The Perils of Produce Shopping Part 2: Over-the-Hill Fruits & Veggies

Stanley’s Fruit & Vegetables on Elston and North Avenues in Chicago specializes in spectacular over-the-hill produce. Yet this place is a Mecca of sorts with overflowing crowds of fervent shoppers. The only answer I have to this quandary is that when you live in Chicago, there aren’t an abundance of inexpensive produce stores. Stanley’s certainly has good prices for a city store, with a few exceptions. For example, when every other store was selling butternut squash for 49 cents a pound, Stanley’s was still charging $1.49 a pound. They finally got wise and reduced their price to 69 cents a pound.

City dwellers would really salivate over Valli, Joe Caputo & Sons, Fresh Farms, Garden Fresh, and EuroFresh – all of which have far better and often just as inexpensive produce – but alas, Stanley’s has a lock on this geographic demographic. In fairness, I do have to say that all of these suburban stores have their perils as well … in the form of rude shoppers, but at least their fruit and veggies aren’t rotting.

My daughter is a Stanley’s devotee and I reluctantly tag along once a week. When she first starting shopping at Stanley’s she contracted food poisoning on three occasions in a short proximity of time – we attribute this to sprouts and baby greens so she NEVER buys these there – a lesson learned the hard way.

So every Wednesday, I mutter about the rotting veggies and fruit, but I have made a game out of this and actually enjoy the challenge of finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. In a stack of 400 yellow peppers, there literally may be only 10 that are not on their way out. Many times I have grabbed a pepper and it has squirted out juice from its broken, rotting skin. They should really keep wipes in every aisle for such an instance because this occurs with some frequency!

The shoppers at Stanley’s are generally not over-the-hill, but often are very rude. There is an eclectic mix of yuppies, hipsters, college kids, average Joes, and a few welfare recipients. Don’t be surprised when other patrons smash their shopping carts into you or push you out-of-the-way to select produce. The parking lot is an accident waiting to happen with cars lined up all over the place when it is at its busiest. On the bright side, the cashiers are competent and very quick – but watch the prices because things don’t always ring up correctly. And on another positive note, the freshly-made potato chip samples are awesome and the deli looks nice, although I have never purchased anything from there.

If Stanley’s veggies and fruits were humans, they would be in dire need of liposuction, facelifts, Botox, microdermabrasion, and laser. There are some exceptions – a few look like Victoria Secret models. The organic red Swiss chard is really beautiful and tasty and you cannot beat the price at $1.49 a bunch. The funny thing is – I have bought very attractive plums, pears, and apples here that were incredibly bland. God only knows how these babies were preserved – maybe they were pumped full of saline or silicone. Buyers beware!

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