Pete’s Fruit Market can be challenging to find if you don’t know the area, but it’s well worth the trip. Located at 1400 S. Union Street, it is just south of Greenfield Avenue and just west of 17th Street, you’ll find produce bargains galore if you are willing to buy by the basketful (for those familiar with farmers’ market shopping, Pete’s baskets hold about a peck).
“We like to think of ourselves as a fruit and vegetable market, not a grocery store,” says Teddy Tsitiridis, son of owner Pete Tsitiridis. However, because it is located in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, Pete’s is also a great place to shop for Latin specialty produce, like cactus leaves, jicama, and choyote. And there is a lot more to discover at this great store.
Garden plants (mostly vegetables but also some flowers, including edible ones like nasturtiums) are available at better prices than can be found at most garden centers. In addition, you can find Mexican soft drinks, as well as queso fresco, mayonesa, and Mexican spices– including Tajin, a powdered pepper-and-lime spice for fruit. Pete says the Tajin supplier tells him that he sells more of that than anyone else in the country– and he’ll let you sample it on a slice of apple, mango or papaya. After you taste it, you’ll probably buy a bottle.
There is also a hot and cold deli counter selling specialty foods made on site, like barbacoa (barbecued beef) that is cooked for nine hours, or two varieties of homemade chicharron (pork rinds), one plain and one with a thin layer of crisp bacon attached. Among the cold foods available are mango salsa and cactus salad– and a special potato salad (dubbed “Mama’s) like no other. The recipe comes from Pete’s wife, who– like Pete– is of Greek heritage. A hint of olive is the not-so-secret ingredient.
Although there are entire aisles of Mexican groceries– cookies, roasted pumpkin seeds, and spices, for example– you can also find things like Macedonian halvah (sesame seed paste candy), sold by the pound. The meat counter offers several kinds of chorizo sausage, as well as family-size packages of chicken and pork.
But it is low-priced fruits and vegetables that make any trip to Pete’s worthwhile. If a small basketful of tomatoes or peppers seems like more than you can use all at once, shop with a friend and split your purchases. You’ll be amazed at your savings, and the high quality of the produce you can buy for those bargain prices.
Pete, who worked in produce in Waukegan for a dozen years before staring his Milwaukee market, began it another corner of the lot 19 years ago, under a tent. He then progressed to a barnlike building that is still there, but now the business has grown into a full-sized store.
Pete’s is open from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day of the year. They accept credit cards and there is ample parking in their lot, which can be accessed from Union Street.