19 February 2010

Chicago French Market

Victor and I used to live in a building directly across the street from the new Chicago French Market, so we have been waiting for it for a long time (we lived there more than five years ago, and even then there were signs promising, "Metra Market Coming Soon").

Chicago has long lacked a year-round multi-vendor market, and placing one adjacent to a commuter rail station (Ogilvie Transportation Center) seems like a smart idea. A block from the Clinton Green Line stop, it is also an easy destination for non-commuters (like myself) seeking better grocery options downtown (as well as a fun place for lunch).

The market includes at least three different produce vendors, one of them organic. Prices vary widely. An outpost of Devon Avenue's City Fresh Market seems to consistently boast the most reasonable prices, and also offers dairy products, meat (including Tallgrass Beef), and very nice looking fish and seafood. There are a couple of outlets for fresh bread (including Pastoral, which sells loaves baked by the award-winning Bennison's Bakery in Evanston), and several for sweet baked goods (Vanille Patisserie, Delightful Pastries), not to mention caramel corn, honey-roasted nuts, and artisan chocolates. A wide variety of cheeses are available from Pastoral and from a Wisconsin vendor. Also, a purveyor of smoked and cured meats, Fumare, carries a terrific inventory. (I am right now addicted to the Gypsy Bacon.)

But the market is not just about groceries to take home; you can also eat there. A sharp-looking Lavazza cafe serves up decent cappuccino and a varied assortment of stands offers Mexican, Indian-fusion, Korean, vegan-raw, Vietnamese, and other cuisines.

According to Time Out, more vendors are coming soon.

I visited the market for the first time on Tuesday and went back yesterday. Of course it is no Pike Place. It is not even as big as the North Market in Columbus. OH. Still, it is a fun, accessible grocery and lunch alternative in a neighborhood that is not exactly abounding with interesting options. I can easily see myself adding this venue to my grocery rotation; in fact, you could say I have already done so: I returned there yesterday to get some meat for tonight's dinner.

17 February 2010

No Room for Kale or Chard at Jewel

For the past year or more I have been doing most of my produce shopping at small neighborhood markets rather than the corporate supermarkets. I bus out to neighborhoods like Andersonville and Rogers Park. But the other day, Victor and I were downtown and I really needed some greens for our next soup. I was thinking kale, or chard. There aren't a lot of grocery options downtown--Fox & Obel is great, but it was a little out of our way; Trader Joe's didn't have what I wanted; and then there's the Jewel at Grand & State.

Located in a busy, touristy, kind of ritzy neighborhood, this Jewel might be the nicest one in the city--clean, atmospheric. But despite its size (compared to the neighborhood markets where I usually shop), Victor and I couldn't find what I wanted in the produce section. Finally we tracked down an employee. He pointed at the torn collard greens packaged in plastic bags and said, "We don't carry chard."

Our mouths must have dropped open, because he then added, defensively, "They might carry it at some of our larger stores."

"There are larger stores than this?"

(Because you see, it had been a long time since we were in a Jewel.)

"This is the smallest Jewel in the city."

Oh. We thanked the young man, looked around, and realized every leafy green vegetable was packaged in a plastic bag or container. No loose heads of lettuce, no loose spinach, and no substantial greens at all, except the collards in the bag.

Since Consumer Reports recently published results of its study of cleanliness of bagged salad (conclusion--even if it says triple-washed, wash it anyhow), I haven't been keen on buying stuff in bags, but I didn't have much choice, so I picked up a bag of spinach.

And washed it before I put it in the soup.

Mushroom Choice As a Moral Issue

At the Green City Market, a mushroom vendor responded to a query about the difference between cultivated white mushrooms and creminis:

"It's like white bread and wheat bread. I hope you eat wheat bread, not white bread..."