Does the new Sunflower Market deliver on its promise of cheap organic groceries? We shopped for the same items at three competing upscale markets to see which shop is tops.
1840 N Clybourn Ave, 312-274-9733
Total time 17mins
Total bill $37.82
Pros Got no friends? You will once you walk into this place. The friendly, ultrapeppy staff is quick to break open bags so that you can try before you buy (wines from the great, value-focused selection can even be returned if you’re dissatisfied). For the time-crunched, the premarinated meats (no butcher shop here) are flavorful, high-quality and grill-ready. And while they’re not made on-site, the all-natural baked goods are mighty tasty.
Cons Needing one lemon and having to buy a five-pack, or wanting a single shallot and getting stuck with a one-pound bag can be annoying for single shoppers. Aside from limited produce and prepackaged meats, our only complaint to TJ corporate is a plea on behalf of its employees: Please ditch the Beach Boys uniforms.
Best if you’re tight on cash, tight on time and in need of friendly faces.
Whole Foods Market
1000 W North Ave, 312-587-0648
Total time 20mins
Total bill $59.29
Pros The bakery here rivals the city’s best, turning out fruit pies that lack the typical supermarket sting of fake flavorings and preservatives. Butchers are helpful, knowledgeable and peddle great-quality products; the cheese department is quick to give out samples if shopping makes you hungry; and the health-care section has every hippie salve, shampoo and vitamin you can think of.
Cons This place didn’t earn the nickname Whole Paycheck for nothing. Produce is expensive ($2.99/lb for conventionally grown lemons) and meat is surprisingly even higher than Fox & Obel (skirt steak is $11.99/lb). Also, no one seemed to know much about the wine selection, which is limited and generally overpriced.
Best if you’re a health nut and a quality fiend.
Fox & Obel
401 E Illinois St, 312-410-7301
Total time 35mins
Total bill $92.77
Pros It’s all about top-notch service here. Free valet parking saves the frustration of trying to find a space in River North—an almost impossible task. And the staff—from the cashiers to the guy manning the meat counter—is almost preternaturally friendly and helpful. Though the selection is small, the produce is fresh, and we especially liked the free samples of pink pearl apples and celery with hummus.
Cons Unless black truffles are hidden between the folds of fat, there’s no reason skirt steak should cost $10.99lb. That’s the problem with this place (in addition to its confusing layout): It’s just too expensive for weekly groceries and staples. Come here for imported goodies, organic produce and delicious pastries, but get your Cocoa Puffs at Dominick’s.
Best if you’re not concerned with price and love gourmet eats.
1910 N Clybourn Ave, 773-348-4667
Total time 25mins
Total bill $50.14
Pros The bright, cheery space is so new it sparkles, and it’s still a bit of a secret, so the lines can be mercifully short. But the real attraction of this store is the prices: Groceries, including cereals, meats and dairy, are all priced comparably to Jewel (both stores are owned by Minnesota-based Supervalu), only much of it is organic or “natural,” and organic produce is noticeably cheaper than the competition.
Cons No in-house butcher means that you’re stuck with the precut stuff. No in-house bakery means the selection is limited (the only tart we could find was a miniature “tartlette”). And even though we found a Malbec we like in the small, California-heavy wine department, it was pure luck: It was the only one on the shelf.
Best if you’re into affordable organics and don’t mind prepackaged meat.