Going Global On St. Pat's: Pair Asian, Greek Food With Irish Beer

In search of Irish food pairings in unlikely places; Richwell Market in Morton Grove, Columbus Foods in Des Plaines, Binny's in Niles.

St. Patrick’s Day! Undoubtedly, it’s a merry holiday for plenty of folks in the Chicagoland area. Instead of a classic St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage, soda bread and potatoes, I visited local stores for ingredients to make Irish mainstays into global dishes.

Isn’t the saying, “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day”? I still made sure to grab some Irish beverages.

Visiting Richwell Market on Dempster is like a mini trip to Chinatown. You might be familiar with their main store, located on South Canal Street on the south side of Chicago. The Dempster Street store opened as approximately eight years ago. Richwell Market supplies mostly Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Vietnamese grocery products.

A wide assortment of candy and cookies with colorful wrappings greet you when you walk in. You’ll also find sacks of rice, Asian wine and beer. Their small produce section features fruit, cabbages (bok choy) and fresh bamboo shoots in packages. Although it’s a small store, you can browse through their frozen section, fish and meat section, housewares, tea and dried herbs and medicinal herbs.

Don’t get discouraged if the non-English packaging makes you nervous. The friendly staff helps as much as they can.

Also at Richwell: Mei Mei (“Little sister”) BBQ is a store-in-a-store, like a Chinese deli. They provide fresh hot prepared foods, including lunch specials. North suburbanites, you don’t have to travel far for Chinese barbecue pork, Princess chicken, and roasted duck. They will chop your proteins for you – not to worry! Purchases at Mei Mei are separate from Richwell Market.

A 40-year-old building stands at the corner of Elk Boulevard and Rand Road. For 22 of those years, it was a Greek grocery and bakery owned by the Koutavas family in the 80s and 90s. Since 1995, Columbus Food Market and Bakery has been under the helm of Tony and Paul. I met Paul the other day, and spoke with him about his store and some of the difficulty with larger ethnic groceries opening nearby. But, despite the fierce competition, Columbus Food Market and Bakery has popular success with catering and their homemade authentic Ya-ourty (Greek yogurt), baklava leaves (fillo pastry), spanakopita (spinach pie), tiropites (cheese triangles), and other Greek desserts.

At Columbus Food Market, you’ll be able to find a nice variety of dressings, olives and Greek cheese, including mizithra and manouri (sheep and/or goat milk). Fresh mizithra is like ricotta, and aged mizithra is similar to parmesan or romano. Manouri has a higher fat content than mizithra.

It’s not a St. Patrick’s Day celebration without Irish ales and stouts. It can be overwhelming walking into a large warehouse like Binny’s, and if you’re a novice like me, it’s best to just ask for help. Binny’s manager, Brian Klinke, and resident Irishman staffer, Chuck, showed me some favorite beverages to try: Smithwick’s Ale (pronounced “smitticks”), Wexford Irish Cream Ale, Guinness Irish Stout, Murphy’s Irish Stout (said to be sweeter). The ales are dark in color, but lighter in taste than you might imagine. Both were smooth, but the cream ale had a surprisingly bitter finish. The stouts are hearty, and the coffee-like quality makes them attractive for the end of dinner. For more information on beer, Klinke recommends www.beeradvocate.com.

I’ll be back with a fun recipe for those leftover potatoes and a honey-ale glaze for chicken or salmon. Have a great St. Patrick’s Day!

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