The Whole Foods Market, which opened in March at North and Sheffield, is the new hangout for the politically correct. They're loading their shopping carts with natural pet foods, nontoxic cleaning agents, recycled paper products, naturally brewed beers, and wine from organic grapes. They're buying nitrite-free, hormone-free, organically fed, free-range poultry, beef, lamb, and veal (all of the animals presumably committed suicide).
They're scooping up bulk herbs, along with fresh peanut, cashew, and tahini butters, and grabbing free recipes and free tastes throughout the store. They're impulse buying from the deli's dizzying selection of haute carryout: spicy Thai noodles, Hunan chicken salad, Santa Fe turkey salad, roast herbed chicken, couscous, dilled smoked salmon, and much, much more.
They're also getting an education from the in-house shopper's guide, finding out why the store, which is part of the country's largest chain of natural-food supermarkets (21 publicly owned stores), will not sell irradiated foods: nutrients are destroyed, long-term effects are unknown, and untested compounds are created that may be carcinogenic. They need the guide to decipher all the little tags on the produce: red for organically grown, green for biodynamically grown (organic using herbal preparations to "enhance soil and plant viability"), and orange for transitional ("meets organic growing standards but lacks either the required length of time for the land to have been free of chemical usage or completion of the certification process"). If they have absolutely no lives, they're looking at the notarized affidavits.
Surprisingly, the prices on the high-quality produce, both organic and conventionally grown, are comparable to Treasure Island's. Organic oranges are $.79 a pound at both stores. Little bags of organic peeled baby carrots, laboratory tested to make sure they don't contain pesticide residue, are $1.59. The chemicals in Treasure Island's nonorganic ones make them taste like they could spawn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and they only cost a dime less. Organic plum tomatoes are $1.98 a pound versus $1.29 at Treasure Island; organic nectarines are $3.39 a pound, $2.98 for nonorganic. All this in a bright, clean, user-friendly, hassle-free environment, with no waiting in line to weigh your produce or have your credit card approved. The cashier handles it all at the checkout. And if you're stressed out, for a dollar a minute one of the store's professional massage therapists will relax your neck, your shoulders, even your feet. Can psychoanalysis be far behind?
The Quixotic Cafe, which is on the second floor, carries through the market's theme with a juice bar and menu loaded with fresh, healthy choices. There are creative takes on soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, quesadillas, and burgers, many of which are also available downstairs in the deli. On each table are Dijon mustard; house-brand unsweetened, chemical-free canola mayonnaise made with lemon juice instead of vinegar; and a very good, sugarless ketchup that captures the essence of the tomatoes.
The "New and Improved" BLT ($4.95) tastes as great as it sounds: nitrite-free bacon, spinach, tomato, roasted red peppers, and sun-dried tomato aioli (garlic mayonnaise) on fresh-baked sesame semolina bread, with a side of curry-laced "gold rush" coleslaw and baked, unsalted potato chips. Ditto the grilled "chickywich" ($5.25), a naturally raised, hormone-free chicken-breast sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and a lively creole mayonnaise on a fresh, nutty-flavored oat-bran bialy, with the same slaw and chips. The simple but tasty grilled ground-turkey burger ($4.75) on an oat-bran bialy arrived with the slaw and Tara chips (colorful and delicious baked, salt-free root vegetables, including taro, yucca, and beets, available by the bag for $4.49 downstairs). The individual, thin-crust Mediterranean pizza ($5.95), topped with basil pesto, feta cheese, calamata olives, julienne sun-dried tomato, and toasted pine nuts is a bit on the salty side, but great if you take off the olives.
We canceled out our healthy choices with a couple of the desserts, all of which come from the downstairs bakery: a buttery apple-almond tart ($3) and an intense, rich mocha espresso tart ($3.50). Both were excellent.
This is a supermarket cafe, not Un Grand Cafe, with seating for 85 at Formica-topped tables, a lunch counter with backless stools, and a few booths in back. But the napkins are cloth, and they serve cappuccino and latte. At lunchtime the place is pretty busy, but if, like me, you've waited years for Whole Foods Market to open a Chicago store, you'll gladly wait five minutes for a table.
The Whole Foods Market, 1001 W. North, is open from 9 AM to 10 PM daily, including the juice bar, which also serves coffee. The Quixotic Cafe is open 11 AM to 9:15 PM daily. For more information call 587-0648.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Charles Eshelman.