Farmer’s Market, Chinatown, and the Sweet Potato Promised Land

On Thursday, Mom, Sister and I had a little touristy outing. My mom has been wanting to visit the Farmer’s Market in Daley Plaza for a while, and Vanessa heard about this sweet potato pie place. Since mom starts school again soon, and Vanessa will be leaving for downstate for the fall semester, we decided to take the day to see Chicago through a touristy lens. First, the farmer’s market.

Berry Grid

We made the mistake of driving in the Loop. Just don’t do it. It’s stressful and the streets are all one way and parking is impossible unless you’d like to shell out $30 for an hour of wandering. Not cool. There is street parking, but as a kind man pointed out after we had fed the meter, you can’t park on the left side of the street because of street cleaning. Awesome.

But once we got onto Daley Plaza proper, all the stresses lifted. An oasis amidst the concrete jungle, the market was home to pretty typical farmer fare: fresh produce, lots of bread, overpriced herbs and flowers. And it was lovely to stroll around. Some kid was giving out pieces of sweet corn on the cob that tasted like candy, and the most popular table was these Amish folk that had doughnut holes to die for.

Mammoth sunflowers attract honeybees

There are beehives on the roof of City Hall, which is right across from the plaza, so there were all these bees collecting pollen from the flowers on display. Go, honeybees, go!

Voluptuous heirlooms.
Fiesta de los Setas

I came away with pumpkin butter (let’s get fall started early) and a three-berry jam that used white grape concentrate instead of sugar. I also bought a lotion bar from the apiary pictured above. Vanessa bought some tasty dried fruit mix and beeswax lip balm.

The Walgreen’s flagship store has been getting a lot of hype, so we stopped there as well. In addition to selling lots of liquor, they had this vodka signed by none other than my favorite Ghostbuster, Dan Aykroyd.

Dan Aykroyd enjoys cerebral booze.

We made a quick stop in Chinatown on the way to Beverley, and visited an herbal medicine shop. They wouldn’t let me take pictures, unfortunately, but it was like a delightful apothecary stocked with things like shark fin, dried mushrooms that look like sea creatures, and fifty types of ginseng…and these were the things that were translated into English. I can only imagine what was in the bins with untranslated signs. I wanted to ask them to whip me up something, but I’m not actually ailing and I feel like you need to be a part of some exclusive cultural club; they probably get tons of tourist types through the door just wanting…well, wanting exactly what I wanted: for them to whip up something for the sheer novelty factor.

I bought a silk robe that’s very boudoir-feeling, and we stopped into a liquor store where a cute Chinese dude in a suit helped us pick out a couple bottles of sake to try (keep an eye out for that post).

Teas as far as the eye can see.

Tummies growling, we climbed back into the car ready for sweet potato goodness.

Firstly, everything about this place is absolutely amazing; the tables and chairs looks straight out of your mom’s dining room circa ’93, complete with chair covers and satin-lace tablecloth. The walls serve as a gallery of sorts, featuring local artists’ paintings. The smells beckoning from the kitchen are outrageous, sweet and utterly mouthwatering.

We walked up to the register and the guy behind the counter was incredibly friendly and generous with recommendations once we told him we were first-timers. He served us up some sweet potato ice cream (dairy free!) right off the bat; it was spicy and sweet without being too cloying or creamy. We had to pull ourselves away from the dessert cooler as we nibbled and order actual food.

Had to be physically restrained from diving in and rolling around.

Mom ordered a turkey sandwich on sweet potato bread with a side of sweet potato fries, and Vanessa ordered a baked sweet potato loaded with peppers, onions, cheese and chicken. I just wanted to pick at what they were having.

Everything was cozy and homey; the fries were handcut and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Turkey, mayo, tomato, lettuce and what I think was a Kraft single–were laid delicately between two slices of dense, cakey sweet potato bread. Vanessa’s sweet potato was baked to perfection; the skin toasty and slightly caramelized.

There was something strange about the whole place; customers–regulars, by the looks of it–came in and said hello to us as we ate. One of the guys working–I’m going to assume it was Jimmy himself–came over a couple times asking how our food was. Everyone was SO friendly. Apparently once you’re south of 21st street, you’re transported to a land full of friendly people and delicious food. At the same time.

“When I get married,” Vanessa said, mouthful of baked potato and cheese, “I’m totally having them do my cake.” Amen.

With full bellies, we ambled up to the counter to pick out what we were going to take home. They offered us a sample of everything: honey sweet potato cheese cake, sweet potato pie, sweet potato cobbler. We happily obliged. We left with a chocolate cake parfait (crumbled chocolate cake layered with chocolate and sweet potato icing), a slice of that ambrosial honey sweet potato cheese cake, and a 10-pound loaf of the sweet potato bread. Seriously, that bread was so heavy it could be used as a tasty self-defense weapon.

So Jimmy Jamm’s has absolutely made it into my list of Things You Must Do in Chicago. It’s a bit of a trek but entirely worth it. Time to drag my lactose intolerant boyfriend to partake in that ice cream. Damn.

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