Scheduled service at my car dealership always means a trip to a favorite and frustrating destination in Vernon Hills called Alef Sausage and Deli. It's a favorite because they have what is probably the largest selection of Russian (and former Soviet satellite) packaged, frozen and fresh food in the Chicago area. An informal count behind the long deli case alone turned up no less than 40 or 50 different types of sausage, as well as countless salads and other preparations inside the case. The place has expanded since I was last there, with a hot foods section that was pretty closed up for the night by the time I arrived. I still managed to secure a couple of pasty (as in Michigan pasties)-type meat pies that I've had from there in the past, and they were better than ever. Ground meat, onions and perhaps turnips were flavored by a subtle but rich organ meat base, the whole thing enveloped by a flaky crust and topped with flecks of a chunky black spice that was not pepper. Queries to the counter woman as to what this was called were met with the single phonetic reply of "sahmsas". Which, may very well be Russian for "please stop bothering me, stupid American." This exchange points up the difficulty I still experience in trying to decode this place. My heart rose momentarily as I spotted a stack of folded menus or product lists on the counter, but fell just as quickly as my eyes took in line after line of neatly ordered but aggressively foreign Russian letters. Still, the store's expansion and the addition of a printed record of offerings--language barrier notwithstanding--are encouraging signs that this place is here to stay, and is at least evolving, however lurchingly, toward some semblance of customer friendliness. I took a menu and will be hapy to scan and post, should anyone care to take a crack at translation. In any case, with the sheer depth and breadth of offerings, it's a must-stop in a fairly desolate Chow zone near the Vernon Hills shopping-plex, and should even inspire some urban denizens to jump in their cars for a weekend excursion. It's in the Cub Foods strip mall at the intersection of 60 and 83 near Diamond Lake.
354 Townline Road