South Water Market to India House, Part Two

South Water Market to India House, Part Two

By Mike Leifheit, Columnist

My friend Jenny Geiger calls me about going along to the Chicago market. She wants to bring her mother. At first I say there won’t be enough room, but then I think about it and say it will be OK if we do it on a Tuesday. Tuesday I shop for my smaller restaurant in Rockton. Tuesday morning arrives and they show up, all smiley. We have coffee and hit the road to Chicago.

On the way to the market, Jenny and I gossip about friends of ours. Her mother Janet listens intently. Jenny and I have a friendship that is unusual for two people separated by so many years. Jenny is much older than her 26 years. I like to think I am younger than my 57. I tell her mother that I don’t want to worry her, but the last two people each of us dated used to live together. She takes it pretty well.

We get off at Roosevelt Road just south of UIC and turn left on Morgan past the Hill Street Blues Station and the housing project. When we get to the market, they are both enthralled. The market is a fun place. This is one of the last weeks that the produce market will be in this location. It has been here since 1925 and stretches two city blocks with docks on both sides. There are more on the street behind. Chicago police officers direct traffic and spot trucks. If you’re smart, you don’t give them any grief; they will write you a ticket in a second.

We start out at Navilio. Dean and Kevin (two of the salesmen) run over to be introduced. It is wonderful the attention you get when you bring two nice-looking women to the produce market. They write my invoice right away. Usually, I have to wait for awhile. Then we go to S&M for asparagus and sprouts. Jenny and her mom are fascinated by the selection of unusual mushrooms. There are chanterelles and lobster mushrooms, among others. I am not sure if the chanterelles are actually chanterelles or hedgehogs. I think they are chanterelles because of the variegated gills, and Brian, one of the owners, tells me I am right.

Then it is on to Cornille to buy herbs and portabella mushrooms. (Cornille is one of my favorite market stores. It is one of the main reasons I drive to Chicago twice weekly. I use about 10 pounds of fresh imported organic basil from Hawaii every week.) Tom is the first page of Charlie Trotter’s book on vegetables, and there is a reason. Tom’s grandfather was one of the original founders of the South Water Street Market. Tom was the first produce supplier to bring in unusual and interesting produce items for the upscale Chicago restaurant scene. Until a year ago, his father Hank was there every day. I think Hank is almost 90. He can still add tickets without the benefit of an adding machine.

After the produce market, we hit West Randolph Street for dry groceries. I stop at Grazziano just for the girls’ benefit. I know they will love this store, and they do. There are open barrels of beans and dried lentils. There are unusual olives and a cooler full of imported cheeses and lunchmeats like Prosciutto and Capocollo. One of the Grazziano boys takes a shine to the girls and gives them a box of imported Italian chocolates. We buy a piece of Incanistrato (hanging basket) cheese. They hang it in a basket to intensify the flavor by drying to increase the concentration. It is the strongest Italian grating cheese.

(I am writing this article, and I don’t know how to spell Incanistrato. I call Frank Calvanese from Little Italy, and he spells it with a “c.” He calls his mother, and then calls me back. He says, maybe it has two n’s. I then realize it is Sicilian, not Italian, and I try the Internet again, finally getting the correct spelling. Frank was right the first time.)

Before we go to the fish market, we go to Roditi’s for lunch. We have a bottle of Cambas and a saganaki (fried cheese appetizer) to start. They let me order, and I ask for spanikopita (spinach pie), braised lamb and dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice and ground lamb on a bed of egg lemon sauce). Janet has never had braised lamb before, and she loves it. Afterward, we have Greek coffees, medium and Ouzo (Greek licorice liqueur) on the rocks.

Then it is off to Hubbard Street and Wabash seafood. Tim lets us go into the cutting room, and the women are fascinated by the many different kinds of fish. The Mexican cutters show their appreciation for the pretty women with murmurs of approval. Lalo gives a demonstration of his filet technique. It’s amazing to see how fast these guys can filet, bone and skin a fish.

The following Sunday, it is my birthday. Jenny calls during the week to say that she and her mom want to take me out to dinner. They were knocked out by the trip to the market, and they would like to return the favor. We decide on the India House. I will write about our wonderful experience there, next week.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life.” These columns are also available on his Web site: and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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