Out of bread? Craving fresh pasta and sauce for a quick meal? Need a plant to keep you company? Looking for flowers to make amends with a friend? But wait, you’re out of deodorant and want to smell your best before trying to make up. Look no further than Totto’s Market, your one-stop shop for all your household goods, packed into one tiny corner store on historic Printer’s Row. They’ve got fresh produce so bright it looks like it was produced in technicolor, prepared sandwiches and tubs of salads behind their deli counter, and an array of scrumptious pastries in a glass case just before the register. 

By no means a large space, Totto’s nonetheless has a sunny, airy, and open feel that is a marked contrast from the narrow, jam-packed, dimly lit bodegas and local supermarkets of my native New York City. West and south-facing windows provide plenty of natural light, and orb-shaped lamps hanging from the ceiling keep the market well-lit even in the post-sunset hours as fall and then winter roll around.

Totto’s is the brainchild of Scott Perin, whose father, Allen “Totto” Perin, was a local butcher for the better part of six decades in Chicago’s grocery business. Ergo the motto of the place—“You’re a stranger here but once”—is homey and inviting in a mom-and-pop shop way.

Scott himself met me at the checkout counter. He wasn’t the overly saccharine grocer I had expected from the motto—rather, he had a no-nonsense kind of vibe. I was purchasing an assortment of goodies: a walnut and goat cheese salad, a tofu wrap, and a baguette by Publican Quality Breads, which he rang up quickly on a digital monitor. I was mildly surprised that there was no old-fashioned cash register, given such antiquated touches as the loose candies displayed in glass containers beneath the counter. The prepared food was solid enough to sate my partner and I’s appetites. We enjoyed it on an evening picnic spent watching and listening as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed at the Grant Park Music Festival. Whether it was the music or the crowd or the generally congenial atmosphere, I will now associate Totto’s dinners  with au plein air dining, and recommend that you, too, think of them too for your next picnic plan.

Totto’s Market, 751 S. Dearborn St 8am–8pm daily. (312) 888-3600. Tottosmarket.com.

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