Chicagoans are some of the most active and busiest in the country. However, balancing the pressures of being in the lunch-hour time crunch, leading a health- and fitness-focused lifestyle, as well as avoiding meal monotony (and bankruptcy) can be a tall order.Consequently, for me, a good salad bar truly is golden, particularly when you have been sitting all day and feel like a slob. I love salads and the endless variety that you can discover with each bite, and the serve-yourself atmosphere allows me to get just what I want and the amount of it that I want. I can then head back to my work filled with high quality, healthy ingredients like veggies and lean proteins, and a high does of flavor and good bang for my buck. ConsiderationsBut finding a good salad bar? That is a pretty tough task. For me, the criteria of a good salad bar (and by "good," I mean excellent) are as follows:Clean environment and high hygienic standards with staff that monitors, cleans, and replenishes the product as necessary.High quality offerings that are fresh and prime for consumption, not several days old.Ingredients kept in water, not in oil or a solution.A substantial variety of ingredients. This includes:A substantial variety of ingredients. This includes:Multiple lettuces--I like to mix my options--romaine, spinach, spring greens, even kale. A variety of dressings, but also balsamic vinegar and olive oil. House made dressings are a major plus.Prepared salads--I do not typically utilize them myself, but a fresh taboulleh or corn salad can be an excellent addition to your every day salad. Lean, plain proteins. I don't do well with a lot of oils and heavy additions, so I prefer my proteins plain. I do not, however, want them straight from a bag. A salad bar that goes through the trouble of offering you freshly grilled or roasted chicken breast that they themselves have cut? That tells you the type of care that they are going to put into everything else. Some standards, some rotated items. I like to know what I am going to be presented with, but I also love to try something new! Great for you mind and your palette.Good accompaniments. Yes I am getting over a pound of salad, but I still want a good drink and perhaps some chips or nuts to go with it or for later!SoupsCompostable, reuseable, or washable containers (same for utensils)ParagraphExtra Credit: Local ingredients (with labels) or organic ingredients. I love pickles, pepperocinis, and pickled ginger Fresh herbs. One of my favorite additions is fresh basil Lemon wedges Real bacon pieces (nice and crispy) and real croutons!And obviously, all at a good price. This city is expensive enough as it is!I have takem upon myself the arduous task of searching out what are, in my experience, 5 of the top gourmet salad bars in the downtown of Chicago. These venues comply with all of the above criteria, plus make their own mark that separates them from the competition in some way, from local purveyors to ethnic delicacies. But any way you look at it, these aren't your average cafeteria lines.Top Chicago Gourmet Salad Bars(In no particular order)Bockwinkel's Grocery and Deli (The Loop/Lakeshore East) A hidden gem in the midst of the northeastern Loop, Bockwinkel's fulfills all your needs, from lunch to dinner. A great variety of offerings that rotate in accordance with the deli and what they are making--from balsamic turkey to cajun chicken breast, various pasta salads, and fun ingredients to make sure that your lunch is anything but boring. Grab a soup of any size from the counter next to the bar, maybe some snacks or a Boar's Head Sandwich, and any number of other things to make your day better!Market Thyme (Aon Center/Pedway, The Loop/Lakeshore East) Market Thyme is truly a one-stop shop without being a store. Though the cold salad bar itself is not the largest, it is in the midst of a melting pot of fresh (prepared in front of you) options: sushi, pasta, bimibap, burgers, sandwiches, and more. The food selection rotates in the hot line in accordance with the season and what people are craving, and expect mini deserts as well! Eat there or take it to go!Foodease Market (Mezzanine Food Court, Water Tower Center, Gold Coast/Streeterville) Perhaps the best salad bar in the city. Much of the product at Foodease is local, made in house, or delivered directly from restaurants (Foodease is part of the Lettuce Entertain You Entertainment empire). Lots of extras, from fresh herbs to infused oils and vinegars, to rotating hot bars from local chefs to a "chocolate closet." Buy a bottle of wine from the wine cellar, or sidle up to the wine bar itself. Don't feel like imbibing? Grab a Coke Freestyle beverage and make your own trail mix, or sit down and eat on a real plate with real cutlery. A salad bar for foodies, indeed!Plum Market (1233 N Wells Street, Old Town) Plum Market's salad bar and offerings are, without a doubt, the best in the central Old Town area. A mixture of a Whole Foods and a local market, Plum Market bridges the gap with its variety and ingenuity--pickled vegetables, different coleslaws, and toppings. Anything that the salad bar doesn't have you can turn around and ask for from the prepared foods counters behind you! And then take your lunch and sit down in a sunny, lovely atmosphere, or grab an Intelligentsia coffee and work in their cafe.Whole Foods Market (Multiple Locations, but particularly Lincoln Park/Old Town, 1550 N Kingsbury Street) **SOON TO STREETERVILLE** One of the biggest Whole Foods Markets in the country, this is not your typical lunch place. Rather, the salad bar is but one of many stations to grab a bite--from pizza to sandwiches. Or sit at the bar and get bar bites and local brew! My only advice would be to go with a game plan, or you will be changing your mind over and over again! This is a place that can be overwhelming if you let it. If you are just focusing on the salad, you will find what you have come to expect from Whole Foods: prepared hot and cold salads, organic ingredients, rotating offerings at the end of the bar. Eat in any number of places--family style near the entrance, on stools at a counter, or upstairs, looking down on everyone below!Honorable Mention:Farmer's Fridge (Vending, Certain 7-11 locations and Nordstrom) Farmer's Fridge is a hyper local, small batch food company that is rethinking the vending machine lunch. Each fridge is supplied daily, all product is local and prepared by hand, and all ingredients are treated with respect and a focus on health. The salads are, themselves, vegetarian, but you can also purchase proteins to combine with them. New options are soon to be included with a variety of sauces, so that you can tailor your meal to exactly what you want! If you like their products, the company even offers a cleanse and delivery service!You will find salad bars at the majority of grocery stores throughout Chicago, from Treasure Island, to Mariano's, to Mrs. Greens. However, the places that I listed above are more destinations for a meal--complete with proteins, outstanding selection, and more than just your typical offerings. Jason's Deli in the Loop also has a good salad bar, but no accompanying proteins. How do you stay healthy while traveling and working?Read More
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On February 6, athletes from 88 different nations will parade across one stage at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. For many Americans, the event will be a reminder of the athletic world’s incredible diversity and Ralph Lauren’s even more incredible taste in outfits. I, on the other hand, will probably just be hungry. The games always inspire my taste buds’ desire for international cuisine—particularly the grocery-store kind, which can be carried to go and eaten in front of the television for the figure-skating finals. Read on for some of the Windy City’s best international grocery stores for satiating Sochi-inspired cravings. FRANCE | Chicago French Market (West Loop | 131 N. Clinton St.) | Be sure to browse the 30 vendors for cheeses, baguettes, and crepes. GREAT BRITAIN | Gaelic Imports (Jefferson Park | 6346 W. Gunnison St.) | Look for lorne sausage, haggis, and homemade shortbread. | Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods (Lakeview | 1405 W. Irving Park Rd.) | Browse the broader spectrum of British cuisine, including cheeses, chocolates, biscuits, and crisps. ITALY | J.P. Graziano Grocery Co. (West Loop | 901 W. Randolph St.) | Look for the antipasta tray, which is pretty much designed for marathon TV viewing. | Eataly (River North | 43 E. Ohio St.) Sneak a draft brew at Eataly's second-floor birreria while you navigate the fresh pastas, seafood, and meats at the butcher’s counter. Come prepared: Eataly is big—so big, it’s almost its own country. Read our travel guide to navigate its aisles smoothly. NORWAY | Wikstrom’s (online-only store based out of Palatine) | Look for Göteborg sausage and limpa bread. SWEDEN | The Sweden Shop (North Park | 3304 W. Foster Ave.) | Look for lingonberry preserves and Arvid Nordquist coffee. SWITZERLAND | Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland (River North | 900 N. Michigan Ave., Level 5) | Look for Swiss chocolate bars and truffles. EASTERN EUROPE | City Fresh Market (West Rogers Park | 3201 W. Devon Ave. and West Loop | 117 N. Clinton St.) | Look for burek, a savory baked pastry of phyllo dough filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables, made in-house. SOUTH KOREA | Joong Boo Mart (Avondale | 3333 N. Kimball Ave.) Before hitting the aisles, stop at the café for a fresh-made bowl of veggie bibimbap. As Chic-A-Go-Go star Mia Park taught us, douse the dish in equal parts of the oil and hot sauce, then slice the egg with a spoon, then toss everything, making sure egg, rice, and veggies get equally coated with the bright-red sauce. CHINA | Richwell Market (Chinatown | 1835 S. Canal St.) Look for hoisin sauce, numerous different dumplings, and fresh ginger. Then, stop by Hong Kong Market (Chinatown | 2425 S. Wallace St.) for fresh scallops, a variety of noodles, and ingredients for a hot-pot meal, including broths and thinly sliced meats. JAMAICA | Old World Market (Uptown | 5129 N. Broadway, #1) | Even though Jamaica isn’t a top Winter Olympic competitor, the spirit of everyone’s favorite Olympic film, Cool Runnings, is alive and well here. Look for scotch-bonnet peppers, jerk seasonings, and goat meat. Eataly photo: Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, Groupon; Joong Boo Market photo: Stephanie Bassos, GrouponRead More
Their pantry is stocked with saffron; their whetstone is well used; and they’ve had a himalayan salt block for years. What can you get for the foodie who has everything? I was pretty sure Gene’s Sausage Shop (4750 N. Lincoln Ave.) had the answer. More than just a sausage shop, Gene's is a veritable wonderland of carefully handpicked European goodies. From classic Central European fruit brandies to rare German chocolates, Gene's prides itself on carrying items you won't find anywhere else. Below are five of their hard-to-find products that are great for gift-giving to foodie friends and family: SPICES AND SEASONINGS Löwensenf mustard ($4.29 per 9.3-ounce jar) Since 1903, Löwensenf has been producing mustards for those craving that traditional German-beer-hall flavor, whether you’re using it as dipping sauce for pretzels or spreading it over rye bread for a turkey sandwich. Gene’s carries it in medium, extra hot, and Bavarian style. Maggi Würze ($3.99) Gene’s is used to answering phone calls from frantic German expats who want to know one thing, and one thing only: “Do you have Würze?” The answer, thankfully, is yes. With its umami-rich flavor and vegetable-protein base, the dark-colored seasoning sauce is sort of like soy sauce without the soy. Inhabitants of German-speaking countries such as Austria and Switzerland (where Würze originated) are sure to have a bottle or two on the shelves, but it’s not a stranger to Asia, either, popping up on tables throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Add a dash or two to tofu and noodle dishes or go wild experimenting. PRESERVES Harvest Song Tea-Rose-Petal Preserves ($6.49 per 10.2-ounce jar) When the holiday cheese plates come out, fig and apricot spreads abound, but why not add an edible bouquet to the mix? Harvest Song’s tea-rose-petal preserves contain the delicate aroma of fresh-cut roses with a subtly sweet taste perfect for accompanying soft cheeses such as brie and goat cheese. Pair it with riesling for an unexpected taste guests won’t soon forget. Hafi Swedish Cloudberry Preserves ($10.69 per 14.1-ounce jar) A Swedish delicacy, the crunchy seeds of cloudberries add an herbal tartness and extra texture to stacks of pancakes and bowls of ice cream. The berries can even be served on their own topped with whipped cream as a unique dessert. What’s keeping these Scandinavian gems from being every bit as ubiquitous as blueberries or blackberries? Cloudberries can’t be cultivated, so the berries in every jar of Hafi’s preserves are handpicked from the wild. SWEET TOOTH Lars’ Own Imported Belgian Pearl Sugar ($3.99 per 8-ounce pouch) If you think IHOP’s belgian waffles have anything on the real deal, you’re pleasantly mistaken. Belgium’s waffles are traditionally served as easy, on-the-go street food with a caramelized, crispy exterior that makes syrup unnecessary. Pearl sugar is what makes the difference. Almost pebble sized, this special ingredient mixes into waffle dough and creates pockets of sweetness in every bite. Oh, and if you’re not sure where to start, Lars’ Own makes things easy by including a traditional waffle recipe on the back of every pouch. Photo credit: Sarah Gorr, GrouponRead More