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Feature Fri Jun 19 2009
HarvesTime Foods could be one of the best kept secrets on the north side. It's like the Millennium Falcon. From the outside it doesn't look like much. The awning is torn and a bit sun-faded. The LCD sign's functionality is sometimes spotty. The building is coated in a stark whitewash in a neighborhood where one side of the street is rundown and the other is neo-gentrified. So at first glance, purchasing even canned food from this market may make you cringe a bit and wonder if you're taking your life into your own hands.
But as you enter, passing the requisite bubblegum and novelty toy machines (yes, they do have Homies. Ironic perhaps. Perhaps not.), you smell that fresh clean store smell; a mélange of bleach and softer cleansers, and every surface is spotless.
The produce at HarvesTime is probably fresher and cheaper than almost any other place in the city (save for perhaps their sister store, Edgewater Produce). And when I say fresh, I'm not exaggerating. It's really at the peak of its ripeness. Their produce isn't the kind that you can allow to languish on the countertop and ripen.
This stuff is ready to go right now! Trust me, I've made the mistake of purchasing too much and thinking that it will keep in the crisper. It doesn't. This is the double-edged sword. Their tomatoes are full, plump and tangy. Their greens are crisp and bright. Even the peaches I've purchased here smell sweet and are ready to be taken home and made into a cobbler.
No paper bags or bananas are necessary to assist with the ripening. So no stocking up thinking you'll use the extra later in the week. Later in the week will be too late! About the only thing I've ever picked up at HarvesTime that needed a little time are avocados, but never more than about 24 hours.
The meat department is a carnivore's dream come true. I've never seen less than three folks behind the counter, and they're quick to take your order. In addition, the prices at the meat counter are lower than just about anywhere in the city. And since they serve a lot of the immigrant community, it is cheaper to get more esoteric (at least from the point of view of the western palate) cuts.
Want some pork belly to make into your own pancetta? No prob. Need some honeycomb or bible tripe for a bit of Larb or Pho? They've got you covered in spades. Need three fryers for a brunch of pan-fried chicken and waffles? Fifteen dollars later, I was out of there with 3 whole birds ready for a 24 hour buttermilk bath!
In all honesty, I probably only saved a buck or two when you compare the price to the big markets here in the city, but at least I feel happy about supporting a local business. And I've yet to see a Dominick's or Jewel-Osco where I could also stroll out with a pound of chicaronnes and a pound of mixta carnitas. Add some warm corn tortillas, lime and kosher salt, and you've got a great lunch.
Another great reason to shop at HarvesTime is the spices. Not only do they have a pretty extensive selection of delicious hot sauces (I've recently fallen in love with Huy Fong's Chili Garlic Sauce, see left), but their spices come in large shaker containers ranging in weight/volume from 6 ounces (for things like rosemary, basil, or oregano) to 16 ounces (for spices like mustard or cumin powders). And the cost is about half of what you'd pay for the small plastic jars of spices at the bigger markets. Need an unusual spice like annatto or ammonia (wtf)? They've got it.
But perhaps one of my favorite things from the store is Coca-Cola. And, yeah, you can get Coca-Cola just about anywhere, but this is Hecho en Mexico (or Coca-Cola Mexicana). No high fructose corn syrup, just cane sugar. And if you haven't had Coke with sugar since you were a kid, treat yourself. Lighter in body and less sweet (funny how that happens), it's the Coke from our childhood! Original formula, my ass.
Notice the one product that they're low on?
HarvesTime shows that the independent neighborhood market is still alive, vibrant, and defiant, though quietly so, in the face of corporate supermarket chains. So if supporting local business, finding the freshest produce and meats, and getting a good deal for it all are important to you, start shopping at HarvesTime.
HarvesTime Market is located at 2632 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago IL 60625. Their phone number is (773) 989-4400, and you can find them online at harvesttimefoods.com which has electronic copies of their weekly flyer and specials.