Taking my car for service in Libertyville last week, I stumbled onto an Eastern European deli in a strip mall adjoining the Cub Foods in Mundelein on Townline Road. I must preface my review by mentioning that without any English-speaking staff or signage to speak of, I was very much on my own in the little pantry-style grocer/deli. Only about one-third of the items throughout the store carried those little English translation labels that can be so helpful (and required??) in foreign food stores. From what I could tell, the focus seemed to be on Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia and Latvia. The common bond of all the countries represented seemed to be an intense affinity for pickled tomatoes, as an entire aisle and a portion of another was devoted to them--of varying brands from various countries. Pickled vegetables and spreads of all kinds abounded in every aisle--there was even an infant formula brand from Lithuania. As that label was also indecipherable, I could only suspect that its base ingredient was also pickled tomatoes. I picked up jars of this and that as best I could, but the real interesting part was the long deli case that ran along a side wall, and which contained a good assortment of meats, roasts and sausages, the contents of which I could again only guess at. An awkward exchange with the woman behind the counter resulted in only two ascertainable English words--"spicy sausage" which she proceeded to slice and wrap for me without waiting for my assent. In the meantime, I pointed out great-smelling savory items that were steaming from large aluminum trays atop the deli case. There was a breaded fish, something resembling kugel, and long coils of cooked sausage. I concentrated on the selection of dumpling/bun-type things variously filled with livery tasting ground meat & onions, potato and cheese that my Polish-German background could only associate with pierogi, but which were more bread-like than dumpling-esque. I polished off all three of them in my car en route to Libertyville and immediately made a mental note to hit the gym ASAP. Subsequent research online has led me to believe that these are called cepalinais or cepalini, and the base of the dough is potato flour. I think they were less than a dollar each, which could lead to serious weight gain if this place were on my normal route.
The spicy sausage that the counter woman sold me tasted somewhat like pepperoni, and was indeed spicy. It was great at home with Polish mustard on Latvian rye (!) that I also purchased there. The breads are varied but not the freshest. Most came from the same bakery in Chicago whose name escapes me--not Baltic Bakery though. The rye went moldy only two days after I purchased it, but it was excellent while it lasted--moist and rich. The short back wall was lined with frozen-refrigerated cases containing frozen sauerkraut, borscht, trays of other unidentified prepared foods, jars of pickled fish, cheeses and meats that carried no English explanation whatsoever. The place is clearly not targeting even the adventurous English speaker--I believe the sign itself only read "Deli" and it wasn't until I looked at the top of my receipt at home that I saw the name--Alef Sausage and Deli. Directory assistance has no listing for the place, so I'm not sure what name the place actually goes by, but what a great discovery in the midst of Lake County. I would appreciate any additional intelligence on this place or its offerings that might make my next visit more productive and enlightening. Skanaus!