Monday, October 22, 2012

Support Your Local Merchants and Farmer’s Markets

When I was younger my job involved a lot of traveling and staying in chain hotels. Often I would wake up in the morning having no idea where I was. The ride to and from the airport also made it difficult to realize exactly where I was. That's because within several miles of the airport the streets are lined with the same fast food restaurants, motels, hotels, mega-stores of anywhere USA.
I distinctly remember staying in a luxury chain hotel in New Orleans and opening the room service menu, only to find the exact menu that was in every one of their other hotels across the country. I was in New Orleans for God’s sake! No gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée, po boy, muffuletta, not even beignets. How could this be?
Confused, I asked the room service manager this very question. “Because we’re right down the street from Bourbon Street and that’s where everyone staying in the hotel goes for authentic Cajun, or Creole cuisine.” He replied. “For beignets, you’ll want to go to Café Dumonde, stop by the concierge for directions.” He added. 
Chicken Fried Steak (CFS)
When I was a younger man, I remember traveling throughout America, driving through small towns along the way and stopping to eat at local mom and pop diners. The food was generally specific to the area. In the south it was biscuits and gravy, or grits. In Texas it was the best Chicken Fried Steak you ever tasted. Up and down the coast of California it was seafood. I had my first taste of a fish & chips at a stand in San Francisco, so many years ago. Today many of the small independents have been replaced by many of the fast food corporate giants and their very own formula food. 
The same is true for the vanishing independently owned specialty food stores. When I was young, my mother shopped at a grocery store that was no more than 1000 sq. ft. in size. At the back of the store there was a meat counter and a real live butcher, who actually cut fresh meat on a daily basis. He knew his customers, their families, what they liked, and more importantly didn’t like. 
Mock Chicken Legs
I distinctly remember the butcher making mock chicken legs, a combination of beef and veal wrapped around a stick to resemble a chicken leg. They were delicious. As I get older, I realize that I miss that kind of familiarity with the local merchants. 
Egg & Spinach Fettucini
The small town of Highwood, Illinois located about 25 miles north of Chicago is the home to some of those independently-owned stores today. Pastificio is one of them. Pastificio is a small store specializing in “Gourmet Northern Italian Take-Home Cuisine.” Homemade pasta is why I came here today. If you’re looking for tortellacci, tortelloni, tortellini, fresh lasagna, cappellacci, ravioli, manicotti, potato gnocchi, the list is almost endless.
Dinner is Served
They also have catering, a small deli, a frozen food case and sell some Italian specialty items like Italian olive oils and vinegars. Generally, if you visit them on a Saturday, they have a small buffet, so that you can sample some of their salads, frozen food, or catering specialties. The last time I visited I tried the veal meatballs. They were delicious. The day I visited Patricia, the owner, was preparing some spectacular Antipasto Trays. They were beautiful, and as she said, made to order. 
Antipasto Trays
I hate to say it but these small, rapidly vanishing and often hidden independent specialty stores give us a snapshot into the past of how things used to be. Times not too long ago, when people, not big corporations crafted food items by hand and were proud of it. I can’t stress enough that we should all support our local merchants and farmer’s markets. For more information about Pastificio visit their website at
While you're visiting Highwood, why not pick up some fresh homemade Italian sausage, scamorza cheese, and fresh baked Italian bread at Poeta's Food Mart.  or
If it's independent restaurants or other shops you're looking for, then Highwood is a place to consider. For more information check out this link
PS. If you know of a great independent store or restaurant, please leave a comment or send me an email.

© TMelle 2012

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