Yesterday I jetted off to the market right after watching the San Francisco Giants win the World Series, leaving shortly after 7pm and returning home late, after 9pm. Lately, a trip to the grocery store is a drag, from battling passive aggressive drivers in the parking lot, to mysteriously sticky carts with wobbly wheels, crowed isles, overpriced goods and long waits in line behind the only checker that doesn’t know how to process WIC coupons, to say the least..it’s a nightmare. I try to jump in and out of the market to avoid as many of these things and even with a major buy, never spend more than an hour on any one expedition.
It didn’t always used to be like this, I used to escape to the market, get lost in it, and dream magical nights full of gastronomical feats for hours while wandering around aimlessly. I really enjoyed shopping for food and I loved being surrounded by the endless possibilities that the market holds. But I have grown bitter and disappointed at what the local grocery chains offer and Santa Barbara sorely lacks affordable artisanal food markets.
Not too long ago I would find myself feeling a sense of anticipation and joy when I know i’m slated for a trip to the market. I definitely attribute this to my decade of living in New York City, but NYC doesn’t have grocery stores that most americans are used to, they’re actually quite pathetic in providing the bare essentials but more often stock a large delicious selection of Polish, Latin and Vietnamese specialty foods, depending on location. Many city residents have individual butchers, fish mongers, and farmers markets that they pick up goods from and grocery stores are left for the sundries. For foodies, living in the city means a jaunt up to the westside to Zabars or the 77th St. Fairway market or in the case of Brooklynites, this meant a trip out to Red Hook to the even larger Fairway. It’s everything, all in one place.
The Brooklyn Fairway market jets out into the bay, with the water lapping the old pier structure the building sits upon, you can grab a coffee from the on-site bakery and sit yourself outside with a small view of the statue of liberty while wild winds whip off the water and blow you over. It’s an awesome old warehouse that holds about 4 floors of loft apartments above it and nothing but the best retail grocery store in the five boroughs on the ground floor. This building along with the surrounding ones are like all the others in the area, big red brick armory structures that have more than 200 years of history caked thick on all it’s surfaces.
There’s a route that everyone takes when they enter this foodie bananza, as it’s layout forces you to maze through mountains of produce right off the entrance and into the bowels of the rest of it. After one loops through produce paradise, a large deli opens to the right, the only one of which that you could order as much Imberico ham as you want at honest prices. Did I say deli? I meant mega-opulous deli with hot foods, both main courses and side dishes galore, and deli salads as much as the mind can fathom. Don’t forget your sliced meats! I’m talking charcuterie heaven! from the Imberico ham I mentioned to four kinds of proscuitto, countless salumi, lomo, lardo,… I can go on, but I won’t because straight ahead lies the most beautiful cheese counter ever to grace this side of the East River.
Hundreds of cheeses, all deliciously displayed, where three men in clean aprons yell toward you for your order, and where samples are liberally provided for your decision making process. Most times you can be accommodated, unless it’s an gooey triple cream that can’t be broken into because it only comes in rounds.
If you can move on, it’s towards the left and to the packaged deli and the olive station. Barrels of marinating bliss, of all sizes, shapes and colors, some olives are the size of walnuts and strange pickled things meant to pair perfectly with all the cheese and charcuterie beckon you to pick up a pint and just start shoveling.
Up ahead and onto the butcher/fish monger station. Each has one side of a 20 yard counter laden with glistening goods from both the land and the sea. All manner of cuts of beef, pork, duck, farm raised game, foie gras, fresh sausage, and so much more! There are little pockets or side rooms containing dried goods, toiletries, and pet food. If you walk yourself past the meat and seafood counter, and move into the aisle section of the market you are first greeted with the coffee station.
We’re not talking a wall of self-serve, pully-lever units of stale beans, I mean a guy with a big scoop running around to 30 or so ginormous barrels of coffee beans getting you your morning blend, however much or little you want. He’s like a sommelier but for coffee, tell him what you like and he’ll get you something in any price range
Olive oils, mustards, vinegars the world over are next, then isles of normalcy (you know, name brand cereals, pickles, pasta, sauces, bread etc). Before you head down through the dairy and frozen goods to the cashier, the large bakery sits in the back towards the water. People line up their carts in orderly rows brimming with grocery goods and leave them to stand in line for fresh coffee, a pastry and a stroll along the water before returning to finish up.
sigh…yes, grocery shopping as bliss.
Unfortunately I no longer live in Brooklyn or near Fairway, and my multi hour long forages into it’s depths are a distant and longing memory. Lately I’ve been in a bit of a blog posting funk, I just havn’t been happy with anything I’ve created, either how it turned out or how it looked in photos. To understand that part of what drives my passion for food I realized that shopping is a major participating factor. It probably is this way for anyone who craves to cook, the process is an important part of the experience, the shopping is essential to have that connection with that which you create. Looking back my favorite food moments were born from a fantastic market experiences, so I’ll share
Here’s a list of my Top 5 Markets:
1. Fairway Market, Red Hook Brooklyn
2. Wegmans, Ithaca NY
3. Grand Central Market, NYC
4. Whole Foods Venice (biggest, badass WF I’ve ever seen, wine bar and all!) CA
5. Tri-County Produce, Santa Barbara CA
I’d love to hear about your fabulous market and what makes it so special to you, if I’m in the neighborhood, I’ll check it out!