A “Fresh” Start in AlbanyAugust 21, 2010
We still do not have a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods here in New York’s Capital Region, but now we do have a Fresh Market. Located primarily around the Gulf states, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, a Fresh Market has just opened a store in Albany County this week, and yesterday I took it upon myself to check it out. For those who have not been, here is a one-line description: if Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and your local supermarket had some kind of grocery store orgy and produced an offspring from said orgy, it would be the Fresh Market. I’m sure the Fresh Market marketing department will want to use the previous sentence as their new motto.
It’s about the size of a Trader Joe’s, maybe somewhat larger. They have many of the same (or similar) non-brand name items that Trader Joe’s carries, from cereals to pasta, dressings and sauces to a lot of organic products, and they’re all reasonably priced. Like Whole Foods, their prepared food section is very nice, featuring items like smoked eggplant empanadas, bleu cheese potato salad, and Asian spinach salad. The deli area has a marvelous selection of meats and cheeses, but most of them are much pricier than the local grocery store. Their produce section is fairly standard, no more interesting than your local supermarket’s. Their seafood and meat sections are quite impressive, featuring a wide variety of fish, including pre-cooked calamari and coconut shrimp. They have many different cuts of beef, and at decent prices to boot. They also feature heat-and-eat stuffed chicken creations and seasoned turkey burgers. They have an extensive olive/antipasto bar, with roasted peppers, cheeses and olives, of course. Coffee lovers will be in caffeinated heaven – they have about a dozen huge barrels of fresh beans to choose from. The bakery section has a wide variety of fresh breads and rolls, including rosemary with sea salt, cheddar-jalapeno, and sourdough. They advertise that their sourdough takes 3 days to make to allow the true flavor to come through, so naturally I had to buy some. More on that in a minute. They carry lots of muffins and desserts, though most of them are all made at their bakery in North Carolina and then shipped. They have a huge selection of bulk nuts and treats like okra chips, mustard pretzels and bourbon pralines. There are a few grocery aisles with familiar name brands, but Fresh Market seems to have a much wider selection of products from each name brand. For example, the MHK has previously touted Talenti brand gelato, but it’s only available in a couple of flavors at the local supermarket. Fresh Market has about a dozen of their gelatos and sorbets, and sell them for almost half the cost than the local market does. I also saw new flavors in Terra Chips and Dr. Brown’s sodas not carried by the local grocer. Fresh Market’s beer section is pretty good as well, featuring nationally known brews along with many regional selections.
As for this particular store, it was quite crowded, being that it only opened a few days ago, so it was a little tough to casually browse as people were pushing around. But the crowds will die down. They had a few in-store samples to try; a lady was making shrimp scampi, which was actually kind of bland; one guy was heating up his own brand of meatballs in sauce, which were very tasty; and another guy was topping some chicken with his own mustard-based BBQ sauce, which again was very good, but on the pricey side. It was interesting to have the people who actually make the food that Fresh Market sells handing out the samples.
I spent about 45 minutes wandering the store, and here are the more unique things I bought: sourdough bread, bleu cheese potato salad, proscuitto and provalone-stuffed banana peppers, and a peanut butter-chocolate pastry (for the wife, of course). The bread was by far the most sourdough-y sourdough I’ve found since moving to the Northeast. It certainly wasn’t California sourdough, but it was pretty good. The potato salad was awesome, if you’re a fan of bleu cheese…and you know the Mouse House loves its cheese. The stuffed pepper was disappointing – the pepper was too firm and the ham and cheese were bland. The dessert was delicious, though not extraordinary enough to warrant buying it again.
Pricing overall was very reasonable – my bill probably averaged out to what I would have spent on similar items at the local supermarket. So it was more expensive than Trader Joe’s and less expensive than Whole Foods. I will definitely be back when I’m in the mood for some more exotic and different things, but it won’t be a weekly visit. However, this grocery store orgy offspring is certainly worth checking out.
The Fresh Market gets the MHK’s stamp of approval. That and $.50 will get you half a Snicker’s bar. Enjoy!