Salad days: Farmers market opens at Eli’s

It’s summer. Children are playing, flowers are blooming and farmers markets have returned to Eli’s Cheesecake World, 6701 W. Forest Preserve Drive, in Chicago. From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Thursday through Oct. 13, Midwestern farmers will hawk their wares in the Eli’s parking lot. They’ll offer customers fresh produce, flowers, cheeses, spices, herbs, baked goods and more. The markets are sponsored by Eli’s and Wright College.

Mick Klug Farms – just outside St. Joseph, Mich. – sent strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb to Eli’s June 16 opening market day. Klug’s niece, Ashlee Klug, and his cousin, Alan Tollas, staffed the counter.

“Later in the season, we’ll have cherries, blueberries, plums, apples – just about every kind of fruit,” Tollas said. “We’ll have grapes, too, but 95 percent of our grape crop goes to Welch’s for juices and jellies.”

Sylwia Zakrzewska sat under a canopy, surrounded by a wide variety of bakery items from Delightful Pastries, 5927 W. Lawrence Ave., in Chicago.

“My favorite is banana-nut bread,” she confided.

She also had apple currant bread; frosted carrot cakes; angel’s wings dusted with powdered sugar; several varieties of kolaczkis; sweet rolls; paczkis; croissants; poppyseed strudels; whole-grain breads; seven-grain breads; coconut macaroons; and sprinkles.

Sisters Loretta and Mary Lou Swiatek, of Chicago’s Jefferson Park community, munched on complimentary radishes as they paid for snap peas, beets and asparagus from Nichols Farm and Orchard, in Marengo, Ill. “Except for a two-hour nap, I’ve been up since 11 a.m. yesterday,” confided Ryan Underwood. “We pick, pack and load – three trucks a day for 18 different farmers markets each week.”

At Eli’s market, Chad Nichols and Underwood presided over a dizzying array of produce, flowers and herbs, including beets, kale, Swiss chard, English shelling peas, sugar snap peas, parsley broccoli, rhubarb, six varieties of strawberries and more. At Nichols Farms, their motto is “Variety is our specialty,” and they grow more than 18 different varieties of potatoes, 18 types of peppers, and 11 different sorts of corn and pumpkins to prove it.

“Have you seen our baby onions? Or our fresh garlic?” Nichols asked. “Did you know we’re one of the few farms in the world to sell our produce on the Internet. Check out our web site –”

The Swiatek sisters paid for their purchases and paused.

“I think we need lettuce, too,” Loretta Swiatek said.

“We have lots,” Nichols reported. “Would you like oak leaf? Mixed baby greens? Baby bibb? Romaine?”

Each Thursday, Eli’s chefs will shop the market, pick whatever strikes their imaginations and prepare market lunches for shoppers. On June 16, they grilled steaks, which they served with chimichurri sauce on toasted French bread for $6 a sandwich. They also offered guacamole and chips for $3 and freshly squeezed lemonade for $2. Luncheon was served al fresco, beneath canopies set up on the patio.

While shoppers ate, the Happiness Club entertained them with songs and dances.

Each week through mid-September, special events are planned on market days, including a flower arranging demonstration, June 23; a live performance by the Horner Park Jazz Band, June 30; salsa dancing, July 7; story reading by Chicago Public Library volunteers, July 14; face painting, July 21; and National Cheesecake Day festivities, July 28.

When the farmers markets close at 1 p.m., customers can join a walk-in tour of Eli’s bakery, which produces 18,000 cheesecakes each day. No prior reservations are needed for the 1 p.m. tour. Admission is $3 for adults; $2, children 12 and under. Each participant gets a slice of cheesecake at the end of the tour.

For further information, call
Eli’s at (773) 736-3417 or refer to

Wynn Foster can be reached at