My friend commonly brings a selection of their salumi and italian cheeses (some aged quite a long time and really good)
Todaro's is excellent for sopressata, salame, all the salumi and its cheese is surprisingly good too, even though much of it is plastic-wrapped. Good selection of dry pastas as well. The meat is not bad either, though it is definitely on the expensive side.
I've never tried Koglin's... too bad... I usually don't frequent Penzeys because Kalustyan's is right around the corner.. sure they're expensive on some things, but I don't think you can beat them when it comes to spices. Most of my olive oils come from Fairway - they have a great selection of private labeled artisanal olive oils that they bring in in barrels then bottle here. It's great that you can try them before you buy it, too. Plus, they have an extra virgin olive oil that's private labeled that comes in a 3 liter tin that's inexpensive enough to use for every day pan frying... it's even good enough to use on raw applications, but the private bottle stuff is REALLY good. They also have a huge selection of imported name brand oils, but they're expensive. Lastly, when I'm lucky enough for her to bring some, I have a friend who's greek, and her family has a 500 acre olive grove and make their own family labeled olive oil... I'm the luckiest guy on the planet when a shipment comes in and she gives me a bottle... something to be said about freshness and olive oil.
I really miss Koglin's German Hams at Grand Central - that place was one-of-a-kind. It's good to have Murray's and Penzeys. Murray's Greek olive oil is my standby.
Oh yes, I know Artisanal very well... They're definitely not less expensive than Murrays (I've comparison shopped quite a few times on some of the cheeses that they both carry). It's also frustrating depending on who you get behind the counter. There's a french lady there who is so dismissive - I'll ask for something specific, and she'll offer me something else saying "it's the same" with the air of I-know-better-than-you... when in fact, I know they're not the same - in fact they're quite different... like comparing a bleu d'auvergne to a roquefort.. besides the fact that the roquefort is an AOC, it has a completely different flavor profile - much sharper, saltier, and more metallic for lack of a better word. Then there was another guy there who would constantly try to push domestic cheeses when I specifically wanted a french one (which they had in stock and at a nice ripeness btw)... Every time, I'd get the same answer "well, if you want that, you should REALLY get this one from wisconsin, it's much better" which first of all, to use "better" when it comes to a subjective thing like taste is problematic, and plus after tasting his suggestion, I'd never be a fan of it... not that it was a bad cheese, but not to my taste... sorry, that's my Artisanal rant... and for all the ranting, I'm going for dinner there tonight... so take it for what it's worth!
Btw - for cheese, the counter at Artisanal on 32 St. cannot be beat - that's very close to you. High-end of course, but I think it's actually less expensive than the Murray's in Grand Central for many cheeses, and it may be the best in the city (competes with Saxelby's Cheesemongers and Di Palo's I supposed, but those are more specialized shops).
I typically find their produce comparable if not better than Whole Foods... at first I felt the same way as you, but their produce is consistently very good - which I guess it would have to be since you can't pick through it like you could in a store. Plus, they have air chilled organic chicken for a decent price, and I don't have to lug it home from 14th street.
Fresh Direct is actually good for produce? I ordered when they first opened - maybe I'll give it another try. It scares me when I can't actually pick out fruits and vegetables with my own hands & eyes.