When it comes to buying groceries, Chicagoans know the usual suspects: Jewel, Dominick's, Whole Foods. In chains like these tomatoes can up to $5 per pound, packaged foods also come with their mark-ups, deli items add up to a pretty penny.
Then there is Trader Joe's and Aldi (Aldi Nord owns Trader Joe's), where either selection or quality may suffer. Places like Costco favor a bulk buyer. I have not yet been to Urban Fresh, but, from what I hear, it's Jewel items at Fox and Obel prices.
Enter City Fresh Market, on the corner of Devon and Kedzie Avenues, across the street from a kosher fast food joint. Same tomatoes at $.99 per pound, great selection of deli meats and cheeses that are both delicious and affordable, USDA choice fresh meats priced fairly, and whole fish delivered daily. The other day I bought two whole white basses for under $4 – no kidding.
The owner is from Serbia, and he maintains his affinity toward the Balkan classics and Eastern European staples, such as ajvar, letcho, pickled tomatoes from Bulgaria, cured meats and sausages, probiotic fermented dairy products. The deli has a dozen types of feta ranging in origin from France to Armenia. The selection of booze is intresting: wines from all over the Balkans, many types of Sliwowitz,even Nemiroff wheat vodka from Ukraine.
The team manages to operate in a fairly small space, runs a bakery on-site, and, despite its ethnic appeal, has created a full-pledged supermarket, where one can buy a lot and spend little. You can very well see the growing success of this business as longer and longer lines form at the registers.
The fact is that there are plenty of stores like City Fresh in Chicago. Some may bear "Carniceria" or "Fruteria" in their names, some will be called "Sklep", which is Polish for store or shop, and not all of them are necessarily good or successful. They also often are not in places like Lincoln Park or Bucktown. But these joints are fun, and their eclectic choices offer new recipe ideas and force customers to explore, apart from just saving money.
Quite a few of these markets have the word "Fresh" in the title, so pay attention. And grab a free newspaper in Romanian or Macedonian on the way out. You can have some fun deciphering it, or read it front to back, if you know the language.