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Taste and smell what you're missing.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Why go to a specialty spice shop instead of buying at the grocery store? Besides the obvious freshness factor, there’s variety, cost and the expertise of the swamis of spices. The advantages are clear once you’ve spent 10 minutes weighing the pros and cons of gray sea salt over fleur de sel with a spice merchant. Penzeys Spices and The Spice House are Milwaukee success stories, each business run by the children of Spice House founders Ruth and Bill Penzey Sr. Daughter Patty and her husband Tom Erd run the handful of Spice House locations, while her brother Bill Jr. struck out on his own with Penzeys (penzeys.com), opening locations in close to 30 states. Certain spices may be esoteric, but the appeal of spices is otherwise universal. Penzeys and The Spice House carry many of the same things, with some small differences. The flagship Spice House (1031 N. Old World Third St., 414-272-0977, thespicehouse.com) is a character-filled relic – photos, memorabilia and antiquey bric-a-brac keep the clock from moving forward. The Penzeys stores’ ordered look has things divided into well-marked vignettes (chiles, cinnamon, pepper, salad seasonings).

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