EatDrinkShopCook: Digesting the Whole Foods experience
Whether you agree with it or not, you've got to laugh at the "Urban Dictionary" definition of Whole Paycheck: "A nickname for Whole Foods Market, the now-famous purveyor of (rather high-priced) organic and fresh foods and sundries. As in, `I'm headed to Whole Paycheck to pick up a dozen organic, cage-free, free-range, vegetarian-fed eggs and some sustainably farmed, sprouted quinoa; good thing I just completed that second mortgage.' "
No doubt about it; clean eating comes at a price. While people may take shots at the checkout bill from Whole Foods, there are certain things that are worth the trip (and the extra cash). The new Fairfield store, which opened last week at Grasmere Avenue and Kings Highway East, has an edge on the other Whole Foods locations in the region.
Fairfield is the first of the chain's stores in the Northeast to offer a kiosk where you can go online and interact with others in the food community. (This is a partnership with Food 52, the web collaboration between food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.) Also, the store employs Michelle Ryan as the store's cooking coach. "I'll be focusing on bulk items," said Ryan. Using ingredients such as grains, nuts, dried fruits and spices, Ryan will demonstrate how to cook using the Whole Foods theme, "Buy a little, make a little."
While the bulk items alone are enough to make the trip to the new Whole Foods Market (where else can you find soldier, cattle, anasazi and cranberry beans?), there are eight other particularly worthwhile things you might want to take home in your organically grown, free-trade, recycled hemp bags.
1. Kalustyan's spices: Based in Manhattan, Kalustyan's offers an endless array of specialty foods, most notably spices. The Fairfield Whole Foods has a section dedicated to pre-mixed Kalustyan spices, such as Moroccan Tagine Spice, Tabil Tunisian Seven Spice and Egyptian Spice. Beats the pants off garlic powder any day.
2. Sausage: Who would've ever imagined that having access to an actual butcher would be a luxury? The meat department at Whole Foods is every carnivore's dream. From the dry-aged steaks to the free-range organic chicken, you can get something really special for dinner. One thing in particular stands out: the store-made sausages. Take your pick from sweet Italian, Andouille, Linguica and apple chicken. There's also a big array of kabobs, such as Korean Sesame Beef, Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Honey Ginger Soy Chicken.
3. Pickles: One feature that's unique to the Fairfield Whole Foods is the pickle bar. The barrels (yes, actual pickle barrels!) are stocked with pickled cucumbers, string beans, beets and mixed vegetables. Hello, easy antipasto!
4. Mozzarella: Visit the store on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday and you'll be able to purchase some of the store's homemade mozzarella, which they'll be making right before your eyes. (And giving out samples, too.)
5. Potato chips: The Fairfield store will be cranking out another unique product: thick-cut waffle potato chips, seasoned with salt and black pepper. Sold in little individual bags, you can almost justify these as a healthy treat.
6. Specialty coffee: Every Whole Foods has its own coffee bar, but the Fairfield store has a special, high-tech coffee maker that can be used to brew one cup of freshly ground beans in just over a minute. What that means is, you take your pick of any of the bulk coffee beans that the store offers (including the Fairfield blend), and have them brew you a cup. Bonus for you in that you get to sample a coffee blend before committing to a whole bag of beans.
7. Vegan salad bar: There was never an easier time to eschew all animal products. In addition to the cold salad bar, the hot bar, the soups and the sushi station, there's one entire bar dedicated to foods made without any animal influences. (Although how you could ignore the chicken tikka masala is beyond me.)
8. Gelato: Go ahead, just try to resist the creamy trays of Cold Fusion gelato made in Rhode Island. With flavors like lemon poppyseed, cake batter, plum and honey lavender, you'll be hard-pressed to make a choice. (Of course, there's always straight-up chocolate, if you feeling like being old school.)
While it seems like only the most hard-core, dedicated environmentalists will utilize Whole Foods Market as their one-and-only grocery store, it can't be denied that this is one fun place for the food-minded. From spices to gelato, it's pretty much guaranteed that you won't be able to walk out empty-handed.
Email Patti Woods at email@example.com.
Whole Foods Market: 350 Grasmere Ave., Fairfield
• When to go: Not on a weekend, at least until the hubbub has died down.
• What to buy: Spices, bulk products, sausage, pickles, mozzarella, store-made potato chips, coffee, gelato, and the diverse fare from the endless salad bars.
• Try it: The store has an "open sampling" policy. If you want to try something, just find a staff member and ask. They'll open a bag or box and let you take a taste.
• Other fun tidbits: 90 percent of the Fairfield is powered by its own fuel cell, according to store officials. There also are several charging stations for electric cars in the parking lot. The store's cafÃ© has seating for 190 and offers free Wi-Fi and a small children's activity area.