Fox & Obel provides a fitting grocery experience for three types of people: Consumers who live and die by recommendations (oh goody, another "Wine Spectator!"); frequent entertainers who like to exercise their "Gourmet" subscription as much as possible; and people who just like to eat well.
This gastronome's dream makes Whole Foods look like the poor man's market: Organic garnet yams, Satsuma mandarins, baby pineapples and persimmons are nestled in the produce section near the entrance alongside less exotic (and not too exorbitantly priced) varieties of items like onions and apples. Pleasantly, there are a healthy number of small items like cherry tomatoes and fingerling potatoes available in bulk, allowing you to take home the exact quantity you plan to use.
The now-typical exposed brick and wood paneling environment retains a good deal of warmth, due in part, for sure, to the goodness exuding from gourmet brands that remind one as much of a Missouri roadside pie shop as a New York City pantry (Sarabeth's jam, for instance, is full of down-home, hand-picked goodness, albeit $11 goodness).
Entertainers will find everything they need, so long as the Doritos brand isn't on the list. Party snacks go gourmet with Frontera tortilla chips, William Poll baked potato thins and Gary Poppins chocolate Oreo popcorn. And there's no need to travel to Devon or Chinatown for that ethnic ingredient: You'll find not one but three harissa varieties here. A large wine selection, fresher-than-fresh meat and fish, Vosges truffles, great hunks of cheese, plenty of fresh breads, glass cases full of to-go items and a 100-milliliter bottle of truffle balsamic vinegar priced at $139 round out the just-about-everything options (I even found a never-seen-in-Chicago brand of key lime mustard that a friend has been sending me from San Francisco for the past three years).
Oh, and those aforementioned shoppers who can't go on without "Wine Spectator?" Pleasantly typed notecards sprinkled about the shelves point out the finer points of items ranging from Chenin Blanc to Miss Scarlett's Drunken Stuffed Olives.
To round out the offerings, Fox & Obel babysits your every culinary need with catering services, gourmet holiday menus and the Fox & Obel Cafe. Cozy up with a friend before or after shopping (or skip the groceries all together) for challah French toast, truffled eggs benedict, Maine lobster club sandwich, duck duck goose salad and creme brulee, among other goodies. Free valet parking.
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Average cost: $21-$30
Centerstage Reviewer: Kate Schwartz