Filling Locavore Voids with Cleetus Friedman And The Now Open City Provisions Deli

August 29, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Rob Gardner

When Michael Morowitz and I began the Local Beet, we agreed that we would always act like a real publication.  This has meant maudlin Thanksgiving posts, holiday time gift issues, and of course, the year-in-review specials.  It’s taken until today, however, to do something required of all major players.  Declare someone a wunderkind.  With his wide eyes and dangling earrings, Jew-hop background and manic energy, we can safely call Cleetus Friedman the wunderkind of local food, right?

We met up with Cleetus about a week ago.  Cleetus is about to open City Provisions Deli, a local and organic-focused neighborhood deli, butcher shop, and grocer. It was me and Local Beet local wine advocate, Wendy Aeschlimann, as well as my  daughter about to take up a beat on her high school paper.  After about an hour poking around the forthcoming store, and asking Cleetus a bunch of locavore questions, we let Cleetus get back to work starting up his deli (his staff was in the midst of busily filling a catering order when we were there).  I asked my daughter if we could declare him our first Local Beet wunderkind.  The aspiring journalist told me that she would have probed a lot deeper into Cleetus’s motivations.  What made the man who was making this deli possible.  She made good points, but for Wendy and I, we just liked seeing all the voids City Provisions Deli seemed to be filling.

city provisions pickles

I mean Cleetus told us about filling a big void that we did not even think about him filling when we went into the preview.  Noodge about any Chicago foodie about gaping voids in Chicago food, and they’ll kvetch about a the lack of good Jewish deli.  However, despite its name, we did not discover that City Provisions will sell ten-inch sandwiches, nor are they hiring any of those classic waiters as sour as the pickles.  He’s not making that kind of deli.  He is, however, filling a void for great deli food.  Like the the already haled Mile End in Brooklyn or Internet sensation Kenny and Zukes in Portland, City Provisions promises to re-invent the deli with our kind of sensibilities.  Like he uses Dietzler Farms for his briskets.  The pastrami gets treated in-house from a smoker that Barry Sorkin at Smoque outgrew.  He makes his own pickles.  From cucumbers harvested by local farmers.  I expected Cleetus to fill a void when packing local lunches.  I’m really stoked to see this other void he seems to be filling.

I got pleasantly surprised that there’d be more deli than I thought in the Deli.  I got another nice surprise when I saw that the City Provisions would also try to fill a huge void for good butchers.  We locavores really struggle with the fact that nearly all meats comes to the market frozen.  It’s not the freezing that bothers us.  It’s the fact that it’s too often frozen when we need it.  We also know that the quality of butchering for local meat can at times be suspect–although this has improved much in recent times.  We want to see a case of meat broken down from an in-house side.  City Provisions plans to buy sides of animals that will be butchered in-house, and sold fresh.  Moreover, Cleetus promised us that they would practice whole animal meatery, using the less popular parts in their kitchen for pates, headcheese, terrines, etc.  An active butcher of locally-raised, sustainable meat, in a neighborhood store — hopefully, the first of many to come.


city provisions butter

Even though you can find quality local goods at several stores and farmer’s markets around town (my vivacious wife will sell you Tomato Mountain items at many a-farmer’s market), City Provisions looks to join other lead local food sellers, such as Cassie’s Green Grocer and Southport Deli, in selling artisan, local, shelf-stable products.  When we visited, his shelves were starting to fill with staples from our friend Lee Greene’s Scrumptious Pantry, and City Provisions’ house-labeled honey made from hives at Heritage Prairie farm.  And as much as good local cheeses can be found at places like Pastoral or Marion Street Cheese, we’d like to see more of our favorites from Wisconsin.  City Provisions will sell hard-to-find cheese such as Willi Lehner’s Bleu Mont Dairy’s bandaged cheddar.  Nordic Hill Creamery butters, Nicole’s Crackers, Rod Marcus’s Rare Tea Cellar’s teas and Crop-to-Cup Coffee are more treats, making the void for local specialities appear that much smaller.

In the same vein, City Provisions will focusing on stocking local booze made by North Shore Distillery (IL) and Death’s Door (WI), as well as Chicago beer.  For wine he offered up a mantra of organic, sustainable, biodynamic.  On the other hand, the void for local wines remains, and Wendy, especially, hopes that Cleetus can fill that one.

city provisions display

Cleetus carries over City Provisions’ environmental concerns to the store itself, which is wrapped in ceilings made from recycled materials and carbon-neutral flooring, and features shelving and eating space made with reclaimed wood from a local barn, as well as a re-purposed the farmhouse table that provides display space.  Cleetus proudly mentioned a pending “GRA” certification for the deli.  (Sure, it looked nice, but my thoughts kept on drifting to the house-made pastrami.)

City Provisions opens its doors on September 3, 2010.  With so many needs being met, we look forward to tasting what’s there to make sure.

City Provisions Deli is located at 1818 West Wilson Avenue in Chicago.  They can be reached at 773.293.CITY (2489).  We do not yet know the Deli’s hours.