Foodies know where to find the best foodie places. We sniff them out like bloodhounds picking up a scent. Our radar is always up and on the lookout for another great find.
In Chicago, one such place is The Spice House on Wells Street in the Old Town neighborhood. It was several years ago now, that I stumbled upon this wonderfully aromatic shop with its vintage feel and worn wood floors. The clerks keep busy filling small glass bottles from larger containers with every type of spice you can imagine. Some of the more common: white, pink and green peppercorn varieties, or vanilla beans from Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico. Some of the more exotic: Ajowan seeds and Mexican Epazote. If there is a type of spice you are looking for, chances are The Spice House will have 3 or 4 varieties of it. It’s just that kind of place.
They also have many spice blends which combine several spices together to create flavoring agents much greater than the sum of their parts. These blends are combined in a manner that somehow captures the essence of a neighborhood’s culture and heritage. One perfect example that you really must try is the Milwaukee Avenue Seasoning. Just one whiff of this spice takes me back to my childhood and to time spent with my maternal grandparents, Oma & Opa. Their home on the Northwest side of Chicago was rooted in German and Polish foods and culture. I fondly remember drives with Opa to the German butcher on busy Saturday mornings, sneaking lemon drops from the armrest compartment of his Volkswagen. The smell of that sausage shop, a heady mixture of paprika and garlic, made it hard for me to endure the drive home without begging for a slice, hunk or chunk of something from within that waxed brown paper sack. When I open that Spice House blend, I am right there standing in front of the counter, holding Opa’s hand while we wait for our order.
Other spice blends I’ve tried include the Lakeshore Seasoning – an additive and herby seasoning great for grilled fish or chicken. If you’ve ever tried Herbamare, a spice from Switzerland that my sister introduced me to, this blend bears a close resemblance to that. The Bridgeport Seasoning, a cheesy spice blend good on roasted potatoes or veggies, and the Bronzeville Rib Rub, a peppery blend with hints of sage and nutmeg, are also standout favorites. On the sweeter side, I’ve tried the Madagascar vanilla beans and their candied ginger peel. Both offer much more pungent alternatives to those found at your typical grocer.
Besides the Old Town location, they also have one store in Evanston (the original) , two stores in Milwaukee, and one in Geneva, a western suburb of Chicago. But the one I found first will always be my favorite. I go there every chance I get and I always find something new to try. With so many choices, you just can’t go wrong…..it’s just not possible!