Bodegas & The Future of Food

by juli boggs


Liquor, cigarettes, bacon, milk, beer. Usually there’s a deli counter serving up hangover-crushing egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches wrapped in oil-soaked paper to go; for all of this and more, the bodegas of the east coast are a one-stop shop. Their west coast cousin the corner store serves a similar purpose, if slightly less accommodating. A deli isn’t usually involved, but it’s still a convenient outpost for late-night toilet paper runs, as well as for stocking up on ice cream, candy bars, and- in Sacramento- surprisingly good beer and wine.

On the recently renovated corner of Broadway and 35th street in Oak Park, the event planning and marketing group Unseen Heroes helms their store DISPLAY: California, a rotating concept shop that changes its stock, purpose, and layout every six to eight weeks. As winter wore down into spring, the concept emerged as DISPLAY: Bodega, combining design-minded products with locally produced food and drinks that one would actually seek out as opposed to the usual corner-store fare for which one must merely settle. The building itself is appropriate to the theme. Built into the triangular space of a wedge-shaped building- think the Flatiron in Manhattan- using the space as a “corner store” seemed fitting. As the shop lacked refrigeration, the stock necessarily focused on shelf-stable products, foregoing wilting produce or questionable milk in favor of strikingly packaged products curated along tall blonde shelves like a gallery or boutique. Gemstone colored jams by INNA shouldered up to square tins of olive oil by Other Brother Co.. From Burly Beverages came flip-top bottles of mouth-puckering shrubs and tonics, and in the corner a temporary bar proffered kombucha on tap, the variety written up on the obligatory chalkboard menu.

Despite the shop’s small and unusual shape, organizers culled out enough square footage for Chef “Syl” Mislang of The Roving Spoon to host a series of pop-up brunches featuring some of the store’s products. For their first round, Other Brother Co.’s California Gunpowder spice blend was tossed with potatoes for crispy, seasoned breakfast tacos. Oakland-produced Baia pasta lent its texture to a tofu and arugula scramble. Most imaginatively, tapioca balls were cooked up with Burly Beverage’s Blood Orange Beet shrub, making a sweet and vinegary “caviar” dolloped alongside silver-dollar sized buckwheat blinis.

While DISPLAY: Bodega was limited in its lifespan to a couple of months, it does give rise to the question: why can’t we have such high quality local offerings in all of our corner stores? We can already widely access local craft beers and wines at our neighborhood markets, so why not Baia pasta in place of SpaghettiO’s, INNA jams in place of Smucker’s, and a hot carafe of locally-roasted coffee in place of the scalding brown mystery water doctored up with powdered creamer? Corner stores we’ve got, but high quality stock is what they lack. That and those cholesterol pumping egg and cheese sandwiches. I wouldn’t mind it if they stocked those too.

*Cover image by Frankie’s Apartment