August 7, 2020

Kate Bernot

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How to Shop the Midwest’s Restaurant Supply Stores

Where you'll rub elbows with the region's best chefs

My heart skipped a beat when I saw Chicago’s Northwestern Cutlery in a headline recently. It can’t be closing—say it ain’t so! Thankfully, it ain’t. The venerated restaurant supply store is just moving locations, leaving the West Loop storefront it has occupied for nearly half a century for larger digs in Norwood Park. Northwest is where, a decade ago, I bought my first piece of Le Creuset bakeware and my first decent paring knife. Like all the best restaurant supply stores, it’s a treasure trove, offering high-quality kitchen supplies for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a Williams-Sonoma.

The Midwest has many restaurant supply go-tos beyond Northwestern. Savvy chefs know that Dragon Trading in St. Louis has the best and largest selection in town—past the hundreds of motion-activated robotic cats that beep out “hello” when you walk past them. (They act as both the store’s security system and welcoming committee.) Kansas City shops at B&J Peerless, Cleveland uses Dean Supply, and Minneapolis roams the 15,000-square-foot playground that is Jos. F. Palen.

Because these warehouses can inspire many an impulse buy, I asked heartland chefs to guide me through their labyrinthine aisles and chock-full shelves. Here’s what they recommend that home cooks seek out:

1. Non-stick pans: Bo Fowler, executive chef at Chicago restaurants BiXi Beer and Owen & Engine, says high-end non-stick pans are a waste of money, since all non-stick pans lose their coating in about a year anyway. “Restaurant supply stores sell non-sticks for cheap, and they have some heft to them and heat relatively evenly,” she says. “You don’t feel bad having to replace them in a year because they didn’t cost you a fortune.”

2. Dried herbs and spices: Garlic powder is garlic powder, right? Brian Yazzie, chef and founder of Intertribal Foodways, a St. Paul-based catering mobile catering company that promotes health and wellness through indigenous foods, says bulk herbs and spices are often much cheaper at restaurant supply stores. “Check the discount rack, where you can get even better deals on packages that are ripped a little, for example,” he suggests.

3. Clingfilm: Rob Connoley, chef and owner at St. Louis’s Bulrush, recommends buying plastic wrap at restaurant supply stores not just to save money, but to get better quality. “The home versions are just atrocious!”

4. Cambro containers: A staple of most restaurant kitchens, these heavy-duty food storage containers can also keep home pantries tidy. “My home kitchen is as organized as the restaurant pantry with everything stored in various sized Cambro containers, color-coded by lid, with color masking tape labels on each,” Connoley says.

5. Bowl scrapers: “Everyone should have a Matfer Bourgeat bowl scraper at home,” says Sieger Bayer, chef de cuisine at Chicago’s Tortello. Bayer uses them for portioning focaccia and pulling tortellini at his pasta-focused restaurant, but they’re useful for dividing homemade pizza dough and can even double as a squeegee for cleaning surfaces.


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