Stanley’s Fruit & Vegetables

By Rachelle Bowden in Food on May 24, 2005 7:00PM

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Chicagoist must have passed Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables hundreds of times on that 2-mile trek between the Best Buy on North and the Target on Elston, but never really thought much about it. Not big and flashy, and requiring a dreaded left-hand turn (much easier now with the green arrow), it just never really was on our radar. Then, within a couple of weeks, Stanley’s was mentioned to us numerous times. 2005_05_stanleys_interior_1.jpg“Best produce, fresh and better tasting than other places” and “low prices for produce, especially organic” were common comments. And one time Chicagoist got a little turned around in that area after trying to find a short cut, and our head almost burst into flames seeing a sign “Watermelon $0.49/lb” after we had just paid about twice that at larger grocery store.

Stanley’s is cozy-sized store, a combination of CostCo and Whole Foods with a fun soundtrack playing in the background (we particularly enjoyed Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels from a Shell” followed by Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.”) It also fills up fast…we were there at 7am Saturday morning, and there was already a line at the register! The first thing Chicagoist’s eyes were drawn to were the huge containers of Spring Mix salad. The greens! The purples! We almost hyperventilated when we saw the price, $1.98 for one whole pound. Now that’s a lot of Spring Mix! Scooping up a container and thrilled that we were the first people ever in the history of the world to discover this place, we grabbed a cart and started out.

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No stranger to marketing, Stanley has put his name on a lot of the items, beginning with the olive oil. Murals along the wall portray bucolic life, and there’s a painting of a woman holding up a sign “Stanley, we love your fruits and vegetables!” There were canned tomatoes mixed in with pickling salt and cans of bouillon mix (beef or chicken), and the thicker nacho chips that allow for maximum scoop potential. And then we see it…a huge section of spices in big containers and very, very cheap. Chicagoist cooks a lot, and we therefore go through a lot of specific ones – garlic, parsley, sesame seeds, tarragon, and cinnamon. Here was a huge section of bulk spices in nice plastic containers with lids allowing you to pour or sprinkle. For example, a 10 ounce container of garlic was only $2.98. You know you can pay twice as much for half the quantity at the big chains.

Then begins the real fun – produce! Oh, yes it is fun. Radicchio for $1.98 a pound! Artichokes, 2 for $0.98! A black seedless watermelon for $0.49! Oh, wait, that’s per pound. But still! Four types of fresh mushroom, crimini, shiitake, portabello, and white caps. Our cart’s contents grow and grow. Then we move into the dairy section, and yes, lots and lots of soy products. We’re fans of vanilla soy milk for our morning oatmeal (which is why we’re always running out of cinnamon), and they carry products like Kefir Probiotic Milk Smoothie (we got hooked on it at the marathon expo…and it’s “pro” biotic, not “con” biotic, so it must be good for us somehow). Amish blue cheese? We’re there! Seven grain bread, basmati rice (white and brown), and cereals. You could seriously do a majority of your shopping right here every week.

We then move into the organic food section, and it takes up about 1/3 of the market. We find some black carrots (black watermelon, black carrots…apparently in the vegetable world, black is the new green) for $0.98/lb. As we move towards the cashier, we see the shelves of candies, dried fruits, and nuts. And there they are, the holy grail of foodies everywhere…pine nuts. Always expensive. But once again, Stanley’s comes through for us…$9.98 for 14oz. We begin to think that this will be enough to eat out right out of the container, not save for special occasions, like we do with our interview/funeral suits. Never again will I buy produce at those corporate monstrosities known as grocery stores (although I will have to submit for other sundries, dammit). For an excellent finish to my trip, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted warmly by my cashier and thanked by the bagger (who did a great job, which is a nice change of pace, ahem other stores!). Folks, Stanley knows what he’s doing, so get yourself to the corner of Elston and North for your own treasure hunt.

Stanley’s Fruits & Vegetables
1558 N. Elston Ave., Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 276-8050
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 6am to 10pm; Sunday 7am-10pm

Thanks, Colleen!