Walking into Wild Fork, which opened at the corner of Lake Street and Harlem on Dec. 24, I felt like Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson. Playing a newly arrived Russian émigré, Williams walks shyly down the coffee aisle of an American grocery store before dropping to his knees and weeping with disbelief at the incredible range of buying options.
My first experience of Wild Fork was not quite so dramatic, but I must admit to a small sense of awe at their remarkable range of meat, fish and seafood.
We usually pick up ribeye steaks from Carnivore on New Year’s Eve; this year, I thought it’d be interesting to try a few from this new palace of protein. I was somewhat overwhelmed; there were about a dozen different “kinds” of ribeyes to choose from, from USDA Choice Black Angus through A5 Wagyu.
There were also exotic meats — ostrich, elk, yak, etc. — and a lot of fish and seafood. Overall, an impressive array of protein.
At Wild Fork, everything is frozen. There are certainly some benefits to flash-freezing meat and other proteins at the peak of freshness, though I couldn’t suppress an involuntary side-eye at signage proclaiming, “Frozen is Fresher” — a touch too Orwellian for me.
For all the good things that Wild Fork brings to the table, there’s a certain sterility to the walls and aisles lined with refrigerated bins. The perfect local contrast to Wild Fork is, of course, Carnivore, perhaps one-fifth the size of this new meat mega-mart.
Unlike Wild Fork, which brings in huge quantities of frozen food, Carnivore selects only the best meat and fish, mostly from local sources. The butchers and fishmongers at Carnivore know their proteins, and they’re eager to share their knowledge. Every time I visit Carnivore, it seems I learn something. Going to Carnivore is a rich experience.
In the same way, visiting a small family-owned store like Candycopia provides an opportunity to chat with people who are passionate about sweets, who know their stuff and seem genuinely interested in educating customers about their wares. Though one can usually get a better price on Amazon, I much prefer the small-store shopping experience, though like many of us, I frequently default to Amazon because it’s so darn convenient.
Wild Fork is a valuable addition to Oak Park, and I will return, particularly for hard-to-get foods like goat meat and bison, all at decent prices. But for truly fresh, rarely frozen, land and sea protein, sourced and butchered by people I can talk to about products and preparations, Carnivore remains my go-to.
We’re all just getting to know Wild Fork, however, and I’m very open to exploring what they have to offer.
Wild Fork offers online ordering and delivery for a reasonable fee; convenience and good prices are key attributes of any successful commodity retailer, and as we all know, Downtown Oak Park needs all the successful retailers it can get.
David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site.