Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Monday, March 8

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Store Thu Oct 04 2007

Greek Grocer, Greek Baker

The same friend who showed me the great Italian store on Grand named Bari told me there was a Greek place I needed to try. A few weeks later we were there, in Athens Grocery at 324 S. Halsted. As we locked our bicycles out front, she told me we needed to also visit Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop next door, at 322 South.

Athens is setup like many small Chicago grocers. It first has a row with coolers and produce, a few aisles of shelves, and a counter up front to pay up at. I grabbed some ripe bananas and after an aisle of American packaged foods, went for the Greek imports. Metal cans with tear-off tops from Greece sit on a shelf over jars of tahini and down from tins of coffee. I took a tin of baked giant beans - the same kind I'd seen dried earlier in the store - 280 grams in all. The ingredients told me the beans make up 59 percent - the remainder being a silky savory sauce (as I'd later find out) of soy oil, onions, tomato, parsley, dill and red and black pepper. I took one of those for $2.99 and another of young okras (57%) for $3.49. The latter came with soy oil, onions, tomato, vinegar, parsley, garlic, and red and black pepper. An elegantly painted tin of stone milled Turkish style coffee found its way into my basket, too. The can showed Aroma Coffee Company in Chicago's 60607. Next, I took a $3.49, 9.7-ounce jar of Kalamata spread from a back shelf that also holds much large jars of giardiniera. In the last aisle, a bottom shelf holds packages of dried stalks of sage and oregano. Large glass $2.99 jars of chamomile herbal tea list their ingredients "in descending order of predominance" - even though they continue to list just one ingredient: the chamomile flower. Across, a counter holds two large filled-to-the-rim pails of olives in brine. One contains green olives, the other Kalamata. A sign says to keep your hands out. Liquor is on the back wall.

Next door, Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop has a glass counter full of treats. Two men at a table looked engrossed in a game of backgammon when I came in. My friend told me that two people had a game going on when she had gone in at lunchtime earlier. I asked if the baklava has butter. "Yes," the man at the counter responded in a proud voice. After I paused, he asked something like, "What else do you want us to use?" I thought, "Who am I - a Chicago resident who grew up in one of its suburbs to parents of German and Polish lineage - to tell a Greek baker how to make his baklava?" But I said, "How about oil?" thinking of how I've made it with olive oil. I quickly followed up with, "I'm looking for something vegan." He told me they sell sesame bars with honey, but that they were currently out. He suggested the cookies on a shelf in the back corner near a sign indicating, "no eggs, no butter." My friend picked up a bag. He told us no, the dark-colored ones. They smelled fragrantly delicious - not the sweet kind of cookie, but the kind you have with tea or coffee. The man knew exactly what was in them: flour, grape juice, olive oil and cinnamon. My friend smelled them again. They smell like they have ginger, he told us, but they don't. Put them in a ziplock if you don't eat them all right away, he finished.

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Rosie / October 7, 2007 8:13 PM

I love these multi-cultural corner stores! I haven't been to a Jewel or Dominicks for my groceries in weeks!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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