Hello again, Dear Readers:
Welcome to the first new post on my new website! I got most of the pieces put back together, and will finish the Recipes page soon. Do you like the new Food & Drink theme? (I hope so–the old one isn’t available anymore.) I think it works like the old site, but if it doesn’t, do get in touch at email@example.com. Ditto if there are any topics you’d like me to cover here, or you can’t find.
Now. . .on with it.
I hope your Valentine’s Day went well and you enjoyed yourself, whatever that meant to you. Me, I really did take myself out for a #StarbucksDate, at the Starbucks on my street:
Now, let me remind you that I know how to get free coffee from Starbucks. . .here’s how I did it: I purchased a Venti (“large”) Molten Chocolate Latte, as planned, and enjoyed every hot, chocolaty sip. (This was the expensive cup, about $5. But wait, there’s more.) Then asked for a refill with plain brewed decaf. Then, as with the first one, I used the Starbucks App to pay for it. And my Venti rang up $0.00. Five times. No kidding. I really did drink that much decaf coffee on a Sunday afternoon, reading two books.
It was a nice day, and there were a few couples that came in for a #Starbucks date. They even had props so you could take pics and show that you were actually in Starbucks:
I only saw one couple actually use the frame to take a picture. But it was nice. And I sure do wish that Molten Chocolate Latte would come back for good. You can have the rest of them, including that new butterscotch stuff. (I don’t like butterscotch either.)
Oh, and the Starbucks on my street will soon be serving the Evenings Menu. Still haven’t tried it, don’t know when I will. Never think about going there for dinner, you know? But that place is still busy nearly all the time.
And I think that’s where I got my lovely bronchitis–I started needing naps the next day, had sugar cravings and nearly every day last week, except one–the day Neighbor E and I went shopping at the new HEB. (I was standing up and walking a lot, so it kept me awake.) Let me tell you all about this place!
I probably have mentioned this on the blog before, but I’ll mention it again. My Grandmother O’Donnell used to take me grocery shopping when I was a little bitty kitty. We would head to Schweggmann’s early on Saturday morning and. . .shop for groceries. No kidding. To a pre-teen girl in those days, it was great fun–because my mother did not want to take *anyone* grocery shopping. (It was likely her only “alone” time.) Maw Maw taught me grocery shopping at an early age, and, unlike many folks, I’ve enjoyed it ever since. Now do you understand my affinity for Suzy Homemaker toys?
Nestled at the end of El Dorado Blvd, where it meets Clear Lake City Boulevard, it’s on a huge expanse of land, which will include more shops in the future, and a petrol station (it’s not finished yet.)
The store itself is now open, with more and more of what HEB has. Unfortunately, I didn’t take enough pictures.
Something E noticed that I didn’t at first, was the addition of a false front wall, complete with sliding entrance doors:
Looks normal until you realize that it’s just a front, with sliding electric doors and everything:
We’re still scratching our heads at this one. But that’s OK.
Once inside, we were treated to a coupon for a $25 gift card for bringing a new prescription to the pharmacy, or transferring one. (This came in handy when I was sick last week, and I haven’t used the gift card yet.) We went in on the pharmacy side and worked our way around to the other side. We were treated to samples of health care products, including three from Dallas-based MopTop Natural Hair Care, which is being sold exclusively in HEB stores. I haven’t tried the samples yet, but I was supplied with an instruction sheet. I’m particularly interested in the Curly Hair Custard, since my hair will curl in the most unflattering and unnatural ways at the mere hint of humidity, no matter how much I straighten it with the hair dryer.
Another sample set was from a company distributing health & wellness products imported from Mexico. I have two little packets of Broncolin honey from Mexico with “natural plant extracts,” in it, and I haven’t used it yet. Not sure what I’m supposed to use it for, but. . .I have it. (Guess I should have tried it when I started getting sick.)
Both Neighbor E and I had things to get (including cream cheese for an upcoming recipe test), so we just wandered around hither and yon, sampling where they were offering food and finding new stuff. E also found his favorite Vanilla Chai, less expensive than Target, as well as some FreshPet things for his sweet little Chihuahua, Speedy. We found a number of new things, and, well, literally ate our way through the store, really. We tried cheeses, pesto, chicken, fresh juice, samples of HEB’s ready-to-cook meals, and I can’t remember what else. Everything was delicious, of course, and when I went back on Friday to get my prescription filled, I also had ice cream!
From the cheese department, I introduced E to Manchego Cheese, which he’d never had before. He’s now a fan. I explained Roasted Sage Turkey Thighs to one lady while looking for more turkey thighs in the meat case.
Neighbor E also noticed something I didn’t: the aisles are wider than most of the other stores we’ve been in. Definitely an improvement.
On the other side of the store lies the bakery, meat and fish areas, (including a sushi case with fresh samples) and a huge produce department that has not only a lot more product, but freshly squeezed juices as well. We were able to sample some of them, and one had raspberries in it. YUM. This HEB also has fresh lemonade, orange juice, apple juice, carrot juice and a few others I don’t remember–all freshly made daily, in neat little bottles. In addition to the apples, oranges and other fruits we were sampling.
Then we found it–coffee! We were elbow-to-elbow with everyone else interested in the grand opening, and they had plenty of fresh coffee for us. Well, I was going for the decaf, and once I got the sweetener and cream in mine, I looked over and there’s E having some coffee. Which was fine, until I realized that E doesn’t actually drink coffee. . .except this time, he did, and enjoyed the heck out of it. (And it was free coffee, so that was the best kind, right, E?)
Well, after we saw everything and sampled everything, and got what we needed to purchase, we headed out. . .or so we thought.
I don’t know how many checkout lanes they have, I think it’s 20 or 25. Most, if not all, were open that day, and one of the cashiers told me that on Monday they brought the new employees in for a walk-through. They had three cakes for all the employees–does that tell you how many people it takes to run the place? We left with our purchases, but stopped to look at these lovely decor pieces that we wanted, but passed on:
I’d love a place to park this cute truck:
And this adorable rooster will get you up in the mornings:
As you can see behind the rooster, there are a number of Texas-themed and Americana pieces. . .which we also wanted but didn’t buy. (Yet.)
What we did buy (groceries and such) we put in the trunk, and realized. . .we forgot to look for plants. So back we went, and E got a small tomato plant and some mint, while I got two tomato plants and a basil. (And checked out a second time.)
We also noticed this out front:
Easy and convenient, and right where you can find it.
The new Clear Lake Marketplace is 100,000 square feet of nearly every kind of grocery shopping you can think of, and is open daily from 6:00 am to 12:00 pm. In addition to a pharmacy, there is a much larger Healthy Living section, as well as catering and wedding services (just for cakes and flowers.) There isn’t yet a Redi-Clinic, but there should be within a year. When I realized I was sick and needed to get treated, I drove to the Friendswood store to see a PA, then to this HEB to fill the prescription. And with the 100F temperature I was carrying around, I didn’t enjoy the walking the place like I did the day we went!
I also discovered that this pharmacy offers compounding services–just like the ones I use in The Woodlands for my hormones. However, they don’t compound on site, they send it to a lab. But more and more pharmacies are offering compounding–why? Because we’re asking for it. This pharmacy also offers pet medications. That’s new, too.
This new HEB is not your grandmother’s grocery shopping. And I still wish I could take her to this grocery, as well as Central Market. But I hope she’s with me in spirit when I’m shopping.
The Fresh Market is Clear Lake’s newest gourmet grocery store, open now.
Good evening, Dear Readers:
Well, I’ve had a little good blogging news this week–I have a number of new followers on WordPress! Welcome to my humble little blog, which I do little to promote at the moment. It consists of opinions, observations, recipes, and a whole lot of what I think of as wisdom. You, however, may call it something else–but please, keep it clean. This is a family blog. Swearing is reserved for driving around Houston, particularly during our long, hot summers.
The Fresh Market In Clear Lake
So today our Fresh Market opened up, and finally, we get a little more gourmet in the Houston area known as Clear Lake. We’re near the NASA facility, and up until recently, was a thriving space community. The space program is, for the most part, winding down, and the population is doing the same thing. While space program people are mostly moving away to jobs in other parts of the city, for some reason there is some serious building going on. Fresh Market is part of that. Although we have Kroger, Randall’s, and some very nice HEB stores, we have a hard time finding some gourmet items in this part of Houston–despite our diverse population.
And now, we have Fresh Market. Woo hoo! I hope they stick around.
Not The First Fresh Market
There are a couple more of these stores in Houston. Namely, the one in the Post Oak area that I have forgotten to stop into when I have been in town. It’s not exactly near the Montrose Trader Joe’s, but I could have gone once or twice. Now that ours is open, I’m glad I stopped by. I went at 8:00 pm, because I figured all the free samples would be gone and I wouldn’t be tempted, and I was right. It’s because I am trying to avoid sugar all week, in fact, completely. Well, I had some coffee and a small cup of orange juice (which I normally only drink on airplanes.)
Let me iterate that I didn’t spend a lot of money this evening. I have gone to Half Price Books this week three times to sell some books, so I had some cash on me. It wasn’t a fortune, but then again, I didn’t spend too much, either–even though I could have easily spent $100 more. (Ask Neighbor K, she knows!) When I start working again, I might buzz over and drop $100. But I’m not in need of that much of anything right now.
First up: you can get a cup of coffee for $1, all day, any day. (This is great since the GER won’t go into Starbucks, and he can stop there if he wants some good coffee, not the rotgut from his local petrol station.) I had a sample of their decaf Kona, which was wonderful, but before that, a sample cup of hazelnut–which, unfortunately, was not decaf. Oops! Good thing I didn’t drink a whole 8-ounce cup. So it’s a nice place to stop for a coffee if you’re not near Starbucks or don’t want to go in with the crowd.
Fresh Market also sells their own brand of bulk coffee for $11.99 a pound, every day. The hazelnut was wonderful, and so was the Kona. They also have almond amaretto, which I think I saw in decaf. I’ve got plenty of coffee for now, and I hardly drink it, mostly I drink tea these days. But a half pound of decaf hazelnut might be on my first big trip over there.
Oh, but this is one I’m not sure I’d be trying even if I was on the regular:
My favorite flavored coffee is, not surprisingly, chocolate raspberry. Non-flavored, Kenya AA and Sumatra coffees. Caramel Pear? Oh, I don’t know about that. But hey, what I think smells like Raid is going to smell like heaven to the lady standing next to me.
PG Tips And Other Teas
Fresh Market has 40-bag boxes of PG Tips Decaf tea in their regular tea section, along with most other teas you can find most places. YES!! I’ve been ordering it for 3 years now from Amazon.com. It’s so good. I grew up with Lipton tea. But I bought a box at HEB after a British lady introduced me to it. It’s very delicious tea, #1 in Britain, but the regular has so much caffeine. The decaf has all the flavor and none of the caffeine, thank heavens. Now I can get it in Clear Lake.
Another thing I got is another box of Maldon Salt, the flaky stuff from the UK that’s also enjoyed by many chefs and foodies. The box I bought three or four years ago is nearly empty, but if you go to Williams Sonoma to buy it, it’s expensive. Right now on their website, it’s $10.95 a box, but I think it’s like $12 or $13 in the store. In Fresh Market, it’s $3.99. Of course I bought some! I’ll use more of it too.
Limes are 2 for $1 there, but they’re high everywhere; I’ll try HEB or Food Town soon. I did get a couple of super-sized lemons and two nice grapefruit, as well as a small container of their store-brand half and half for coffee and tea. Their milk products are not treated with rBGH, but not all organic; HEB does the same thing. There is a fair amount of USDA-certified organic product, but there are also containers of Cool Whip in the freezer next to the organic frozen fruit.
I know, they have to appeal to a wide range of folks, but anybody who puts Cool Whip on organic fruit of any kind just needs to head over to Wal-Mart and stay there. (That was my snarky opinion coming out.)
Oh, and speaking of dairy, they also have their own store brand of refrigerated almond milk! I’ll try that another day.
You know I was looking for this, and sure enough, they do gluten-free.
They’ve even got their own house brand of gluten-free products, and as you can see, they’re marked as such so it’s easy to find, and there are many products located in different parts of the store. However, as Dr. William Davis warns in Wheat Belly, much of it is made from corn flour, rice flour, tapioca flour, and other ingredients that have a high carb content and can give you an insulin spike. So, that’s something to take into consideration; you must read the labels.
If you like chutney and fancier versions of peanut butter and jelly, you’re in luck, they’ve got lots of it:
And then inspiration struck (or maybe it was the coffee.) There’s a recipe called Rapid Ragu in Nigella Express that I put off making until recently because I couldn’t find something called onion confit. I did find it a few months ago, in Central Market, but at $10 a jar, this imported French stuff that doesn’t last in the fridge too long isn’t practical to keep around (and it’s more on Amazon!) However, while I didn’t buy it this time, I wonder if this will do the trick, and I can get it at Fresh Market for a lot less:
I’ll get it when I start working and I can drop the occasional $100 at the grocery store again. Not today–the recipe also calls for ground lamb, which is, shall we say, more than ground beef. I can wait for it, as well as another gluten-free cupcake from Frost Bake Shoppe.
And for the “I don’t have time to cook” crowd, a little shortcut:
The International Section
In addition to many familiar products, they also have a fair amount of stuff you might not see in your regular grocery store, unless your regular grocery store is Korean:
Again, as wide of a range as you can get. I think I’ve had it once, and like sushi, was quite enough. I’m not slamming anyone’s cuisine–but I’ll pass on this kind of thing. I grew up in New Orleans, lived in California in the 80’s and acquired a taste for Mexican food. I’ve been in Texas for 15 years, and love the varied cuisine, especially barbeque.
I’m just reporting it today.
Don’t judge me, I only took a picture and didn’t purchase any:
Another section nearby this one has olive oils left and right. But I just know everyone is waiting on pins and needles to find this.
No, I didn’t buy any of this, either. Heck, I didn’t even pick it up to see if it was imported from Italy, France, Greece or Croatia. Maybe if I invite a sophisticated gentleman for dinner.
The GER couldn’t care less if it was this stuff or Wesson. He’s nice like that.
Bagging It At Fresh Market
Now, folks who know me know about my grocery bag collection–I’ve got several from East Coast chain Publix, HEB, Central Market, import store Phoenicia, Safeway, Trader Joe’s,and a bunch of other places in between. Fresh Market has some insulated tote bags like the one I got from Trader Joe’s a while back, but not as big. I passed on theirs as well as these, but I almost gave in.
This is, obviously, for buying bulk goods so you don’t need the plastic bags. Again, I passed on them, but there will be a day where I get a few. Not only are they reusable for shopping, there’s probably a few things I can use them for at home.
The Cat’s Gifts
Even Jezebel the step-kitty got a little something:
I’ve never bought Newman’s Own cat food. In fact, I didn’t know they had it, and I’ve never seen it. That one, as you can see on the far left of the picture, is USDA certified organic. The one on the right isn’t, not that I saw, but since it was a rabbit, I bought it as a treat for Jezebel. I put out half a can, and she went after it. I’ll give her the other half tomorrow, and save the Newman’s Own for another day.
Both, as you can see, are also grain-free, which I try to buy much as I can. I’ve also given her some cat food from Trader Joe’s that she likes, but this stuff is grain-free. Normally, it’s Fancy Feast; the vet’s office feeds that to their boarded cats.
Wish I could have given some of this to Catmandu, but he did get Blue Buffalo duck a few times. On the other hand, as fussy as he was, he might not have eaten the rabbit. Jezebel appreciates the good food. But she’s now enjoyed samples of my cooking to the point where I can’t make tea without her demanding something. She nearly climbed in my lap the other day when I was eating some chicken. My bad.
As You Check Out
Now, this is an interesting site at the checkout lane:
Although Fresh Market has a collection of natural toiletries like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods does, this is a great idea. Well priced and convenient, I like this the best out of all the stores I’ve been in. I have plenty of lip balm and hand sanitizer at the moment, so I didn’t get any. But when I run low, I know where to go, because I try to keep hand cream and hand sanitizer in all my bags, including my purse, just in case. And the lip balm is less than Burt’s Bees–good, since summer isn’t waiting for anyone. Except way up north, where some of my friends report a wind chill factor this week.
More Great Things From Fresh Market
Oh, I forgot to mention the deli, bakery, meat department, and the dining area at the front of the store! DUH–and I didn’t take any pictures of those, either. Sorry about that–I should have at least glanced at their takeout. (I did see sushi.) You can get some lunch or coffee and have it at a table and chairs, much like Central Market in Houston. It’s a smaller area than Central Market’s but quite nice.
The only bad thing I can say about Fresh Market is they don’t carry those Mynts that I love from Trader Joe’s, but I think I can live with that. I’m stocked up for a while, and I’m sure I’ll be at Trader Joe’s again one day. Plus, I can order them from Amazon if I really need some.
Verdict: a pretty good gourmet place to shop!
Not A Big Store
Their store is about the size of Trader Joe’s, not really big like Central Market or Publix. Fresh Market has a fair amount of store-brand products. But they also carry a fair amount of national brands, too, along with some imported things. I can see myself spending some money in there and saving money on petrol in the future. Or at least in for some takeout or a forgotten item one day.
If you’re lucky enough to get one of these, go during their grand opening if you want to sample delicious things. If not, do what I did and wait until 8:00 pm (they close at 9:00 pm.)
Note: even The Woodlands doesn’t have one of these, although they have Trader Joe’s. But even the New Orleans area has four of them, one on St. Charles Avenue. Traffic must be a bear.
Our Fresh Market is next to the Lifeway Christian Store across from Baybrook Mall, just behind Zoe’s Kitchen. That’s another new addition to our area, which I should write a review for soon. I’ve enjoyed food from Zoe’s a few times, although not in a while. Neighbor K likes them too; she visited the one in San Antonio when they opened a couple of years ago. Heck, if you’ve got a Zoe’s in your neighborhood, you’re lucky on that one as well.
Hi, again, Dear Readers!
Bet you’re surprised to hear from me again this soon. Me too. But I had an adventure, and you know me, I gotta write about it. I didn’t plan on going to Trader Joe’s today, but I did. I was supposed to be going for a job interview with a major hospital system here, for a job in Baytown. Guess what? Ten minutes into the interview, the guy said, “Oh, no! Who told you that? Oh, really? Oh, sorry.” After one curt comment without swear words, I picked up my stuff and left as fast as I could. Had I not done that, I would have let the entire floor know I was not happy with wasting my time going into town for no reason. In a suit.
If you believe in angels, I think they’re pointing me somewhere. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.
Yes, I’m still in a bad mood. But I’m getting there.
I had been thinking about a post-interview stop at Trader Joe’s on the way to town, since it was just a couple of miles away from the building I was in. I even brought a change of clothes so I’d blend in a little. Turns out I don’t blend in at the store in the Montrose area at all, that’s probably the main reason I prefer the store in The Woodlands. There’s nobody in The Woodlands with nearly floor-length red dreadlocks over the age of 65, not that I’ve ever seen. (It was a female.) But if you’re not in Houston, you might not understand that going to The Woodlands from the center of town would make for a very long trip home.
Oh, wait–I could have gotten a gluten free cupcake at Frost. AAAAHHH!! See? I told you I was in a bad mood. But I made it home safely, and didn’t have any crashes or “road rage” incidents, since I didn’t want to talk to anyone anyway.
Since I knew I was going to be hungry on the way home, I went next door to Whole Earth Provisions so I could get a couple of the delicious Epic bars. I can’t get them down in Clear Lake anymore, not that I can find, so this was just a one time thing. Guess what I found? New Lamb bar with currants and mint, no foolin’:
Yes, it was quite tasty. Both the lamb and bison were fresh, since they were slightly moist, much like a Larabar would be. However, unlike Larabars, these have less than 10 grams of sugar, mostly from the dried fruit. Larabars, and Energetica’s other product, Thunderbird bars, are all dried fruit with nuts, so they have much more sugar in them, and fat from the nuts. However, I know that some folks are not wild about mint, so if you’re one of those, avoid the delicious new lamb bar.
I stashed those on the front seat, then went to Trader Joe’s next door. I got some of this fancier bottled water, it’s right across the aisle from the olive oil, which is less expensive than HEB’s and comes in glass, not plastic bottles
.See? It was fancier than the standard stuff:
Their regular bottled water is 17 cents a bottle. However, this was a bigger bottle at 99 cents, and since I was going to have two Epic bars, I needed plenty of water.
I may have shown you this before, but I have a shelf hung by the stove, with a knife bar underneath, to make the heavy-duty cooking easier. I refilled that little bottle with olive oil so that I can just use that instead of going to the pantry to get a bigger bottle and mess with that. Also, that’s a sugar shaker from IKEA with kosher salt in it. Easier than going for the square box, too.
As you can see, I have been coping with this morning’s disaster with some, ah, creature comforts. Now, if you’re not familiar with Trader Joe’s, one of the things they’re famous for is their cheap wine. Those bottles are $3 each; they used to be $2, and they’re well loved by TJ devotees. I got another can of those New Mexico hatch green chiles; I used one can recently, which is will be in a future blog post (like maybe this afternoon if I’m in the mood.) Delicious cannellini beans, and tasty little tomatoes to go with the rest of the lettuce sealed up in the fridge:
Yum. Now, that can of cat food on top the beans is a treat for the cat beast, and not included as part of any human food created or consumed in the HeatCageKitchen–despite the jokes I may make about doing such a thing on occasion.
Take a closer look at the tomatoes:
More comfort food, Trader Joe’s style:
Admittedly, those went into the freezer, because I could eat both the entire package of sausage and that 4 ounce round of cheese at once. OK, maybe half the cheese and two sausages today, the rest tomorrow. I found some of the sausages recently in the freezer and enjoyed them; this is just a replacement. Still, it’s really good, and both are the same price, $2.99. If you haven’t had goat milk brie, try it sometime–you’re in for a treat.
I was going to buy some tahini, that sesame paste you make hummus with. Guess what? That little refrigerated container had. . .WHEAT! No joke. I thanked the man for finding it for me; he didn’t think twice when he said, ‘Oh, you’re looking for gluten free?” Yes. That’s the one thing nobody seemed to blink at.
From the toiletries section, some lavender soap for my nighttime shower, and some tea tree oil soap just because it was cheaper and smells nice. That’s actually a package of two bars of tea tree oil soap, and all of their stuff is cruelty free, that is, not tested on animals. To me, looking at the cat beast sitting by the patio door, and thinking about all the little furry animals in the world, I appreciate that a lot.
OK, so I took it by the toaster oven. I ran out of room by the microwave.
I have been a fan of Chocolate Cherry Kind bars for a while, and they are the only ones I want. However, while I had two in my hand, I passed on them in favor of something less expensive:
I don’t know why the picture loaded up sideways. But I will tell you that there are two servings in that bag, and they were both delicious. Still,one serving has 13 grams of sugar, which is not bad for candy. Ice cream can vary from 19 to 30 grams of sugar, but you have to read the label. Yogurt with fruit on the bottom can run 40 grams of sugar for the little cup, all while being touted as “healthy.” Which would YOU rather have?
All in all, I spent about what I’d get at HEB, although I just realized that my checker, “Matty,” neglected to ring up the 4 tins of Vanilla Mynts I put with my order, although I’m not sure why. I have some for now, I’ll just get more another time, I guess.
Well, anyway, I’ve got that out of my system, and I’ll have a couple of gluten free stories coming soon. And a cookbook review if I think about it.
Hello, Dear Readers:
Faithful reader Aunt Kathy sent me this comic a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot to add it to last weekend’s blog post. She knows that I’m always looking for gluten-free stuff (Twinkies notwithstanding) and passes these things along. In this case, of course, she was right:
The comic strip is called Rubes, and it offers a slice of the absurdities of everyday life. And now we have gluten free cartoons. Cool!
Remember about a month ago I became infatuated with McDonald’s Pomegranate Blueberry Smoothie? Since it’s been so hot–well, it is Houston–I got really tired of eggs and decided to make a smoothie at home. Granted, it hasn’t been the same as the McCafe, but they’re passable. I bought a book on smoothies, and I’ll tell you more as I get through it.
Now onto a more important subject that affects us all: grocery shopping.
Last week’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on the Elf Electric Pedal Car. Now, alternative forms of transport are great. Many, like this one, are just so darn cute. But it begs the question: is there room to bring home your groceries in it? Well, if you want one, that’s for you to consider. At $5K, it’s an investment, and about as much as a good used car with a petrol engine on Craigslist.
Speaking of grocery shopping. . . .
One of the best parts of being a foodie is that you can find an adventure in places most people wouldn’t think about. Sure–white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking, motorcycle road trips and other endeavors are adventurous, but I’m less likely to get badly hurt in a grocery store. Not to say I wouldn’t consider doing them, but I don’t have health insurance right now, so I’m not inclined to climb anything more than a stepladder.
Some years ago, when I lived in town (known locally as “Houston proper”), I had an Avon lady who lived on the west side, and she introduced me to this funky little store in the inner corner of a strip center called Phoenicia Foods. It was an import grocery store that you might just miss if you weren’t either looking for it or paying attention. She said they had great prices on olive oil, and that’s true, but that was just one reason to go in there. They carried coffees, teas, spices, and my favorite—cookies—from all over the world, and things like Turkish coffee sets that were just gorgeous. I loved going in there, even though I had no idea what a third of it was or what it was for. I bought olive oil there as well as occasional other things, too, like nuts from Jordan, chocolate from Italy, or big jars of capers from Italy. You never know what you’ll find in there. Those cookies from Poland are simple but incredibly delicious. They were $1.29 a packet (likely a little more now) and they had orange, raspberry, apple and other filings with a thin layer of chocolate on the inside. No American cookie comes close to this one. I brought them to the office sometimes after a trip, and everyone loved them.
A few years ago Phoenicia expanded to a 55,000 square foot store across the street, with a newly designed logo, an on-site bakery, and a deli with cheeses literally from all over the world. (They have several different kinds of feta, both foreign and domestic.) They also have the best price in town that I’ve seen for delicious Manchego cheese, my favorite. In addition to meat, produce and frozen foods, they also bottle their own spices and package their own nuts (raw and roasted.) It’s a fantastic place if you’re looking for an unusual ingredient, and for any foodie who wants more.
In addition to their flagship store on the west side, Phoenicia has also opened up a downtown market store for the folks who live and work downtown. Near the George R. Brown Convention Center on Austin Street, there is parking on the street and in a garage across the street. It’s also accessible by downtown’s new Greenlink bus, the LNG powered shuttles that take you around for free. One of my former coworkers gave me a gift card from Phoenicia, and I just never got around to going back to the flagship store. But a few weeks ago, I embarked on what I called a “Friday adventure,” and went over to the downtown Phoenicia.
Smaller than the original, they carry much of the same thing as the large store, just less of it. There is a deli with takeout, such as sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, and even stuffed grape leaves. There is a wine selection upstairs, as well as a selection of olive oils and vinegars from all over the world. This gorgeous creation a real temptation in the bakery:
No, I didn’t touch it. I even sent that picture that to my neighbor. But I thought about it a lot. I mean, how could you not? That’s not a huge cake, BTW.
This is how far I go for my friends—I texted said neighbor that I would be going, and be home an hour later than usual—do you need anything? She texted back, “Lacy would like you to pick up a can of Greek olive oil; I’ve got cash, and I’ll pay you when you get home.” This is the neighbor who jumped my battery recently when I left my lights on one morning at the park & ride, so I’m definitely saying yes. And she graciously fed the step-kitty when she got home, so I didn’t need to worry about that part. I just needed to know what brand of olive oil she wanted. Lacy sent directions to find it, but I wasn’t 100% sure I was looking at the correct one, so I sent a picture of what I was looking at to my neighbor, and about 15 minutes later, Lacy sent back the picture of what she wanted. It was to the right, not the left—either they moved it Lacy’s been there last, or she’s dyslexic, but I’d bet on they moved it. With the picture, I was able to quickly identify the correct brand; I grabbed that can and walked out the door. (Yes, I paid for it all first.)
I’m usually carrying a purse and my commuter bag, and on this day, I’ve added a grocery bag with the can of olive oil and some stuff I bought for myself. First on the Greenlink, then on the regular bus home, then in my vehicle and finally to home. On the way, I texted my neighbor, “Tell Lacy her olive oil is on its way!” Kitty was fine, since she’d been fed, a good time was had by all, and Lacy didn’t need to make a trip into town. I was already there, so I didn’t mind—and the bags weren’t grossly heavy, either.
ADVENTURE! Foodie Style. I’m sure the Barefoot Contessa would agree.
Now if you want a REAL food adventure, there’s another kind of grocery store–the Yang–you can check out, but you definitely need a strong sense of adventure for it. And maybe a friend with the same sense.
What you see in your regular grocery store, whether it’s a local mom-and-pop place, a regional one like HEB, Winn-Dixie or Publix, or a nationwide one like Wal-Mart or SuperTarget, is what makes it there through the shipping process. Sometimes. . .they don’t. Cans are dented from an impact. Delays happen, and sometimes things don’t arrive when they should.
Enter the salvage grocery store.
Salvage grocery stores are places that buy up these imperfect items and sell them at a deep discount. However, there isn’t a consistent flow of goods, it’s just whatever they get that’s available. Some may have day old bread; most will have canned and frozen goods; you may find out-of-date coffee, tea, or other packaged goods whose sell-by date doesn’t mean it’s bad; some stores may have meat from auction. It’s similar to a bakery outlet store, but with more.
That’s why it’s a real foodie adventure, folks. You never know what you’ll find. You may get lucky, and it may be a bust. But that’s the fun in finding out!
Admittedly, I haven’t been in one in some time; there aren’t any salvage grocery stores in my neighborhood, but when I lived in town, there was one across the street where my ex-husband and I shopped occasionally. However, there’s a famous one in New Orleans that, unfortunately, closed 3 years ago from what I found online—and everyone knew about Suda Salvage.
Suda was just this funky old warehouse tucked away in and industrial area back in the 1970’s. They carried railroad salvage of all kinds, including building materials, which is what attracted my father to it. Although we didn’t go in it too often, I do remember it being quite interesting. Then again, I was about nine, so it didn’t take much for me to be fascinated. (It was a simpler time before things like voice mail, texting and YouTube.) Many years later, they moved to another funky, run down building on Jefferson Highway, so you could stop right in, no need to go out of your way. You could even take the bus if you were so inclined, since the Jeff Highway bus passed right in front of it.
Suda indeed carried day old bread and pastries, canned/packaged goods of all different kinds, some dairy, and they even had a section of drugstore kinds of things, like bandages and medicine. They were not always the brands you know and love, but they were the same thing, and they were CHEAP.
I went in a few years ago on one of my last ventures to the Crescent City (about 2008) and found bottles of Central Market Organics brand Herbes de Provence for about 69 or 79 cents a bottle. Now, to someone in NOLA, that likely means nothing; it’s some kind of cheap herb blend. Bt since I shop at Central Market, I know it’s a good price. You see, that same bottle of dried herbs sells for about $7 or $8 in Central Market—and yes, they’re unopened bottles. Now do you see why it can be a good thing?
Of course, as in any grocery shopping, you must pay attention to what you’re picking up to make sure it’s not bad. But everything I’ve ever bought from Suda was in sealed packages. I even have a container of holiday print paper muffin cups I bought in Suda, with the tag still on it. Oh, maybe in 1995? (It’s not like they go bad or anything.)
PIctures of Suda are on Flickr where some devoted soul has immortalized this magical foodie heaven for all to see. I don’t know why those ships are there, they’re not parked nearby. Hilarious reviews have been posted at Yelp, and one serious review at CitySearch for all to enjoy.
This evening I called a friend of mine, a faithful Suda customer, to get the full scoop. Turns out that the owners retired a few years ago and sold the business to a distribution company called Marque’s Foods. Marque’s in the same location, but a completely different business, although it is open to the public. Here is also a story with more information, if you’re so inclined to know more. (Haven’t been in Smilie’s since the late 80’s.) If ever I go back for a visit, maybe I’ll stop in.
If you’re interested in checking out new, cheap places, you can find out about these salvage stores at Frugal Village, and a number of other sites. Do a search to see if there’s one in your area. There are some in Houston, but none close to me that I’ve found. Yet. And even if I do find one, again, it’s an adventure to find out what’s available (and the limit of your tolerance, if it’s the right place.)
Grocery shopping can, indeed, be an adventure.