Fresh, local produce is fairly easy to come by in some Chicago neighborhoods, but the Loop hasn't always been one of them. Luckily, that's changing. The Daley Plaza farmer's market is already a popular attraction and summer 2009 is scheduled to bring a new French market to Ogilvie Transportation Center in the West Loop and a Fox & Obel outpost in the former Carson Pirie Scott & Co. building on State.
Last week, Chicago's Downtown Farmstand opened its doors at 66 E. Randolph. We stopped by yesterday to check it out.
Yesterday, we discussed the savings that can be found at country farmstands. This urban farmstand is really a small storefront, and what it lacks in bargain prices, it makes up for in convenience for busy Loop workers. The farmstand is open five days a week through mid-December and offers a variety of locally grown produce and locally produced goods. We were told by an enthusiastic greeter that all the products come from within 250 miles, but we're guessing the regulations aren't as strict as, say, the Green City Market.
Among the all-local produce and products, there were ready-to-cook pizzas from Lou Malnati's in the freezer case and jars of spices from the Spice House on the shelves. Locally produced? Yes. Local ingredients? Not likely. Still tasty? You bet.
You're not going to find the variety of produce here that you would at a farmer's market, but you will find high-quality items, many of them organic. We found the refrigerated case stocked with several varieties of salad greens, broccoli florets, leeks and radishes.
We're talking about the joys of local artisinal products this month, and Chicago's Downtown Farmstand is a great place to find these gems. Like a bag of Pasta Puttana from saucy pastamaker Jessica Volpe or a jar of Rooftop Honey made by the bees in City Hall's rooftop garden. Maybe some chestnuts or chestnut flour from Hillside Orchards, Black Turtle Beans from Three Sisters Garden or a cheese from Hidden Springs Creamery.
We were also really excited to find ready-to-go meals from First Slice – no subscription needed! If it's going to be a takeout night, a freshly made meal for three for $18 with proceeds benefiting the less fortunate is a great way to go. When we visited, the choices were Salsbury steak, lasagna and chicken parmesan.
The farmstand is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Related: Fresh Meals with a Purpose: First Slice
(Images: Joanna Miller)