'Food Lovers' Guide' highlights hidden gems

July 22, 2011 (CHICAGO)

One of the challenges to writing a food guide about Chicago, or any city for that matter, is that places change, close and move; but, ABC7's Hungry Hound says that Jennifer Olvera's picks in "The Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago" will be around awhile. Olvera recently joined him on a little eating excursion.

For those "in the know," places like J.P. Graziano's in West Town are among the city's true gems. It's a small, mom-and-pop operation that sells imported groceries and cheeses, but does a brisk business during the day preparing Italian subs on fresh D'Amato's bread. It's the perfect kind of place, actually, that would show up in the Olvera's new guidebook.

"It's really great to, to still know that in the neighborhood there's a mom and pop place like this, a family run business that has a lot of soul and does things the old fashioned way," Olvera said.

Caprese subs are among a dozen or so tasty sandwiches on offer, but don't overlook the groceries on the wall or the refrigerated case, housing an ample supply of cured meats and imported cheeses, like the enormous wheels of parmiggiano-reggiano.

"They're taking the time to source things from, you know specialty purveyors and noticing that not only the quality ingredients make a difference, but the experience of actually shopping at a store like that," Olvera said.

Just a few miles away, another of Olvera's favorites the Joong Boo Market in Avondale, home to a wealth of Asian ingredients, most of which are from Korea; note the huge wall of kimchi, or fermented cabbage. But tucked way back in the corner of the store, there's a small cafe, offering home-cooked Korean dishes ranging from soups to rice bowls.

"It comes out on metal trays and it's no frills and it's just really comforting and fantastic," she said.

My dukbokki -- a sweet-and-spicy stew jammed with vegetables and toothsome rice cakes -- was absolutely addictive. Olvera says with so many eating options in Chicago, it's these little finds that make the hunt worth it.

"They're not all over the place and it's nice to kinda come to these places and take a break from the norm," Olvera said.

The book is broken into sections on the various regions of the city, plus items like farms, cocktails, food events and even suburban gems.

The Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago
By Jennifer Olvera
Globe Pequot Press

Places visited in the story:

JP Graziano Grocery Co
901 W Randolph St

Joong Boo Market
3333 N Kimball Ave

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