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P-Chops Reimagined

March 6, 2014

Try not to think of this as old news. When there is a social media pileup, sometimes it is advantageous to post last. Although to be fair, not everyone who attended the tour of the newest Price Chopper concept store has written about the experience. So maybe we won’t be last after all.

While it was impossible for me to make the press event in person, I was able to send one of the FLB’s very capable correspondents. Jessica R. picked up this assignment and remarkably didn’t mention Wegmans once in the body of her story. That’s the kind of restraint regular readers of this blog may find truly shocking.

Anyhow, I probably owe her another drink when I get back to Albany for going above and beyond the call of duty. She’s earned it.

What follows is the story Jessica filed along with a few notes and links I’ve added in after the fact. Even her headline is more mature than mine.

Checking out the Market Bistro
by Jessica R.

A lot has already been written about Price Chopper’s new concept-supermarket, the Market Bistro in Latham, so I’ll try to note a few items that I haven’t seen mentioned yet, as well as give my overall impression of the store.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Price Chopper has taken their normal store in Latham near Latham Farms, and turned it into a “Theme park of wonderful food,” highlighted by a food court area with 10 separate mini-restaurants.

Price Chopper’s owners, the Golubs, describe this store as being a research laboratory that took the company five years to develop. They hope that successful concepts from this store might eventually be brought to their other area stores, but, as of right now, there are no plans to duplicate the Latham store elsewhere.

Besides the food court area, the grocery section has a greater focus on ethnic, local (defined as within 400 miles of the store), organic and gluten free items.

Although I’m describing the area at the front of the store as a food court, that isn’t really a good descriptor. The atmosphere is relaxed, while the food is meant to be made quickly and with high quality. Price Chopper tried to pay attention to details like providing real flatware and plates. Salad plates are served chilled, breadsticks are homemade, bacon is house-smoked, fried fish is breaded after you order it.

Although I first thought, “Man, its dark in here” when I first entered, after spending some time there, I grew to appreciate the subdued atmosphere that the lighting and sculptural trees surrounding the eating area created.

Here are some of the highlights I noted, some of which I haven’t seen spoken of elsewhere:

– Our tour started in the newly developed Cooking School. This is definitely something that is unique to this location. There will be both hands-on instruction and demos done here once it opens. The tables where students would sit would accommodate around 20-25 people comfortably, as would the actual kitchen area.

– The Ice Cream Parlor serves New York made ice cream (the brand was not specified, but I believe it’s Perry’s). The highlights of this area include house-made chocolate sauce made with Ghirardelli chocolate, REAL whipped cream, and the most amazing strawberry shake I’ve ever tasted – made with fresh strawberries from the produce department. As Lewis Shaye, VP of Culinary Concepts, explained, this is one of the benefits of having fresh food delivered 7 days a week. Part of his goal was to think of unique ways to incorporate the fresh items from the store.

– The cheese area is vast, and it was mentioned that 150 new cheeses were chosen just for this location. I also noticed that each cheese label included the milk type (cow/sheep/goat), country or U.S. State, and a suggested wine pairing.

– The growler station had several local (NYS) options, and seems nicely thought out. Breweries featured include Rushing Duck, Ommegang and Bell’s. They will fill any growler you bring in, not just the Price Chopper labeled ones. They also mentioned that they plan to bring in brewery reps for tastings. Unfortunately, you can’t taste-test on a regular basis.

– The Ben and Bill’s New York style deli is very well curated. Cel-Ray soda is available next to Price Chopper brand cans. The cheesecake and other desserts are brought up from the Carnegie Deli in NYC. The latkes, pickles and pickled tomatoes we tried were all very authentic.

– Price Chopper has worked with a company in Vermont to set up a hydroponic growing setup in the produce section, and they plan to grow tomatoes IN THE STORE! This setup was covered up because it wasn’t complete yet, but it will be interesting to see how successful it is, and what the price point for those tomatoes will be (and whether it will fluctuate in the summer when local tomatoes are readily available).

– The produce section in general is very extensive, and has a lot of unique items. I counted 6 types of carrots in all different shades and even more types of beets!

– Within the actual grocery section, the store feels very comfortable, with hardwood floors and good lighting. Local items are labeled right next to the prices on the shelves. Certain sections, like pasta sauce and condiments, have full 4-foot wide shelving units with only local products (again, local being within 400 miles). The beer section takes up an entire side of an aisle, from the front to back of the store! Another area that really stood out to me was the spice section, which is about 6 times larger than in their normal stores. It includes several different brands of spices at different price points, as well as a dried chili section to rival a Latino grocery store.

– Going back to the food court, one area that impressed me was the prepared sides and entrées section. They have a deal available any time where an individually sized entrée and two sides can be put together as a meal for just $6. They can heat them up for you to eat there, but these would be more appropriate to take home or back to the office. Getting a mini-meatloaf or chicken masala, freshly prepared veggies and potatoes as a to-go lunch has a lot more appeal to me than a five-dollar foot-long. One of the options available as a side is a twice baked potato, regularly priced at $2.99 each, so these meals seems like a real bargain!

– In the near future the Chef’s Grille will be opening up. This will serve breakfast, lunch or dinner in a full serve restaurant model, including wait staff. The food served will change regularly, and will be based on the freshest ingredients being brought into the store. Wine and beer will be available, and they will be open until 10pm initially. The atmosphere in this area seemed a little lacking compared to the seating area for the food court right next to it, but it’s not fully set up yet.

All in all, I was definitely impressed with the Market Bistro. If I had a few kids, I can definitely see the food court as a way to all eat together and find something everyone likes. For myself, I can see going here as a Panera, Boston Market or Chipotle alternative when I’m shopping in Latham or before yoga class.

[Note from the Profusser: I do not recommend eating at Panera or Boston Market. Regrettably I don’t have any posts to which I can link to further expand on this point, but they just made my to do list.]

The food there is high quality – I was especially impressed by the hamburger and lobster roll.

Some things were misses – I didn’t care too much for the pizza – but overall this is a great addition to our region!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2014 11:53 am

    Thank you Jessica and the Profusser for the review! I’m excited by the idea of finding more than just orange carrots and purple beets in a Price Chopper and would love to see that kind of variety in more of our area chain grocery stores. I plan to go soon and explore them cheeses!

  2. March 6, 2014 12:25 pm

    I was told by Pierce Communications, the PR agency repping Market Bistro, that the whipped cream served to us might not have been freshly made, as MB intends to do, and someone would follow up with me. Have not heard anything since. I’m still feeling pretty burned by this – at this point, it feels more like flat-out duping of clientele vs. an error or genuine mistake. It makes me wonder what else they are being evasive about.

    I’m pretty sure I saw that the ice cream they had available that day was Haagen Dazs, but I might be mistaken.

    Carnegie cheesecakes were at one time able to be procured by JS Watkins. Not sure if that is still the case, but if it is, I’d put money down that Market Bistro is getting their cheesecakes from JS Watkins, and not directly from Carnegie Deli.

    I kind of like this Price Chopper for various reasons, not sure why I keep hating on it!

    • Jessica R permalink
      March 6, 2014 12:36 pm

      Hi Deanna! Some of the flavors – Mint-Ting-a-Ling and Panda Paws – I recognized as Perry’s flavors. I saw on someone else’s blog that they thought it was a mix of Perry’s (a NYS brand) and Haagen Dazs. Lewis also told us that if there was a certain flavor from their normal company that they did not think was great, they would switch it out with another (so, if Perry’s Vanilla isn’t the best they’ve tasted, they might switch out HD in that situation).

      Not sure what to say about the whipped cream. I was excited that they are making it in-house, and not using something from a can. That’s pretty unique – even for the local homemade ice cream shops! I’m not a natural foods expert like you and Daniel, but isn’t gelatin still considered natural? I know you would avoid it if you were vegetarian though, so they should state if it’s in their product.

      • March 6, 2014 12:56 pm

        Hey Jessica – great review! The thing about the whipped cream isn’t whether or not it is natural, it’s what they said was in it when explicitly asked. Here’s what I wrote about the matter on the Times Union:

        While the staff and executives were all very kind and nice, there were a few times when I though some important issues or questions were glossed over rather deliberately. It was very dismissive. It could have been a lack of knowledge based on the person I was asking, which happens, but I thought they were important issues that we might like answers to. Such questions included, “Do you donate foodstuffs that are not bought but still safe for consumption to local non-profits?” (answer: They try to repurpose as much as possible – like turning a brisket into hash the next day, like any eatery would – but no specifics were given on a donation program), and “Do you offer ingredient lists for people with allergies?” (answer: it’s a work in process). I sampled an ice cream sundae (caution: The hot fudge is more a bittersweet offering, which I really enjoyed, but if you are looking for something cloyingly sweet, you won’t find it here, and that’s okay with me), and I asked a specific question about the whipped cream. “What’s in your whipped cream?” I inquired. “Just cream, sugar, and a little vanilla,” I was told. Nope. Doubtful. There is definitely a gelatin of some sort happening in that whipped cream, which is fine, whipped cream deflates and a little gelatin helps keep it together! It’s not an issue of using the gelatin, it’s an issue of stating the obvious and having at least a little transparency. I lost trust with the Price Chopper brand, and while I’m surely more invested in it than most shoppers, I’d like honest answers to simple questions.

        ***

        Lewis, who should seemingly know about what’s in each product he’s touting, was incredibly dismissive about a real question. He is the one that provided the above answer, then all but pushed me aside when I tried to further inquire. That’s totally inappropriate in my opinion. I’m still waiting to hear from the Market Bistro team about this.

        Lewis mentioned the same thing regarding the ice cream to our tour group.

      • March 6, 2014 1:03 pm

        Okay, Jon from Pierce Communications just emailed me this:

        “Deanna –

        I saw your post on FLB. I think we crossed signals. To confirm: there was a mistake made at the early session and they did not put freshly made whipped cream on your ice cream (which was, I believe, Perry’s). When Lew realized the mistake, he made sure that they fixed it for the later session.

        No conspiracy or subterfuge here…just an honest mistake made by the teammates at the ice cream shop (that wasn’t even open to the public at the time)!

        Let me know if you have any other questions or issues.

        — Jon.”

        So there’s that. When I was there last weekend (I had the Cobb Salad and Pulled Pork and Beans – all quite good), the ice cream station wasn’t operational, but I’m looking forward to trying out that pesky whipped cream again.

      • Jessica R permalink
        March 6, 2014 1:23 pm

        I’m glad they got back to you. It seemed pretty authentic (and yummy) for the second group tasting!

  3. March 6, 2014 12:38 pm

    Just made it there last week for the first time, and was pretty impressed. I have already made a second trip this week to do a big shop. So far, this may be my favorite food shopping in the area.

  4. March 6, 2014 2:05 pm

    Very interested in stopping in. This article has peeked my interest (Very much)

  5. Stevo permalink
    March 6, 2014 11:01 pm

    Methinks Jessica got caught up in the hype.

    I ate at the “food court” this past Saturday. I left wholly unimpressed. I paid $11 for a burger and fries. ELEVEN DOLLARS. Before tax. Too expensive.

    My burger was cooked to order, from fresh ground beef. But, I saw a lot of food sitting in steam tables in other areas of the food court, and that included the peppers and onions that were added to my burger.

    The rest of the store is well, a Price Chopper. Albeit with an expanded number of grocery items, but those items can also be found elsewhere in the Capital Region.

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