So, it's been open again for the past few weeks, and I dropped in for my third visit since the reopening this morning.
What was formerly the entire store is now devoted almost completely to cheese, although the deli counter is still where it was. Everything else, save a few wine displays and the freezers, is cheeses. The cheese selection seems to be pretty similar to what it was before the renovation, but has perhaps a few more varieties.
One of the big changes is they've added a vacuum-wrapping machine, so the cheese are no longer packed in plastic wrap but are now vacuum-sealed after cutting. This is true only of the harder cheeses, however. The blues and stiltons and bries tend to still be plastic-wrapped, but you can, as always, ask for a fresh slice from a wheel.
Through a door near where the spice rack used to be, you enter the "new" areas of the building. The areas were actually always there, they've simply been redecorated. As you enter the large converted warehouse you have the foccaceria on your left, dry goods on your right, and deep in the right-center the new produce section.
The foccaceria is similar to their old bakery section, but it has a stronger focus on bread than before (it used to be more pastry). They're constantly turning out fresh barese-style focaccie during the day, dense, oily, chewy focaccie with halved tomatoes studded throughout. They've also brought back the $1 pizza slices (they were missing for about a month before closing for remodeling), which are wonderful as always. A crust like the focaccia, but with a salty, gooey cheese and their good fennel sausage. The rest of the breads are unexciting, but certainly better than average. Simple ciabatta 3/$1.00, very tasty. "Baguettes" for $1.59, not at all a true baguette, but a good simple loaf of bread anyway, with a nice fresh taste and smell.
The dry goods are pretty much identical to before -- the dry pastas 3lb/$1.00, et cetera.
The produce is housed in a separate "room", and you enter through big plastic sheets. The space is about half the size of the pre-remodeled cheese market, or a little bit bigger than Freddy's in Cicero. It's cool and humid, with humidifiers and air conditioners running full blast to keep the produce fresh, or at least keep it looking good.
The three times I've been there I've always seen a large number of apple varietals (no honey crisp, though. doh.), and over the past weeks I've seen a growing selection of winter squashes and citrus, so I think they're doing what they can to keep the selection seasonal. Oranges (valencia), tangerines and lemons were each $0.10 apiece on my second visit, but lemons were $0.20 each this time and oranges were priced by the pound on my most recent visit.
I also saw something I haven't seen at any other groceries - fresh, peeled garlic cloves. The cloves weren't minced or packed in oil or vinegar or water, they were just peeled and put into big plastic jars. I've always had bad luck with pre-minced garlic--it's always had an off flavor for me--but this looked like it avoids that problem. Personally, I don't see the point, since garlic is pretty easy to peel anyway, but it was an interesting thing to see.
We spoke to the manager on our most recent visit, and he told us they're still in the process of expanding. The next additions will be a butcher shop (no more details on what types or grades of meat offered) and a restaurant, which came as a not-unwelcome surprise. I imagine the cheese market would turn out some rather good italian foods from a restaurant, judging by the pastries, pizza, and focaccia they bake and sell. Here's hoping we get a new inexpensive authentic italian restaurant opening soon. My hopes are up. One other note, the sandwiches they used to sell (submarine sandwiches mostly, sold from the deli counter, including a caprese sandwich) are no longer being offered. I would bet they are slated to appear on a lunch menu at the restaurant, though.
Anyway, I'm very pleased with the renovation. They haven't turned themselves into a full-scale grocery store, and I'm glad--I don't want them to distract themselves with kitty litter or diapers--but they've taken their niche - that of the neighborhood italian cheese market - and expanded it beautifully into a full scale fresh market. Here's hoping they'll have an extensive butcher selection and a great restaurant.
As far as I can tell, the Caputo Cheese Market still doesn't advertise. I may be outside of their target region, however.
Caputo Cheese Market
1931 N. 15th Avenue, Melrose Park, IL 60160
(North of North Ave. on 15th)
708/450-0074, Ext. 217
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