Friday, October 19, 2012


When you sample, ponder, and write about British consumer products as much as I have lately, you really start to miss Great Britain. I haven’t spent much time there, but when I was there I was thrilled to find it was just as special as I’d always believed it to be. I knew I couldn’t wait to get back. Yet getting back is something of an impossibility right now. We’ve been trying to experience and examine this idea of royalty right here in our own backyard, but our project has its limits. Lately I’ve been looking a little harder for ways to experience British culture in Chicago and thinking about a series of field trips.

Our first field trip? To Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods in Lakeview.

It was my friend Suzy who tipped me off about Spencer’s in an email titled “a tiny british grocery store in the city!” Spencer’s is located right near the corner of Southport Avenue and Irving Park Road, which places it conveniently up the street from Southport Grocer, Julius Meinl, and Sensational Bites. I’m pretty familiar with this dessert corridor already. Our foursome set out midday last Sunday—in the midst of a rainstorm—to check it out.

When we got to the front door we were drenched and chilly, so it was wonderful to walk into the shop’s cozy interior. Right away it reminded me of A. Gold or Verde & Company—two quaint British food stores located in London’s East End, just a stone’s throw away from Spitalfields Market. Both stores go for a kind of “village store” feel, and that’s just what we found here.

The walls at Spencer’s were lined with shelves that held little tins and jars and packets and bottles with everything from jam to tea to mustard to chocolates. Maybe you have to have tried as hard as I have lately to get your hands on some of these British foods to fully appreciate the selection, but it was all there: McVitie’s dark chocolate digestive biscuits and HobNobs, a complete selection of Twinings teas, Wilkin & Sons Tiptree preserves, Colman’s Season & Shake packets, Cadbury chocolates, Robinson’s barley water (you know you have to water it down, right?), HP Sauce in four different flavors.

We happily scooped up what we’d been craving—two tins of McVitie’s biscuits for me, HobNobs for our friend Krysten, chocolate caramel biscuits for Adam, Cadbury white chocolate drops for Nathan, HP barbeque sauce, and a box of Darville’s of Windsor tea bags.

As we shopped (and as Nicholas snoozed in an Ergo baby carrier strapped to my chest, as Nathan attempted to grab every single package of candy at his eye level), we took in our surroundings. There’s a large kitchen table placed, English-style, in the center of the store where guests can take tea and enjoy freshly baked scones. The walls are full of British posters and old advertisements and signs.

The best part of our visit was chatting with the guy behind the counter. Upon seeing us enter the store drenched, he quipped, “We had the rain brought in special for you” in a fantastic British accent. You don’t hear that much around Chicago. He answered about a trillion questions I had about the store and the business; we learned that it’s run by a Brit called Nicholas Spencer and that the store opened just three months ago but the Spencer’s brand has been in use for quite a while longer—selling British packaged meats like back bacon and bangers (think: sausages) on the Internet. Spencer’s runs British food stands at farmers markets around the city, and they’re hoping to soon sell this fresh food in their store.

We absolutely cannot wait to go back. I’m even thinking of getting really adventurous and buying some sausages to make bangers and mash.

Where to find it: If you're in Chicago, you should visit the store at 1405 W. Irving Park Rd. You can also buy Spencer’s prepared meats on the website.

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