was clear and its been true love ever since.
  6. Labna: A mix between sour cream, yogurt and cream cheese, Labna is a delicious addition for any meal, including Kraft mac and cheese. A great tip from Katherine of, is to substitute labna for the milk, which gives a tart flavor and extra body to an otherwise limp boxed meal. If you’re going the boxed direction anyway, might as well make it interesting!
  7. Mango Puree: For around $2 a can, this is a great pantry staple. Tip: you can make a quick mango lassie for last minute guests. Just use canned puree instead of fresh mango and mix with yogurt or even milk and a pinch of sugar in a blender. Bam. Everyone loves mango lassis. If you’ve never had one, its time to try one out!
  8. Fresh Pita: Last but definitely not least, the fresh pita baked daily is almost everyone’s favorite reason for visiting here:

“We went into Al Khayyam in pursuit of pita ($1! So cheap!). We made our way through the doors and zipped straight to the bakery section. There was an older man, working at the stove, heating up the pita. He greeted us with a polite “Hello!”, and a huge smile. “I want that!” she pointed at the pita in the oven. He gladly obliged, pulling it out and stuffing that and a few other pieces of just heated pita into our bag.” -Lauren G of Yelp

“Here’s a tip: They make the white pita in the morning and the whole wheat in the early afternoon.” -Amanda P of yelp:

Al Khayyam is also a great place for adventurous foodsters (I’ve decided to hip-up the over used term “foodie”) to get lost in the aisles, playing one of my favorite games “What is this and what the hell do you do with it?” While shopping I always have the constant urge to buy these products which, although, I had no idea what they are, I know I just have to try. I have no self control!

My recent mystery food buys included a package of Carcedina, which I still have no idea what it is exactly. As it looks to be a flower petal, I assume you boil it to make a tea, but the jury is still out. I also got a container of Black Caraway which I’ve had better luck trying to research. I’m so glad I bought it because apparently the Prophet urged “Use the black caraway for, indeed, it is a remedy for all diseases except Death.” I found this compilation of thought provoking articles which beside giving me helpful info on the medicinal uses of Black Caraway, whose intro gave me a great hint at improving my range of appeal. For now on, I will address each blog post “Dear Human Beings:”.

Restaurant Depot: Selling Amazement By The Case

Amber is so amazed by Restaurant Depot that she has to call her Mom
Originally uploaded by chick_pea_pie

Preparing for the Dance of Death food event, I’ve been compiling my long grocery lists. A friend, who has a membership to the Restaurant Depot offered to take me for my first trip to help me stock up. The Restaurant Depot, an overwhelming warehouse selling bulk foods to members of the food industry, features isle upon isle of 5 gallon buckets of thousand island dressing to cases of 10,000 cocktail umbrellas. My first trip was exciting, yet daunting. My friend, wisely ushered me through the stacks, to select all my goods as quickly as possible, knowing otherwise, I would have been there for hours staring at the 25 foot tall wall of cheese wheels. I loved Chick Pea Pie’s Flickr photo and caption, as I was tempted to do exactly the same thing!!

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