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The Joys of Whole Foods Albany

October 8, 2014

Today we’re turning it around. It’s time for a little hump day positivity, and I want to focus my attention one of the newest players in the Capital Region grocery scene: Whole Foods.

I must confess that the Albany store didn’t immediately wow me. There were some start up supply issues that prevented me from getting my weekly challah and roast chicken there on Friday afternoons. The disappointments were hard to take, but I’m glad that I persevered. They continue to bring up the Zomick’s challah that I discovered while on sabbatical. Plus, I feel good about buying their Level 2 rotisserie chickens, which are mighty tasty after I give them a little TLC back home.

Is Whole Foods expensive? Yes. In fact, for some things our smaller Whole Foods has higher prices than the massive one down in Princeton. The price they are charging for Tom’s of Maine toothpaste up here borders on criminal. But every grocery store has a handful of ridiculously overpriced items in order to subsidize the values. The secret is knowing what to buy where.

So while some people find themselves blowing their whole paycheck at this market, I find it hard to leave spending more than $50.

I probably should qualify that last bit. It wouldn’t be hard to mindlessly load up a small hand basket of goods and walk out of the store a few hundred dollars lighter. But I’m a careful shopper, and there are many items I couldn’t even bring myself to buy from this market based on their price.

That said, there are still plenty of things that I found here which are simply delightful.

In the produce section, I found organic varietal wine grapes. Ooh. Those made me happy, and I thought the kids would really enjoy them. Turns out they didn’t. Maybe if I had gotten the carmenere grapes instead of the grenache ones, the kids would have eaten more of them. Or maybe not. But no matter, I was glad to be promoting a bit of biodiversity in their diet, and having a chance to teach them that real grapes have seeds.

We don’t eat a lot of fish. Just ask my friends at Fin. I haven’t been in there since we’ve returned. But I haven’t been buying fish at Whole Foods either. Still, I understand they are deeply committed to sustainability too. The more the merrier.

One thing that I enjoy about the Whole Foods meat counter is that everything there has to hit a minimum standard of sustainability. Honestly, I haven’t taken a deep dive into the details. I may be on ethically shaky ground picking up some of their ground beef, but it would seem to be better than what one gets at a conventional grocer and it’s reasonably priced when on sale. Their sausages aren’t bad to keep around either.

To go with those links, I picked up some organic French green lentils for a modest sum.

You know what goes great with challah and roast chicken? Cured pork products. But it’s hard to decide which ones to get when confronted with Fra’ Mani mortadella, La Quercia prosciutto, and Vincenza finocchio salami. Once, I got all three. The only problem is that the deli staff doesn’t seem to be well-trained on properly slicing charcuterie. The prosciutto has either been too thick or too thin and shredded to bits. They also sometimes use a shocking quantity of paper. Regardless, it’s delicious. Still, my patience may be wearing a bit thin.

I have mixed feelings on Whole Foods’ cheese case. It smells like cheese, which is a plus. But I’ve been spoiled by The Cheese Traveler. And while there are some good specimens to be found at our Whole Foods, they also have overpriced versions of industrial European cheeses.

Recently, I was able to solicit a monger to help determine the ripest piece of Old Chatham Sheepherding’s Hudson Valley Camembert square. She said they all came from the same box, so they should all be the same. No, no, no. In the end, she agreed that the one I selected was in fact the best, and indeed it had a luscious paste when served at temperature. They also carry the regionally produced Four Fat Fowl, which I finally got to try and really enjoy.

Packaged meats are also a strong draw. There is Vermont Smoke and Cure plus some Niman Ranch stuff. With my West Coast heritage, I have a soft spot for Niman products, and picked up a petite ham which will get diced up in some kind of bean soup this fall.

Of course, there’s my favorite milk, the unhomogenized Ronnybrook full fat in glass bottles. One of these days I’m going to spring for Dan Barber’s stupid expensive yogurt just to try one of those vegetable flavors that look so interesting.

I’m also a fan of Whole Foods’ house brand of cooking oils. Buying their expeller pressed safflower oil is a true money saver. I remember their balsamic to be good too, but I’m still using up the last of what I’ve got on hand.

Speaking of using up, I just recently finished a massive loaf of Anthony & Son’s Pane Di Casa, which the market brings up from Jersey. Damn, that’s a fine crusty loaf made entirely from kitchen cabinet ingredients. It’s available in the bakery section, but I suggest you buy it with caution, because you’ll be eating it for weeks. Someday soon, maybe I’ll write that post about uses for old bread.

Anyhow, these are my Whole Foods Albany go-to items, and they make me very happy. I wish The Cheese Traveler were a little more convenient. But with this new market sandwiched between Target, Empire Wines, Hong Kong Bakery, and Trader Joe’s, I’m finding myself popping in for just a few staples.

It’s a pretty good life when the La Quercia has become a household staple.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2014 10:45 am

    Whole Foods has had a few $10 off $50+ purchase coupons lately. I think yesterday was one of them.

  2. Gabby permalink
    October 8, 2014 1:45 pm

    Daniel, I agree with you that if you shop judiciously, there are perfectly reasonable purchases to be made here. Like you, I didn’t like it much at first, but when I really took time to compare prices to my list of prices I pay elsewhere, I found many were comparable (caveat: I’m on a super-limited low-fat, low-sodium diet for health reasons and don’t buy a huge variety of items). I also don’t mind (and am lucky enough right now to be able to do this) paying more for higher quality and convenience, and the location saves me a lot of running around. Not crazy about supporting Mr. Whole Foods’ politics, but sometimes I just need to buy the food I can eat, and there they are, close to home.

  3. October 8, 2014 2:30 pm

    I don’t usually quibble about prices at specialty shops like Whole Foods. I am keenly aware of their marketing strategy which no doubt includes high prices to add to the gravitas of their brand. But I stopped in after a Toys ‘r’ Us trip (buying my son the toy week whacker and leaf blower he requested for his third b-day) and saw something that raised my eyebrow.

    It was a quart Mason jar of switchel (Up Mountain brand out of VT if my memory serves). I don’t remember but I think it was in the 10-12 dollar range. Switchel is a beverage I actually enjoy. Switchel in its simplest form is quite literally composed only of vinegar, water, and a sweetener. This particular version had “raw” cider vinegar, ginger, and maple syrup. But I bet you money I could make you an equivalently tasty version (including the maple syrup and ginger) in one of my hundred available canning jars for pennies…

    Weren’t you just talking about the culinary exploitation of our ol’ timey farm-house traditions yesterday? This is a firm example to support your point.

  4. October 8, 2014 2:31 pm

    The kosher Price Chopper has been carrying Zomick’s challah for years. No need to have waited for NJ or for Whole Foods.

  5. October 8, 2014 2:59 pm

    Used to be Whole Foods only carried Niman Ranch uncured hams (the “petite” ones you mention) because they did not believe in selling foods with nitrites (of course, the foods cured with the nitrites in celery juice did not count). Interesting that they appear to be selling other charcuterie which is presumably cured with nitrites, or is it? La Quercia does make some “nitrite free” products but they are hard to come by.

    Can you give us a bit more insight on this? And while you’re at it, how about a rant on the hypocrisy of “uncured” meats?

  6. Chantelle permalink
    October 10, 2014 7:58 am

    I tried said yogurt, butternut squash to be exact…It wasn’t my favorite.

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