I think I was Italian in a previous life – what else would explain my love of Italian grocery stores and cuisine, Italian art, Italian designers, and the country itself. I traveled to Italy twice in the early 1980s and fell in love with Venice and Florence. But alas, time passed and obligations piled up over the years and I have not been back to glorious Italia. For now I have to satiate my quest for unusual Italian food products by frequenting the best damn Italian deli this side of the Atlantic Ocean! And listening to Louis Prima when the mood strikes. So twice a year we drive to Kenosha and thoroughly enjoy shopping at Tenuta’s Deli, a Kenosha tradition since 1950.
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.
Every Wednesday, I make the trek to visit my daughter in downtown Chicago. I always stop first at Joe Caputo & Sons in Des Plaines to buy her portabello mushrooms, rapini, and a few other veggies. This location is ridiculous in that everything is squeezed into too tight a space and their parking lot is treacherous. Their stores in Palatine and Algonquin are huge, clean, well laid out, and offer up a mind-boggling array of choices. I can understand that they have loyal shoppers in Des Plaines and so don’t want to close this location, but this shopping experience is less than ideal and they should really consider finding a new building. I am usually the youngest patron by 20+ years and end up feeling like I am in the Mr. Bean episode where he gets stuck behind retirees on the staircase while on holiday. Before I could even get a foot in the door, I encountered an older woman spouting off trivial nonsense to one of the stockers – totally blocking the very narrow entrance. I finally entered the store and she was still blocking the aisle with her cart. I grabbed a few orange peppers and suddenly heard her exclaim loudly, “This is totally outrageous, I cannot believe it.” At first I thought I had knocked one of the peppers on the ground and she was reacting to my lack of produce etiquette. It is nearly impossible the way they pile up produce here to not knock a veggie or two onto the ground. No, that was not it at all – whew. She tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the artichokes. “This is an absolute crime – these were 2 for $1.00 just yesterday and now they are 98 cents each.” I just shook my head and agreed with her, although I was thinking to myself – hey, laaaaady, that is how it goes with weekly sales.