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Keeping tabs on: Fairway


Fat Guy
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Yeah, you have to be on a "search and destroy" mission, or be a "man with a plan" at peak times, and when I went the other day I had somebody waiting in the car for me, so I went into "attack mode" - I made a path that was supposed to take me past all the items I needed, though I needed a cart as many of them were indeed the private label olive oils, and using a cart in an aisle that's not as wide as two carts means that you come head-to-head with another cart every 7 feet, and have to back out (except you can't move backwards or forwards from the crush of people) or intimidate the person you're head to head with to back out. All in all, I did extremely well - I have had years of practice and realize now that I could've played football in my youth after all - but I've known people with lesser determination to abort and leave in tears.

And when you go off-peak - I've found that late morning on weekdays, or very early afternoon on weekdays are great - you can stroll and lollygag and explore.

And another interesting thing for people not familiar with the store to understand is that as packed as it gets with people, the shelves are more packed with different items, unlike a supermarket where there are fewer items and more of them on display; at Fairway, so many different things are crammed into small spaces that if you walk too fast down the ailse, or if you don't bring a magnifying glass (as it were), or if you blink, you'll miss all the incredible variety that people talk about with wonder in their eyes.

Now I've never tried to take a "crowd" photo in Fairway - I'd be deathly afraid that all the people would sue me for invasion of privacy (this is a high-strung bunch, as attested to by all the incidents of people accusing other people of cutting-in), but in the photo below, if you can imagine twice as many people in a store the size of your average deli or 7-11, you'll begin to get a picture of what it's like, though a sardine-can is really a better image... but if you picture the people below packed in much, much (much) more densely, you get an idea of what shopping at Fairway is like...

gallery_11181_3796_20917.jpg

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Pet peeve about Fairway: The Olive Bar. Why do they fully cover most of the olives in soybean oil? It's not only messy, but it gives a weird flavor to the olives.

This is why, IMHO, Zabar's Olive bar BLOWS away Fairway's. No oil at Zabar's, only the curing brine.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting. I've never noticed that. Shows how bad my palate is. Although, the olives I got today, large green ones from California, really do seem to be in olive oil not soybean oil. It tastes like olive oil, and it congeals in the refrigerator. Does soybean oil congeal in the refrigerator? I've never considered the question.

Two asides:

1- There are a lot of things about Zabar's that are better than Fairway (appetizing counter, the whole upstairs housewares section, the pastry items), and there are also some areas where both stores are strong but have differing inventory (cheese department). Zabar's also has excellent prices -- it's competitive with Fairway across a number of categories. But, Zabar's is simply not a complete store. You can get everything you need at Fairway -- all your produce, meat, fish, etc. -- whereas if you go to Zabar's you still have to go somewhere to get your produce, meat, fish, etc. And since I'm making a trip to the West Side to do my shopping, it's not really possible for me to visit more than one store on the trip. So, Fairway it is.

2- Although Fairway and Zabar's both have large selections of olives, I don't think either has fabulous olives. The best olives I've found in New York City come from the Greek stores in Astoria. Not as big a selection, but I'll take olives from Titan Foods over olives from Fairway or Zabar's any day.

So, anyway, back to keeping tabs on Fairway. Last week, I missed the Fairway shopping trip because there was a scheduling conflict, so this week I did a really big shop and got lots of great stuff. First I spent like ten minutes picking out local apples, only to remember that my wife and son were planning to go apple picking in New Jersey today. So I put them all back. Then I got a couple of really nice "heirloom cantaloupes." Hey, why not? They have a sort of ridged surface. I got my usual Bread Alone organic whole wheat sourdough bread -- they usually get the delivery around 8am I think, and they put it out on the shelves sometime around 8:30. Got some Parmigiano-Reggiano whey-cream butter in the cheese department, which went well on the bread as soon as I got home. I got some low-moisture mozzarella because I was making pizza for dinner. A pineapple. On the suggestion of Sam Kinsey made on this topic I got some Frantoia olive oil at $15.99 a liter. Excellent -- could probably be used in place of an expensive fancy oil for drizzling over cooked fish or whatever. There was a ridiculously low price on cave-aged Emmenthaler so I got some of that. Fairway's price on Sabra hummous is not as low as Costco's price, but Fairway has a better selection of types. We eat a lot of Sabra hummous because in the past couple of years we've been too lazy to make our own and, unless we really put our hearts into it, Sabra hummous is better anyway. I can't remember what else I got, but it was like seven bags of groceries, so we're loaded for bear.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Then I got a couple of really nice "heirloom cantaloupes."

How were the cantaloupes? And, where were they?

(I didn't see them when I was there the other day, but then again, I couldn't see my hands or my feet for all the people.)

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Outside.

They need a couple of days but I'll report back on flavor when I taste one.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Pineapples are through the roof right now. And they're small. That's the thing about pineapples: they're usually sold by the pineapple so quantity is not a pure question of what a pineapple costs. The pineapples on display right now will yield at most 2/3 as much edible product as the ones that were being sold a month or two ago.

I got some new Fairway-label olive oil this week: the "biologica" (organic) from Italy. There are always several oils out for tasting, with little pieces of bread, and when you shop early in the morning you can get to the tasting station before a million people have pawed over it. Probably the best oil they had out for tasting was the Puglia oil under the Fairway label, but I have to confess that I avoid the single-origin series of Fairway oils because those particular liter bottles are just a little too tall for the tallest shelf in my cabinet. Isn't that awful of me? Anyway, the biologica was really good too, and it was in a shorter, fatter bottle. $12.99 for a liter.

Also in the organic vein I noticed some DeCecco pasta in an organic line, in very 1970s light avocado colored boxes. I picked some up. On the off chance that it tastes any different from regular DeCecco, I'll be sure to report back.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The "jewish" olives at Fairway and most other places are bad and not the right type according to my relatives, they prefer them from Zabar's and a number of places in Brooklyn. We're talking about a fairly soft olive, Greek, highly variable in color (which makes me suspect that its not so processed), usually various shades of brown in the same pail.

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Also in the organic vein I noticed some DeCecco pasta in an organic line, in very 1970s light avocado colored boxes. I picked some up. On the off chance that it tastes any different from regular DeCecco, I'll be sure to report back.

Regarding the quality of pasta that De Cecco sells in the United States, you might be interested in Post 36 here, including the two links.

The first leads to comments by John Talbott and others about the superiority of the products the company sells in Europe when compared to the pasta manufactured to appeal to nutrition-conscious Americans.

The second link allows you to see the diversity of shapes and types of pasta available in Europe as opposed to the much more limited types this particular Italian company believes will sell in the US market. (Just click the US flag in the lower left-hand side of the linked Web site; my link is to an English translation of De Cecco's Italian site.)

I suspect the organic product might simply be kinder to the environment, but would be interested in hearing if the grain is less refined or...

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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  • 2 weeks later...

I need to do a side-by-side test to be sure, but based on just eating some I think the organic De Cecco product may indeed be better. One thing I noticed is that the organic product does not appear to be enriched with niacin and all that other stuff.

One persistent complaint I have about Fairway, of which I was reminded this morning, is that the lettuce offerings are really weak. The condition of the lettuce is rarely good. It seems as though Fairway almost always gets lettuce that's beginning to show brown around the edges. It's kind of odd. The average supermarket, in my experience, has lettuce in better shape than Fairway has.

The Solana Gold Gravenstein apple sauce is back in stock upstairs. The regular Solana Gold apple sauce is always there, but this is the one that specifically says Gravenstein and has a slightly darker green banner graphic on the label. It's the best apple sauce I've ever had -- better than any packaged product (as we have a two-year-old, I've tried them all over the past couple of years) and better than anything I've managed to make at home -- so whenever they have some on the shelf I buy a few jars. At $2.79 for 24 ounces it's not even a significant indulgence.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I always thought (although I may be wrong) that the reason the Fairway lettuces look ragged is that they don't trim away the outer leaves for display. Once I pull away the (often slightly browned from bruising) outer leaves, I think I usually get right around the usual amount of good-looking lettuce on the inside.

--

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That may be. It's not easy to do an accurate comparison between Fairway's whole loose heads of lettuce and those at another store, because there are so many variables. My sense is that Fairway sells older, inferior stuff, but I can't be positive, in part because long ago I gave up on Fairway loose lettuce.

When it comes to standardized products, however, like the Earthbound Farm Organic plastic clamshells of baby spinach, or the bags of mixed greens, or the Romaine hearts in three-packs, there it's easy to compare and there I'm certain Fairway falls flat.

I had a revelation on this a couple of years ago when I got a FreshDirect order. I couldn't believe how great the condition of the Earthbound stuff was. There wasn't a speck of brown, or a hint of wilting, anywhere. Several days later in the refrigerator, the unused portion was still in amazing shape -- still better than the Fairway equivalent on the day of purchase. FreshDirect actually has a "we guarantee 5 days shelf life" policy on all the Earthbound products. Whereas, at Fairway this morning, as usual, there wasn't a single package of Earthbound lettuce without brown around the ends, and even on the days when you can find visually flawless specimens they tend to go brown the next day. So, as usual, I decided to buy my lettuce elsewhere.

I don't wish to defame Fairway. I'm Fairway's biggest fan and I have no idea what their actual purchasing practices are. But it almost seems like they buy all the lettuce that's too old to sell to other markets, or the vendors know that Fairway has such high turnover they allocate the older products to that delivery. I don't know.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I love, love love! Fairway, that is, the one on 12th Ave. and 125th St. The employees are nice and helpful and they always seem to have enough registers open, so the lines are not unbearable.

Unfortunately, the store on the UWS always seems to get on my last nerve! The people working there are almost as irritating as the folks who shop there. It seems every time I shop there, someone spills something on me. Last time, an employee dropped a bottle of balsamic vinegar which splashed all over me. I smelled like yesterday's salad for a week. No one offered to cover the dry cleaning bill either, even upon request.

However, the Harlem store (cue the violins and angelic chorus) is the best grocery store ever. I drive over an hour to stock up on the fresh roasted coffee, olives, cheeses and single origin criollo and forestero chocolate. The seafood workers and butchers are especially great when I call to order 16 halibut filets that are all 6" wide by 4" deep and 1 3/8" thick (I'm a food stylist and often have to order food to fit the chosen plate that we'll be shooting on. Normally, I'm not that picky.) I also love the selection of Greek Yogurt and labne- not just Fage, but 3 or 4 others to choose from too. The deli is also great and no one bats an eye when I ask for Meerrettichrahmkase. Unfortunately, the deli's selection of Shaller and Weber deli meats has dwindled over the past years due to pressure from the ubiquitous Boar's Head brand :angry: I really miss being able to buy Nussschinken and thin slices of Bundnerfleisch.

One thing I don't understand is why they put their packages of fresh herbs on the top shelf of the lettuce cooler-just out of reach. The result is that if I need to choose a bunch of pretty fresh herbs, I must stand of the lip of the cooler and knock a bunch of them down to find a good one.

One more observation- while I think it's great that they provide jackets for you to wear inside the refrigerated section, it creeps me out to do so. Who knows what kind of parasites or skin ailments or baby wee-wee or poop has been in them or when they were last washed! :shock: I guess I get kind of a kinky thrill giving the butchers a peek at my "raisins". :wink:

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I'm inspired to get up early on Sunday and go to the Red Hook Fairway. I've been in it once, just to check it out, and found it overwhelming. I did pass by a pole in the produce section from which were hanging bags of dried chilis and quick-as-a-wink I pulled down two bags, one guajillo and one New Mexico. I use these for a particular chili sauce and I can never find them both at once at Chelsea Kitchen. I was impressed.

I find as I get older and collect more nerve-jarring life experience, that it is impossible for me to endure the indignities that most New Yorkers do. For instance, the Chelsea Whole Foods I have walked out of twice, abandoning my cart in the middle of the store. I have been able to endure the Union Square Whole Foods, but only if I am listening to Lynn Rosetto Kasper on the iPod, then it's sort of a visual to go along with a very soothing known.

Perhaps there should be valium dispensers, like a bubble gum machine, in the doorways.

F.G., you warm my heart. Going shopping with your mom every Sunday morning. One of the happier memories of my childhood was accompanying my mom on her Friday night visit to Pick-N-Pay where my good behavior was rewarded with a box of animal crackers and a Jack and Jill magazine.

Those were the days!

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Yesterday morning at Fairway I noticed something by the exit. Perhaps it's new, or perhaps I've just walked past it hundreds of times and never noticed: a suggestion box.

This should be fun.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I went to the Fairway in Red Hook on Saturday night. Very empty.

Hated the fresh pasta.

Loved the horseradish cream cheese.

Bought many cheap cans of San Marzano tomatoes.

Generally enjoyed the experience, especially the restroom.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Went very early this morning, on account of the impending NYC Marathon, so as to be able to get back across the park before the city shut down. It's so nice to be there at 7am, when the store is virtually empty. The only problem is that some of the items on the produce shelves don't get stocked until closer to 8am (or later), but such is life.

This is one of my favorite times of year, because the good local apples overlap with the first of the Florida grapefruits. I'm going to eat a lot of fruit this week.

The bad behavior of Fairway customers knows no bounds. Today, there was a weird guy outside pawing through the tower of limes. As he riffled, limes rained down the lime pyramid onto the sidewalk and rolled into the gutter. We're not talking about just a couple of limes; we're talking about 20 or 30. The gutter was positively full of them. The guy finally found the one lime he wanted and just walked away with it, down the middle of Broadway's downtown traffic lane, holding it like it was the Jewel of the Nile. Two bored produce-department workers held a mumbling discussion in Spanish about whether it was worth going after him and decided against it. They put the gutter limes in a cardboard box and sent them away, presumably (at least, we can hope) to the lime equivalent of the glue factory.

I forgot to buy crackers, because I didn't put them on my list. Last night I thought, oh, I'll remember, I don't need to get up and put them on my list. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This week, for my butter of the week, I went with a butter from the upstairs natural foods section: Kate's Homemade Butter from Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I have a soft spot for OOB, because one of my closest friends in college was from there. We visited a couple of times, had Hot Dog on a Stick and various other local delicacies, and generally enjoyed the kitsch of the place. So I was pretty excited to try Kate's butter. But it was disappointing: no better than the typical commercial American butter, no special character or anything like that. Far inferior to last week's Pamplie, which, in turn, is not the best butter I've had from Fairway.

I find Kate's to be a cut above typical supermarket butters in terms of texture - very smooth, not at all waxy as so many are.

I agree that it lacks a distinctive character, so much so that it's almost flavorless. It doesn't get in the way of the taste of one's corn, that's for sure!

My experience is only with the unsalted varieties.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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For the past few weeks I've been buying Ben's butter, sold by the cheese counter in irregular hand-cut blocks. The unit price is only $4.99/lb, and it's excellent sweet butter (and local). I'd love to know more about this product. Is it from Ben's Cheese Shop downtown? Does that place even still exist?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Rough morning at Fairway today, on account of a large contingent of amateurs. Usually they don't come out on Sunday AM, but with Thanksgiving coming up there were a lot of clueless husbands with shopping lists blocking the aisles etc.

I did make one great discovery, though. It's certainly possible that this has been on the shelf for a decade and I've missed it, but today for the first time I noticed a product called MitiCrema. It's a spreadable sheep's milk cheese from Spain. That is to say, sheep cream cheese. I just had some on a bagel side by side with Ben's cream cheese (excellent, traditional cow cream cheese with no additives) and it was a really interesting contrast: the sheep has great acidity and a rustic texture, whereas the cow is sweet, smooth and mellow -- but not nearly as complex as the sheep.

It's in the cheese department near the specialty butters.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 4 weeks later...

A glorious morning at Fairway. On account of the snow, sleet and slush, the store was blissfully empty. It was like getting locked in the store alone overnight or something.

I noticed today that Fairway now has a second Fra'Mani salume product. In addition to the salametto, which has been around for a while, they now have the chorizo. I didn't buy it -- I needed (needed!) the salametto and didn't want to spring for two pricey Fra'Mani products -- but it's there on the top rack of the dry sausage shelf facing the deli counter.

Also for the past few weeks I've been buying this goat Gouda stuff, which I'm really enjoying.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I noticed today that Fairway now has a second Fra'Mani salume product. In addition to the salametto, which has been around for a while, they now have the chorizo. I didn't buy it -- I needed (needed!) the salametto and didn't want to spring for two pricey Fra'Mani products -- but it's there on the top rack of the dry sausage shelf facing the deli counter.

I recall that the deli slices five different Fra' Mani salumi: mortadella (the newest item), salametto, salame Toscano, salame Gentile, soppressata. Though I think the soppressata may have been discontinued.

I've never seen the chorizo. Are you sure Paul Bertoli is making chorizo? I thought he made only Italian salumi.

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Fairway's white label says "Fra'Mani Chorizo" and the Fra'Mani label says something Italian.

I had no idea there was large-format Fra'Mani stuff behind the deli counter, available for slicing. I think the deli counter is one of my least-visited places at Fairway. I don't like taking a number and waiting, and I've found the service there to be really inconsistent. I also don't like my salume sliced at the store -- too much degradation. I prefer whole small-format ones that I can slice at home with a knife.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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