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Petty Problems

July 9, 2014

Transitions are tough. That’s a good mantra if I’ve ever heard one. Yesterday, I had to flee into the Berkshires for a few hours just to escape all the boxes and the drudgery of unpacking.

While there, I finally made it to Teo’s. You know, since I had Gus’s on my mind.

Teo’s makes a mighty fine interpretation of the Capital Region’s mini-dog with meat sauce. And I have to say, Teo’s really does a great job with their sauce. The raw onions were a bit too hot and bitter. But it’s a mighty fine specimen. I’m encouraged to see that such things can find an audience across state lines.

However, this isn’t a review of Teo’s. I’m going to vent my spleen about a few frustrating failings found from my foray into what should be Albany’s new grocery nirvana. It’s moments like these that I’m glad to be writing something called the FUSSYlittleBLOG, because that gives me a bit more leeway to let my fussy flag fly.

Now keep in mind that I haven’t even been in town for ten days after moving back from Princeton. The good news is that I’m actually not missing the Wegmans. At least not yet.

What I am missing is my New Jersey Trader Joe’s. That wine section was always fun to explore. The Reverse Wine Snob has even done a lot of the hard work for those interested in tasting all of those promising looking bottles. Great values aside, it’s really convenient to be able to buy wine at the same place as the groceries. As a direct result of New York’s bizarre stance on wine in grocery stores, I have still yet to purchase a single bottle of wine since I’ve been here.

But my biggest complaint with the Albany Trader Joe’s is maple syrup. Yesterday I talked with the Captain at the local store and he claimed New York isn’t allowed to sell the Canadian Grade B maple syrup that I had been buying in New Jersey. It’s still not cheap stuff, but it’s less expensive than other alternatives, which is good given the rate my kids can polish off a bottle. More importantly though, it has the flavor profile and viscosity that I’m really looking for in a syrup.

Now I’m out in the cold. Granted, I can’t really fault Trader Joe’s for any of this. Transitions are tough.

Whole Foods is another story. To be fair, they are almost a brand new store. And I suppose one has to allow them some time to work out the kinks. Plus, I’m glad they are here. Even in my super short visit, I was excited by a bunch of items in the store.

Prices can vary region by region. I get that. Whole Foods has been criticized in the past as being crazy expensive. However, I have come to expect everyday low prices on some of the mainstream natural products for which Whole Foods is likely the largest purchaser in the country. In New Jersey, it was the cheapest place by far to find the decidedly not cheap Tom’s of Maine toothpastes. And I was looking forward to using my regular toothpaste runs as an excuse to pop into the new Albany store.

Not gonna happen. Six dollars?!?! That’s madness.

Besides the toothpaste, I also needed a small chunk of Parm-Reg. This was a quick stop, so I did not have time to fully check out the cheese counter. At the checkout I realized the nice little chunk of cheese I had selected had a not-so-nice and unwelcome spot of blue-green mold.

Even one of my favorite cheese shops pre-cuts their Parm-Reg, but the cheesemongers there have a really good sense of their throughput. That’s an important thing when pre-wrapped cheese sits out at room temperature. More than anything else, the mold is a sign that this cheese had been sitting out for a while. Bad on me for not noticing it on first inspection. But I hope the cheese department becomes a more vigilant first line of defense against such issues.

Speaking of spoilage, there was one last gripe.

Mrs. Fussy likes those horrible “baby” carrots. The organic ones at $2 per one pound bag can’t be called expensive for the region. Bags of organic baby carrots probably deserve a rant all on their own. So many of the bags are filled with water which makes the carrots a mushy, slimy mess.

Anyway, I’m fastidious about finding the bags with the least amount of liquid sloshing around inside. Regardless, when Mrs. Fussy showed me the carrots inside the bag last night, they were soft and rotting. It was totally gross.

It’s not worth my time or energy to try and bring them back. The food is just going in the trash, and I’ll file a note away in my head to keep buying organic baby carrots at Trader Joe’s instead. But I do hate throwing away food. I hate it like poison.

There are still a lot more local grocery and specialty stores that I need to visit. The next time I make it to the new Whole Foods, I will make sure to allow plenty of time to fully explore its nooks and crannies. And by then I hope these rough edges will be smoothed out.

Transitions are tough.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Erin T permalink
    July 9, 2014 12:12 pm

    My Whole Foods experiences have gone steadily downhill the three times I have visited.

    The first time I went, the day after opening, it was early in the morning. They had an impressive selection of local produce from farms whose names I recognized from our greater Capital Region. Everything looked fresh and the cashier was efficient, friendly, and packed my bags well. A Trader Joe’s quality cashier (I worked as a Wegmans cashier for five years and am very picky about bag-packing, but Trader Joe’s cashiers regularly meet my expectations).

    On my second visit, a week later, the “local” strawberries were from Connecticut, in the height of our strawberry season. And over $6 for a quart. Meanwhile, Driscoll’s organic strawberries were on sale for half that price. This really irritated me because it felt like lip-service to local produce. I also no longer noticed all those truly local farms.

    My most recent visit was even more disappointing. Consistently, items (produce, baked goods) with the big “local” tag were from Suffolk County, Long Island. A solid 4 hour drive away. If they were items that our region didn’t carry, it’d be one thing, but “local” baked goods from at least 4 hours away?

    Then, I picked up some marinated chicken. At the check-out, the cashier was clearly inexperienced and packed the bags extremely lightly, in part because she didn’t understand how to scan the belt to find heavier items to put on the bottom, leaving me with a box of crackers and carton of eggs in one bag. As I started to repack the bags, I noticed that the plastic wrapping the chicken had come loose. The cashier did not have any extra plastic bags to double-bag the chicken, but that didn’t matter, because the chicken was totally exposed at that point. Meaning me and the cashier had just touched raw chicken. She seemed surprised when I asked for hand sanitizer and not at all concerned by the open container of raw chicken. Whomever wrapped the chicken in the meat department did not know what they were doing and had only used a single piece of plastic over the middle of the container.

    While those were disappointing experiences, it did make me happy for the Honest Weight Food Coop, whose bulk, produce, cheese, and prepared food sections stand up well to those at Whole Foods. And I’m going back to Trader Joe’s for my Wolf Road shopping.

    Sorry for the long comment, I’ve been wanting to post about this somewhere and thought it would be relevant to your blog post. Thank you!

  2. -R. permalink
    July 9, 2014 12:36 pm

    I certainly hope you buy more than one tube of toothpaste at a time; toothpaste is like toilet paper – you’ll use it eventually and it doesn’t go bad. I myself got tired of chasing down my beloved Tom’s of Maine toothpaste at every CVS in town, and now order it a dozen tubes at a time off of Amazon (current price is $7.18 for TWO tubes, btw). So Whole Foods wanted $6 per tube? I guess the smarmy ‘Whole Paycheck’ moniker has some merit after all…

    • July 9, 2014 12:49 pm

      I should be clear. It was just the Albany Whole Foods. At the Whole Foods in Princeton I could get it for three bucks and change.

      The Princeton store had lots of signage pointing to many of its everyday low priced items. And that went far in combatting the “Whole Paycheck” image of the store. I didn’t spend enough time in the Albany market to get an adequate sense of its relative pricing. But the toothpaste was galling.

      The savvy shopper can find good prices. Whole Foods 365 safflower oil was a bargain, Nature’s Path cereal was a good deal, and their “Level 1” rotisserie chickens looked delicious for under $10.

  3. July 9, 2014 2:44 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your impression, I’ve been there twice so far. The first time I got so overwhelmed at the crowds combined with the terrible flow and narrow aisles I didn’t make it past produce. Seriously, I just turned around and left. The second time I ventured in right when they opened on a Sunday and it was better but still a lot going on; so far my experience is that I like the prepared foods, and I had good experience with the premarinated meats, but everything else was confusing and difficult to browse.

  4. July 9, 2014 11:34 pm

    I second on the Cheese issue. I popped in about a week ago to check things out. I had high hopes. But as some others have pointed out, it’s narrow aisles and being overcrowded gave me a headache. I constantly found myself exuding myself when I had the right of way, and apologizing for things I didn’t do – due to the congestion (Am I the only one with manners anymore? That’s another story, I guess).

    From a distance, the cheese selection looked promising. As I stepped up to the cheese counter, I was quickly asked by staff if I needed assistance. I was craving Stilton, but soon learned that they don’t carry Stilton. I grabbed a pave and went to sniff it (Will explain why in a minute) and ZOINK it was moldy. Not only was it moldy but the rind had grown so think that you would be lucky to get any edible cheese. This stuff was not cared for very well. I passed on the cheese.

    On to the hot foods. Ehhh. . . nothing grabbed my attention. I almost grabbed a hot pizza for dinner, but scratched my head at the pizza by the pound sign. I found that concept a bit silly.

    Finally the bakery. I had to try something! I grabbed a local made chocolate chip cookie sandwich. It was basically two cookies with vanilla buttercream in the middle. Not my ideal choice for dessert, but when I am testing a new bakery I have to base lines I use. Chocolate Chip Cookie and buttercream. Out in my car, I could not gag this cookie down. Two bites and it went in the trash. The filling was very very odd. The butter flavor was . . . indescribable but did not taste like real buttercream at all. Almost took on movie ‘popcorn butter’ flavor. I know that Whole Foods has standards on vendors ingredients . . so I am puzzled at exactly what this filling was. I assume it had to be natural . .even though it tasted rancid.

    Will I go back? (That’s a question for me, not Daniel lol). Yes. The meat section looked promising and I would like another peek. I only buy organic fruit and they had a great selection that looked fresh. I will be back for that (Price Chopper has been failing on the organic front – rotten moldy fruit)

    Lastly – why did I sniff the cheese? (Again, a question for me not Daniel). Because I have been ZOINKED too many times in the past. A few years ago, Price Chopper upped it’s cheese counters bringing on many more varieties of imported cheeses. This excited me. Many of these cheeses run about $19 to $35/pound. And I don’t mind paying for good cheese. But at that price – WRAP IT CORRECTLY. Price chopper often uses every day plastic wrap and the chemical plastic flavor bleeds deep into the cheese. Cutting off all the sides of the cheese is not good enough. The cheese is skunked and I can’t eat it. And at $30/pound that’s a crime. Please, take care of your cheese (Props to Cheese Traveler for always caring properly for wrapped cheese).

    I have contacted Price Chopper (via email) several times over the years about this. They always respond the same way. Claim they use a special plastic wrap made especially for cheese and it does not bleed/leech. In short, I must be crazy then tasting phantom leeching. What probably happens is they run out of the custom cheese wrap and revert back to the every day plastic wrap. Regardless, they do not correct the problem. I no longer buy store wrapped cheese from Price Chopper. EVER.

    Sorry for the long comment . . I just didn’t want to be beaten by Erin T.

    • July 9, 2014 11:39 pm

      pardon my typos . . . exuding = excusing . . . . pave = pave. . . . to = two

    • July 16, 2014 7:11 pm

      I’ve complained and commented to Price Chopper maybe a half dozen times over the last 4 or 5 years. Every single time the response I’ve gotten has been, at best defensive and more generally has been essentially accusatory. Really odd, especially since I try to be diplomatic and don’t go over the top when I have complained. Not like they were responding to some lunatic missive.

  5. EPT permalink
    July 10, 2014 8:19 am

    It appears to me that a lot of the negative comments are due to the fact that you do not know how to shop for the products you want. Bread, cake, pizza etc., make it or are you too lazy. Cheese, go to Pellegrino’s or the cheese store on Delaware Ave., or even the Honest Weight Food Coop. One stop shopping is a thing of the past, get over it.

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