When my husband I moved to Chicago’s North Shore from Washington, D.C. a dozen years ago, there were a few things we didn’t bother to pack and take with us.
One of them was an old cooler. Too big for picnics, I used it for one purpose only: to pack kosher meat, cheese, and other products into when I made my monthly trips to the kosher grocery store, at least a 45-minute drive away in Maryland. The hot DC summers were brutal, and I needed all the ice I could cram into the cooler to keep my month’s worth of chicken, brisket, and blintzes cold for the journey home.
Headed to the northern suburbs of Chicago, which boast a large Jewish population, we knew that kosher food wouldn’t be such a rarity in our new home. At first, I had to force myself to resist stocking up on kosher groceries when I went to the store: I kept reminding myself that kosher delicacies were now a mere five minutes away, not nearly an hour. I could now afford to buy one packet of chicken drumsticks for dinner—instead of stocking up on a dozen.
And the kosher selection just grew. Over the past dozen years, a number of stores and restaurants have opened, serving kosher consumers in the North Shore. In time, I could walk to a supermarket carrying kosher food in the morning and bike with my kids to a local kosher restaurant for dinner. The kosher possibilities seemed endless.
Until 2015. That year saw the scaling back of some kosher selections on the North Shore. Garden Fresh market—a big purveyor of kosher foods in Northbrook for many years—first announced that it was closing its kosher pizzeria, Main Street Pizza, and then that it was shutting its doors for good. Earlier that year Taboun Grill—the Northbrook branch of the popular Skokie restaurant—announced it was going out of business as well.
Suddenly, I find myself—along with my many kosher-consuming neighbors—having to drive much further for kosher provisions. It takes me about the same amount of time to drive to Hungarian Kosher Foods, the fully kosher supermarket in Skokie, as it does to go to the “kosher” Jewel in Highland Park (in reality, a full Jewel-Osco supermarket with a large kosher section and fully-stocked kosher deli).
The trip isn’t nearly as long as I used to spend driving to kosher markets in Maryland, but it’s not exactly around the corner either. Given the sudden dearth of kosher options in the North Shore, what’s a mom to do?
One option is to drive. It’s not without its rewards: A journey to Hungarian Kosher Foods is rewarded with fantastic sushi, made fresh in-house each day, as well as Hungarian’s store-brand soups, schnitzels, kugels, and other delicious foods from its deli. Hungarian also carries the Midwest’s largest selection of kosher wine, making a trip there well worth the drive, at least some of the time.
Slightly further south, the Jewel-Osco in Evanston has a huge kosher selection, even boasting freshly-made kosher fried chicken and Tein Li Chow, a great kosher Chinese take-out restaurant inside the store. (Hint: for $25, Tein Li Chow will even deliver to addresses throughout the North Shore.)
A second option for those of us who keep kosher in the North Shore is to seek out the hidden gems of kosher offerings inside stores that aren’t otherwise known for their kosher selection. Sunset Foods in Northbrook, for example, carries some great kosher products if you know where to look: hot dogs and salamis from Chicago’s Romanian Kosher Sausage Company, Empire kosher chicken, even kosher turkeys at Thanksgiving time. The Jewel-Osco at Plaza Del Prado in Glenview carries a surprisingly large selection of kosher cheese. Costco on Willow Road in Northbrook has a dedicated kosher meat bin right next to their seafood section, as well as kosher products scattered throughout the store, including frozen kosher cheese pizzas, kosher cheeses, kosher blintzes, and kosher dips and lox. Fresh Farms in Wheeling contains a dedicated kosher section and carries kosher-certified delicacies from Russia, Israel, and beyond.
So, Chicago’s North Shore does contain hidden kosher treasures. All it takes to find them is a sense of adventure.
Please feel free to share your own kosher discoveries and favorite store selections in the comments selection below!