A Tour of Chicago's Spice House Just past the stationery store on Central Street in the northern Chicago suburb of Evanston sits a shop filled with the aromas of the world. NPR's Michele Norris visits with Tom and Patty Erd, owners of the Spice House. They share the surprising history and lore of everyday spices including cinnamon and pepper. See photos of the shop.
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A Tour of Chicago's Spice House

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A Tour of Chicago's Spice House

A Tour of Chicago's Spice House

Tom and Patty Erd Offer the Essence of an Aromatic World

A Tour of Chicago's Spice House

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1436681/1436816" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The Spice House shopkeepers, Patty and Tom Erd. Quinn O'Toole, NPR hide caption

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Quinn O'Toole, NPR

The shop's shelves are stocked with spices from around the globe. Quinn O'Toole, NPR hide caption

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Quinn O'Toole, NPR

The Spice House, in Chicago's northern suburb of Evanston. Quinn O'Toole, NPR hide caption

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Quinn O'Toole, NPR

Tom Erd's "bad boy" -- a spice grinder used to turn cinnamon bark into powder. Quinn O'Toole, NPR hide caption

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Quinn O'Toole, NPR

In the northern Chicago suburb of Evanston, Central Street is hardly an exotic locale. It's a typical upscale American shopping district, dotted with toney bistros and boutiques. But just the past the stationery store, if you close your eyes and breathe deeply, you'll swear you're in Bombay, or Saigon or Morocco. The aromas are drifting from the doorway at 1941 Central Street -- Spice House.

It's a small, quaint shop with exposed brick walls, antique lamps and an old-time, upright, cash register. There's shelf upon shelf of neatly arranged apothecary jars, filled with spices from the far reaches of the globe -- vanilla from Madagascar, star anise from China, nutmeg from Grenada and cumin from Turkey and Pakistan.

This Spice House is a store with aroma and atmosphere but no attitude. It's not a Dean & DeLuca store that can intimidate those without deep pockets or a devotion to gourmet food. The owners, Tom and Patty Erd, see themselves as "shopkeepers." Ask for a tour, and they will steer you to a rack near the front door -- the baking section. It's Patty's favorite, and she's quick to offer samples of cinnamon that fill the nose and seem to explode on the tongue.

Join NPR's Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, as she follows the Erds on a tour of the shop, back into their storage rooms and down to the basement where they grind, sift and prepare their imported spices.

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