American ethnic food in Berlin. Everyone is linking to it. Me too. Campbell’s soup, maple syrup, Betty Crocker cake mixes…it’s all so right on. They should’ve had Smucker’s Magic Shell instead of Hershey’s Shell, though.
Posts from the ‘What’s In Store’ Category
No, I don’t plan on becoming a freebie review blog or purveyor of haul videos anytime soon. I do have a fondness for suburban big box retailers, though. And if they ply me with baked goods, trial membership and a gift card, I will see what’s what at BJ’s Wholesale.
Being from the Northwest, I’ve always been a Costco loyalist, and am currently a member. And I’m guessing more New Yorkers are too, since Costco tends to be closer in on subway lines (Sunset Park, Long Island City, Harlem and Staten Island) even though you really need a car at least for the day to make the shopping trip worthwhile. BJ’s also has four NYC locations: Starrett City, Flushing, College Point and the Bronx. Canarsie is on the horizon.
I set out to compare new-to-me BJ’s to Costco, my old standby, in Edison, NJ where I normally shop once a month. (Oddly, there was just an article in the Wall Street Journal sizing up all of these warehouse clubs.) Memorial Day wasn’t likely representative because so many people were out of town; the place was empty, a total breeze to navigate. I won’t let the ease of shopping sway me.
Sad as it sounds, both my grainy black-and-white Costco and BJ’s card photos are about as flattering as a snapshot of me gets. I actually like this photo and my Costco one too (I’ve misplaced that card).
I only have a handful of things I regularly buy or look for at Costco. James has the bigger list so I used his as a checklist.
He was looking for:
Scoop Away litter in big buckets
We found all of these….er, and then some. This is what we ended up with in our cart.
2 packages of Scoop Away
1 case Coke Zero
1 case Seagram’s Ginger Ale
1 box of 18 Kashi granola bars
3-pack of Melita cone filters
1 bottle of 1,000 vitamin C
1 case of 36 cans Fancy Feast
1 bottle folic acid
1 rotisserie chicken
10 lbs Tyson chicken wings
1 pack of 8 13-watt mini bulbs
1 6-pack Fage yogurt with honey
1 2-lb bag jumbo shrimp
1 loaf rosemary pugliese bread
1 bottle Clorox cleaner
2-pack Roc night cream
Where BJ’s Wins
One of BJ’s selling points is that they take manufacturer’s coupons. I don’t use coupons so that didn’t do anything for me. The biggest differences were hours and payment methods. Costco pisses me off that they close at 6pm. I get a late start on the weekends, rarely making it out of the house by 3pm. BJ’s is open till 10pm so they win on that count. Costco only takes Amex, BJ’s takes all credit cards.
The biggest coup, though, may have been the $8.99 six-packs of Fage. I’ve been waiting for Greek yogurt to come to Costco for ages. I prefer the plain 2% since I add in my own agave syrup but I’ll take the ones with honey if need be.
Apparently, Coke Zero is only occasionally at Costco (I have no interest in soda). BJ’s did have it.
Along with Edison, Linden, NJ is our other favorite New Jersey suburb to hit. It’s the closest town to the Outerbridge Crossing with good shopping. The Linden BJ’s, which we didn’t visit, has gas. Staten Island is the only nearby Costco location that has a gas station.
Where Costco Wins
I like raw shrimp in bags, not cooked. Costco has both forms in various sizes. BJ’s had an entire end freezer case of shrimp but only the bag of jumbo came uncooked. I prefer extra large.
I drink seltzer water like crazy and only saw San Pellegrino in cans at BJ’s, no other brands. I didn’t see my usual 1 liter plastic bottles of Vintage brand.
The New Jersey Costcos carry alcohol while BJ’s does not. BJ’s does sell liquor in their NYC locations, but I try to avoid suburban stores in the city because they are disappointing.
To be honest, my favorite part of BJ’s was the worldweary 40-something staffer with a Dorothy Hamill haircut (I’m dating myself) and the firm yet pleasant personality of a flight attendant (more stewardess, really) who was drumming up interest for a free giveaway. She was hanging out next to the rotisserie chickens, chatting into a microphone that wasn’t projecting over the intercom. I tried to ignore the spiel, but James caved just like the rest of the group that formed around her platform at the end of the frozen food aisle waiting to get a free sample of the ShamWow-type product she was talking up. She had a different approach than Vince Offer, but she had a style of her own. Performance over, I spied her on our way out the door, sitting inside the model tool shed next to the entrance, cigarette in hand. The bad kids hangout.
So, it kind of sounds like on Team BJ’s. We just renewed our Costco membership in March, so I won’t be reevaluating this very important situation until next year. I’m pretty sure we’ll give BJ’s our business in 2011, though.
Sometimes I think I should just start a Western Beef blog (or would that be more appropriate for a Tumblr?). Or maybe just publish a blog and call it Western Beef—I’ll always be a West-Coaster at my core and I’m more beefy than non. Western Beef is me.
This weekend I noticed that there was a Macedonian section in the left-hand row of European (heavy on the Eastern part of the continent) products. There are two lengths of international shelves with the Latin American products on the right taking up the most space. Malta, my most loathed beverage, has a huge dedicated section nearby.
The jars of Vava brand pickles and condiments are what caught my attention. Avjar? I’d never heard of it (though that didn’t stop me just “liking” it on Facebook). The roasted red pepper spread seems vaguely similar to muhammara, minus the walnuts or pomegranate molasses. There is also an avjar with cheese. Malidjano is the "Balkan Babaganush." I’m going to pick these up next time. There’s always a next time at Western Beef.
Instead, I got sucked in by the promise of sour cherry flavors. Honey Cakes with sour cherry jam sounded so wholesome, and at 79-cents for a bag, who could resist these heart-shaped cookies?
In reality, they were soft, graham crackery with a dull chocolate coating that shows fingerprints but barely melts at the warmth of a hand. Waxy, like a Little Debbie cake and no cherry flavor to speak of. The insides of the cookie were practically hollow, only containing a hint of sweet goo.
The Marco Polo sour cherry jam was more what I was hoping for: just cherries, sugar, and pectin (oh, and citric acid—I’d been wondering about this ingredient, too). There is no indication of origin on the glass jar’s label, but I think this brand is Hungarian.
One of the predictable things at Western Beef is that there will invariably be items they just don’t carry. Take your fancy Greek yogurt, smoked trout, matzo meal shopping list (three real examples from this excursion) elsewhere. Tasting Table clearly doesn’t get out to Ridgewood—I balked at this line in their newsletter, Wednesday, “Thick, creamy Greek-style yogurt is hardly an exotic item these days; you can now pick up a tub at any corner bodega.” Not at Western Beef, bub.
This parking lot photo taken in the in the middle of summer, sums up Western Beef.
The unpredictable thing is what produce item will give the cashier trouble—and one always will—because it’s never the food you think it will be. I’m ok with people who don’t eat a cornucopia of vegetables (I don’t really like fruit much other than cherries), but you would think that working in a grocery store would expose one to a variety of vegetables through customers’ purchases.
We had a bunch of greens in our cart: kale, turnip tops, collards. I thought these would be the problem produce. It was ok, though, because they had codes on them. What caused the teen at the register to give me the confused face was asparagus. She didn’t even know the word for it (yes, she was ESL but spoke fine conversational English). I was, “Oh, it’s asparagus, with an A” so she could find it on the spinning cylinder with products codes on it. She still seemed baffled and had to ask the guy cashiering at the next station over. He knew what asparagus was and repeated it again to her. Then she said asparagus back to me with a hard A like in attic, as if now she got it and initially misunderstood because of my pronunciation.
Watercress also spazzed her out, but I had anticipated that.
Oh, Western Beef. The things I put up with for love.
Western Beef * 4705 Metropolitan Ave., Ridgewood, NY
Sadly (or not—being destitute sucks) I have a day job, hence little time to attend to breaking news like McDonald’s Germany producing a line of cupcakes named after NYC neighborhoods.
Frankly, I was more interested in Tapei’s Neihu district Costco, the second most profitable store in the Washington state-based chain (the highest grossing is in South Korea).
There a few nods to local tastes like peking duck pizza in the food court and packaged meats being sliced thinly for hot pot usage, but bagels made from dough shipped from NYC are the most popular bakery item. How many bagels are sold each week? 54,000.
Photo from a random, nameless Japanese blog.
Life is good in the suburbs, especially if you’re privy to a Wegmans. Everything comes ready made for you…at a price, of course.
You don’t even need to chop your own onions anymore; guacamole is sold in snack packs.
Gravy comes in single serving cartons.
Hamburger patties are not only pre-formed into sliders, the meat is blended with bacon and cheddar.
They even have Sweethearts in Spanish. Como se dice “Tweet Me” en Español?
There have been times when I’ve found myself starving and lazy at 4pm, so lazy that I can’t muster the energy to explore further than the corner Duane Reade downstairs. It’s tough finding a quick snack that’s not sugary or carby, which will just make me more sluggish. Nuts or jerky are about all there is.
So, I was curious when I was offered a selection of Duane Reade’s new DR Delish line to try. (Full disclosure, thanks, FTC.) The slant is no trans-fats, artificial colors and the like. Unable to eat all the treats myself, I shared them with my office to gauge reactions.
One thing immediately became apparent, normal junk food-lovers were wary of items like cholesterol-free baked chips and multigrain snacks while the calorie-counters still steered clear of the cookies and brownie bites, trans-fat free or not. I ate one cookie and yes, they do have more chocolate chunks than your typical store brand. There was also a honey-sweetened green tea. I do appreciate the absence of corn syrup in my beverages but I’m a staunch black coffee and tea drinker.
What I hid in my desk drawers and purposefully neglected to share were the two bags of trail mix crunch, pistachio and blueberry pomegranate. I often keep nuts on hand for a healthy snack, and though these are lightly sweetened clusters, they use rice syrup and evaporated cane juice. I’m ok with that. At two for $5 I would buy these in an afternoon pinch. For me, these were the winner of the bunch.
Wow, I thought Brooklyn’s Ikea hosting Wednesday Rib Nights was radical. Leave it to Iberia to create innovative tapas for their Swedish retailers’ cafeterias. Madrid-based, Australian chef, Adam Melonas, has developed a set of six “Swedish Tapas” that began appearing in 13 Ikeas in Spain and Portugal last month. A new half-dozen are promised every three months.
The first batch includes bizarre hybrids like the Hotdog Croqueta, pictured above, that incorporates mustard, ketchup, onion, bun and frankfurter flavors into a fritter. Other bite-sized nibbles include Swedish meatball empanadas and a Rice Krispie-coated croquette of Iberico ham and prawn mousse.
Ok, this is it, no mas. I'm finally finished the with sporadic Madrid recapping. But I would feel empty inside if I didn't briefly mention my mall excursion. I always visit a mall when on vacation. Obviously, I only travel to big cities, but even Penang had one, which only surprised me a little since Asians have quite an affinity for mall culture. Only Mexico City posed problems with its Santa Fe mall hidden way on the outskirts, inaccessible by public transportation. (Not really surprising at all considering their seeming lack of a middle class. Maybe that's why NYC can't sustain a proper mall either, too-rich and too-poor all smooshed together.)
Madrid had more than one centro comercial to choose from; we picked La Vaguada because you can get there smoothly on the subway. I figured it would be a rinky-dink Manhattan Mall atrocity, but it was the real deal with an enormous supermarket, or rather a hipermercado, Alcampo, that was way larger than Fairway, and that was just the bottom floor. Upstairs, they sold washing machines, plus-size smocks, saws, and more relevant to my needs, a cheap corkscrew. I should know the answer to this since I cover retail topics at work (I’ll look into it tomorrow) but why do we not have grocery stores inside US malls? Here, I'd appreciate the convenience. In other countries, for the fun of experiencing packaged foreign food.
I feel self-conscious taking photos inside grocery stores, but do regret not capturing the entire towering aisle heaving with hoof-on whole jamon. Canned seafood is also allotted an unusually large proportion of shelf space.
The heart (or I guess if you were corny like me, you could say stomach) of any mall is its food court. I didn't know what to expect from a Spanish food court. And it wasn't really fast foody (no Cinnabon but a homegrown chain Canel Rolls with savory versions like cheese and bacon) but a level ringed by sit down restaurants and tapas bars (and a hair salon, movie theater and video store), almost exclusively Spanish in culinary style.
Bocatin is a taberna specializing in sandwiches, a.k.a. bocadillos. Way in the background is Gran Sol Marisqueria and Cervecería. I like that beer is prominently mentioned everywhere. Drinking in an American mall just seems weird.
The non-Iberian offerings included The Wok, Istanbul, L'Alsace and Cantina Mariachi. It was also hard to ignore the plywood covered a giant coming soon ad for Taco Bell, fittingly with a larger than life packet of mild salsa. The first public (naval bases don't count) Taco Bell in the country opened not so long ago in December. The chain has never been a success in Europe (or Mexico, duh) so I wonder how the Spanish will take to Crunchwraps.
We chose a random casual eatery, Cervecería Gambrinus, that I later saw all over the place. Their logo is a portly pageboy’d Falstaffian guy called Gambrinus. From what I could deduce the lore is German not Spanish. Maybe it’s like our use of Friar Tuck in association with drinking establishments.
I love gambas al ajillo, maybe even more so for the saucy remnants. I could just pour the shrimp, chile and garlic infused olive oil into and dish and eat it alone with crusty bread.
Ok, so we ordered chicken wings, a.k.a. alitas. You get what you deserve doing such a thing but we were curious. Pallid tomato sauce inevitably accompanies fried chicken parts in other places (marinara in Hua Hin). I realize putting blue cheese or ranch dressing on poultry is an American abomination.
Because I'm childish this café gave me pause. I thought a bit, and duh, it's a cute abbreviation of Vaguada Mall.
One of the cool things was that despite housing a clean modern supermarket (and a weirdo smallish storefront that only sold packaged frozen food—can you imagine an entire store devoted to Tombstone Pizza, Banquet Chicken and Hungry Man Dinners?), the shopping center also had a series of rows emulating traditional market stalls: seafood, produce, dried legumes and nuts, butchers, cheese and the like.
Just across the way, on the same floor, was a tattoo parlor. Not so traditional, I would say.
La Vaguada * Monforte de Lemos 36, Madrid, Spain
Despite just about everyone I know, professional and personally, living in Brooklyn, I never ever run into people I know while conducting routine business. Yet while spending an early Saturday evening at a supermarket 27 miles from home, I bump into friends next to the brussels sprouts bin. Ok, it wasn’t really that crazy since Sherri’s boyfriend lives right near the Wegmans in question, but it was still absurd.
I’ve only been twice so I’m still figuring out the lay of the land. The store is enormous and laid out nonsensically, if you ask me. However, I was proven wrong about the two unfindable items on my maiden visit. This time I stumbled upon the polenta, weirdly placed with organic produce (not that I’ll ever need it again since I rarely cook polenta). And Evan had a shot of corn tortillas on his phone, which I did double check on, though I know for a fact that they were missing from the refrigerated case last time.
But just to ensure at least one bugaboo, this time pine nuts were nowhere to be seen. Not even in the bulk section, where to their credit, I was able to buy 48-cents worth of currants. Thwarted by pignolis.
I’ve never been to a Sam’s Club, which I think is like a Wal-Mart owned Costco, right? But I still love the idea of Mas Club, a warehouse store devoted to products shipped from Mexico.
I don’t know how this will translate here since we’re more of a plantain than a tortilla city. They’ll probably only put them in Texas, Arizona and California. Ok, nevermind, we don’t have Sam’s Clubs in NYC anyway.
In New Jersey and the outer boroughs I’m accustomed to big Asian supermarkets but we don’t really Latino equivalents, at least that I’m aware of. That’s why I was so wowed by Mariana’s in Vegas a few years ago. That market is probably no big deal to West Coasters where freshly baked conchas and myriad types of tripe are easy to find.
I would like to pretend that I grew up eating wonderfully nuanced Mexican food, but the truth is that my family’s favorite venue was Taco Time. The regional chain was/is better than Taco Bell because they deep-fry their skinny burritos, which are like a cross between a chimichanga and a flauta and they serve Mexi-fries, glorified tater tots. I very rarely get homesick for the Northwest but I have fond Taco Time memories.