September 30, 2007

Life of the stomach: stocking up on groceries in Hyde Park

Whether you live-to-eat or eat-to-live, as a University of Chicago student, chances are that you will devise a grocery ritual of your very own, one that suits your needs as well as your location. These rituals may range from the elaborate and far-flung to the local and basic—yet the diversity of grocery options is an undeniable reminder of the University’s urban environment, rich with culinary adventures.

“As I’ve lived in three places over the past two years, I’ve experienced a lot of [grocery options],” said third-year Caitlin Rubin. “Living on Woodlawn, I generally use Hyde Park Produce—the prices are so good, and the staff is so friendly. But again, I think where you get your groceries depends on where you live in Hyde Park.”

Rubin explained that as a first-year living in Max Pavlesky, a trip to the Hyde Park Co-op on Lake Park constituted a “huge expedition,” not to mention one that necessitated careful attention to sales.

Though Michael D’Arcy (A.B., ’07) agreed that location and lack of a car to some extent dictated his grocery choices—usually the Co-op—they also revolved around his feeling of neighborhood allegiance.

“I felt a fair amount of neighborhood pride by going to the Co-op,” said D’Arcy. “I saw people from my church there, saw people who weren’t students. Everyone seemed to know everyone there.”

Both D’Arcy and Rubin downplayed the usual complaint that the Co-op is over-priced and under-stocked.

However, sometimes the cycle of academic pressures trumped other concerns: “When I was writing my B.A., I’d go to Walgreens for three things: milk, donuts, and underwear,” he said, thereby avoiding spending time—and energy—consumed in laundry detail.

As a reward for hard work and finishing an academic quarter, D’Arcy recommended Hyde Park Produce’s sandwiches, which he called their “best kept secret.”

Despite Hyde Park Produce’s popularity—it was consistently cited as a favorite by every student interviewed—it lacks more basic grocery items, often necessitating a tandem visit to Walgreens or the Co-op. Fortunately, Hyde Park Produce is slated to open in the location formerly occupied by the Co-op in Kimbark Plaza, which, considering the size of the space, promises to provide for even more of the grocery needs of Hyde Park Produce devotees.

Nonetheless, third-year Lindsay Thomson-Levin said she found most of the options within Hyde Park both over-priced and inconvenient.

“I only go to the Co-op or Village Foods if I have forgotten an ingredient and need it immediately,” said Thomson-Levin. “Otherwise, I use Peapod,” an online grocery service.

Thomson-Levin raved about Peapod for its freshness, range of products, its lack of premiums on individual grocery items, and its low delivery fees, which range from $5–10.

“You can shop online at any time of day or night and receive your groceries as early as the next day; at the latest, two days. I have been a customer for two years now, and they have never screwed up my order, the pricing, or the delivery time.”

Thomson-Levin explained that Peapod also carries bulk items one might usually have to buy at a place like Costco, such as 24-packs of Diet Coke, her “life nectar” of choice.

Yet for the intrepid gourmet, distance is not a deterrent. Fourth-year James Kraft agreed with Thomson-Levin that he found most Hyde Park options lacking. Kraft loves finding alternatives and exceptions such as Istria and the Windy’s Deli near Maclean House, both of which he called “underrated.”

“Fairly nearby is Pete’s Fresh Market in Pilsen, where my roommates often shop,” said Kraft. “They have very good chickens, as well as herbs, spices, and tropical fruit. The only trouble is that you need to take a car.”

Exploring grocery options beyond Hyde Park, such as the new Whole Foods in the South Loop, is also possible by Metra and CTA. Most students agreed that a car is definitely an enabler in exploring grocery options beyond those of Hyde Park.

“My absolute favorite place to shop in Chicago, though, is the old stockyards West of the Loop,” said Kraft. “There’s a wonderful fresh seafood wholesaler who flies in oysters, mahimahi, salmon, you name it, and it’s actually quite reasonably priced. The butchers are unbelievably cheap, though you do tend to need to buy in at least moderately large quantities.”

Kraft also recommended the Italian shops for cheapness and breadth of stock, and said not to be intimidated by the “factory doors that look like you shouldn’t go in them—once you do, people are very friendly and helpful, particularly if you give them repeat business.”

With enough time and some fast-talking to convince his roommate and ride, Kraft visits Hot Doug’s for “a gourmet cased meat product (read: ‘expensive hot dog’).”