Food deserts is generally a term reserved for po’ black and brown areas in Chicago that lack healthy grocery options. As an underemployed single woman, I can say with certainty the term could be applied to one’s pantry during the last days of the month.
Over the past six months, I’ve prided myself on getting control of my spending and managing my freelancing income. Each month, I’m makin’ it rain on them ho’s–the ho’s being my bills and landlord. However, this month, I’ve had a setback in losing my one of my jobs. I don’t know if it was a divine sign or just life’s little ironies, when the day before the loss, my father’s girlfriend remarked how impressed she was with my strong-hand money pimping skills and said, “Well, the good thing is if you lose one, you still have some income coming in.”
Anyhooo, after Easter, my neighborhood got its own grocery resurrection. Up until now, I’ve been hitting up two places, Halsted Foods and Fairplay Foods, depending on my mood and sometimes an occasional visit to Whole Paycheck. The arrival of Cermak Fresh Market opens up a whole new world of cost-saving tactics.
Cermak took over a former 21,800 square foot Jewel, which closed in September 2007, six days after I moved in the neighborhood. (Again, file under “ironic”) This is their ninth site in the Chicagoland area and brings much-needed fresh produce enhancement that was lost when The Egg Store shuttered in January. This was obvious during grand opening weekend. People roamed the store like the Israelites getting out of Egypt and into their promise land. Yea, it’s not the same but going from having to choose between Iceberg and Romaine to red, green leaf and butter lettuce made me want to start singing a good ole Negro spiritual as I stocked my basket.
Rather than entering the store through the usual pig-out aisle (you know those 2 for $5.00 bags of Doritos that beckon – “Your dateless Friday night company, beeyoch!” (Well scratch that, actually they do have something similar, a little foyer you pass thru but even with the choice of bulk sesame sticks, and dried prunes you’re still better off than walking the high salt/carb/processed food gauntlet.) Cermak places the produce up front and center. Immediately, you start making good choices and being greeted by an abundance of color and bright lighting create a pleasant from the start. Mangos on sale for 3/$1.00 and at the beginning of the summer, I was able to snag bing cherries for $1.99 a pound before they got jacked up to $3.99. Asian, Mexican and some Caribbean fruits are available and in pretty good condition. However, I have to complain that their bananas don’t hold up as well as ones from Halsted Foods and I saw moldy, past its prime fruit in the discount bin. That’s just plain wrong.
Dairy pickings are the usual although I did sing “Amen” when I saw for sale Kefir yogurt drink, goat milk and a generic version of coffee pods for my beloved Senso coffee maker, which saves me a trip to Target. Standouts among the staples are numerous olive oils available, from pints to 3 liters, reasonably priced spices, including bulk versions from the Caputo store brand. As for the meat selection, they have the rooter to the tooter, a few good cuts of lamb and veal and vats of marinated meat.
Tucked between the butcher’s and the deli is a little in-house fast food joint offering Mexican-style dishes.
Single ladies (and men) delis are your best friend. No more wasting money on that small container of ricotta cheese on sale after making that smaller version of your fave dish that only calls for 1/4 a cup. With this option, I’m no longer stuck eating extra calories to avoid the guilt of wasting food. Halsted Foods has a deli counter but Cermak’s not only makes theirs look wimpy but offers a large variety of cheeses – goat, feta, etc to several types (ham, pastrami,etc) of Turkey lunchmeat.
The initial downside to this store I noted, was a lack of Asian food staples. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Asian population in this once historically Irish neighborhood has risen by 25 percent to 11,009. Chinatown about a mile away covers all the basic, but with a growing population, it seems they would throw down a challenge to Chinatown grocery owners and shake shit up. Hispanic-owned and targeted, the store stocks crossover brands, such as Lee Kum Kee , a small spattering of generic and recognizable Japanese and Thai brands, but their rice selection remains poor while I will give them a most improved in the produce section.
Another small frustration, if you can call it that, is Cermak doesn’t supply the Centrella brand, like Halsted and Fairplay foods which means it doesn’t compete directly with either store so, I’m stuck with having to make two stops, to catch any bargains. Prices are also higher but with their selections it’s gonna pay off in the long run.
(Update 8/25/11: On a recent trip, I discovered they are supplying turkey breast cutlets along with regular cuts of turkey.)Info: 3033 S. Halsted St. Chicago, IL 60608. 312/460-3460. www.cermakfreshmarket.com