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Our Big Fat Greek Discovery

By Anonymous in Food on Jul 1, 2005 3:17AM

After numerous eye-rolls by a Greek co-worker for buying our feta at the grocery store, Chicagoist ventured out to Greektown to find authentic feta. In our search we found a great little market called Athens Grocery. You might almost bypass it with all of the Greek restaurants along Halsted and trees hiding the sign, but Athens Grocery is a wonderful little shop full of authentic Greek products including many types of olives (a gallon jar of kalamata olives for $20.00), Greek coffees, spices, and feta as well as wines and liquors.

Athens Grocery
Mr. Siannas, one of the owners, said the store has been around since he was in his early twenties (Chicagoist wasn’t rude enough to ask his age!). The store used to be on Jackson, but they relocated to the Halsted location in 1979 to double their size, and have been there ever since. The area used to be somewhat run down 10 years ago, but when the Democratic National Convention arrived at the United Center (just down the way), the neighborhood spruced up…new street lights, more trees, everything got much more inviting. Even the Walgreens there has signs in Greek, although you may want to request your prescription directions in English, we’re just saying.

They carry basic items like rice and pasta, but also specialty items such as grape leaves (for your own stuffing) and dolmades (already stuffed with rice, from $3.50 and up depending on size of the can). And, of course, lots of sardines, a Greek staple. There was sea salt in a bottle that only had Greek writing, and different kinds of jams and jellies, including one made of figs. And you know Chicagoist and our love for olive oil…almost every type was from Greece, each with its own regional designation, like real champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France.

We initially went there to buy Thyme Honey for the baklava we will be attempting this weekend (if no one gets injured during its production, we may post the recipe). Initially we thought of using plain honey, or making our own with sprigs of fresh thyme…but that’s the one thing we didn’t have…well, two, actually, thyme and time. And in this instant-coffee world, we don’t have the patience to make our own, Martha Stewart and her hives be damned! Luckily, Athens Grocery had many types of honey…multi-flowered honey, plain honey, plain with the honeycomb (which Chicagoist always thinks is totally cool), and the Thyme Honey, in a 1-pound plus jar, for $12.

The storefront itself has a lot of neon signs for the beer it sells, but don’t let that deter you or make you think it’s just a quick-stop shop, although you can buy lottery tickets there. You can linger in here for a while. There are also Greek pastry shops and cafes all along the way…and the Greek candle shop on the corner. We left after purchasing our Thyme Honey, a half pound of authentic Greek feta ($3.45), and having a great conversation about Greece (Santorini is the best island to visit). On the Near West Side, Greektown is easy to reach by bus or by the blue line, just get off at the UIC stop.