Friday, February 01, 2008

A Tale of Three Supermarkets

People like to mock Whole Foods by calling it “Whole Paycheck”, etc., but the truth is you really do get what you pay for. This was perfectly illustrated by my efforts last night to acquire a few vital supplies for my Super Bowl party. Specifically what I needed was a large number of wingettes and drumettes for Buffalo Wings and fresh ingredients for my homemade salsa – scallions, cilantro, jalapeño peppers and habanero peppers.

I figured I could get what I needed from this fairly simple shopping list at the downtown Silver Spring Giant Food. Wrong. I went to the vegetable section and while they technically had what I was looking for, the produce wasn’t exactly fresh looking. The cilantro bushel looked crushed and the leaves were already well on their way to turning brown. I wasn’t sure if they could make it until Saturday, when I’d make the salsa. The jalapeños didn’t look quite right – the best way to describe them would be “scuffed”. The scallions also had a slightly brown tint to them. I bagged them anyway, figuring they’d do. So then I go to pick up my wings. When I got to the chicken section I just stood and stared at it for a good minute. On the week before the Super Bowl, they didn’t have a single wing in stock? I wasn’t sure if they even carried them until I uncovered the single package of drumettes buried in the back of the case. I asked the meats guy if they had any more and I just got a “no, sir.” You have to understand that my frustration was compounded by the fact that I had been at the Old Georgetown/Democracy Blvd. Giant during my lunch break and saw that they had dozens of packets of wings. I decided to wait, knowing I’d be going to the S.S. Giant that evening, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I bet they don’t even have them there.” (Note that this other Giant is a lot smaller than the one in Silver Spring.)

After realizing that I wasn’t going to get my wings, I looked in my cart at the pathetic produce and realized I really didn’t want to serve that crap to my guests. I turned to my wife and she was thinking the same thing – Whole Foods. I wasn’t sure if Whole Foods even carried wingettes or drumettes, so I thought I may have to check at the Thayer Avenue Safeway first. So I did, and they had plenty of wingettes - but no drumettes. I highly favor drumsticks myself, so that wasn’t going to cut it.

So on to Whole Foods. All the produce I required was perfectly clean and fresh-looking, having been regularly showered in that pleasant cool mist they have. The jalapeños were a nice dark and consistent green color and the cilantro didn’t look like something that had been sitting in a compost bin for a week. On top of that, they not only had wingettes and drumettes, but offered them together in an extra large family package. I shouldn’t have been a cheapass (and so scared of the parking lot) and just gone to Whole Foods in the first place. I really understand why it is so popular when I consider the nearby alternatives.

It’s too bad that our opportunity to add Harris Teeter to the mix was scuttled. Maybe that would have put some pressure on Giant to step it up a bit. (The Safeway is already a lost cause.)



18 comments:

Thayer Ave., too said...

I can't tell you how many times I've bought produce from Giant that seemed reasonably fresh (when I could find it), only to pull it out of my fridge the next day and find that it had pretty much liquefied overnight. And it's not just the SS Giant-- I've had it happen at other stores as well. Must be something in their distribution system.

The Giant in downtown SS often smells like rotten produce (it's frequently a Safeway-level stink!), and their fish section smells way fishier than a department selling really fresh fish ought to. The produce quality at the Wheaton Giant (near the Wheaton Mall) is somewhat better, so I often make the drive up there when I can't face the crappy produce, long lines, and insane parking lot in SS. Sunday evenings are the WORST!

However, I will say this: the SS Giant plays pretty good music. Last week they were rockin' some great 70's and 80's punk-pop tunes. My daughter and I were bopping along the aisles to "I Wanna Be Sedated." Made the checkout lines marginally more bearable.

Thien-Kim aka Kim said...

If you want good produce, try out Han Ah Reum http://www.hmart.com/ on Georgia Ave in Wheaton (near Randolph Rd). They don't have a lot of organic options but the produce is usually fresh and cheap. Just watch out for the crazy drivers and the women who push you aside to get to the produce. (It's not just Asian people guilty of this)

Megan Farrington said...

This is only sort of related to supermarkets, but when I was in Quarry House last night we heard that Jackie is opening up a store in the same building as Jackie's, that's going to sell beer, wine, chocolate, cheese, etc. But I didn't hear what the timetable is -- do you know anything?

Springvale Roader said...

It's true, Whole Foods has the best produce around. Even Trader Joe's pales in comparison to WH.

WH produce is more expensive (though worth it), but they always have something on sale, or even, as with apples, a type of apple on sale, so you need not spend your entire paycheck in there. Why, there have been times when I've shopped carefully and walked out with a least 25 percent of my paycheck still in my pocket.

However, for "ethnic" stuff, places like the Thai market on Bonifant (or is it Thayer) still can't be beat, and the Pan Am supermarket off University Blvd. is the place to go for much lower cost latin ingredients, like dried chile peppers and jicama. I'm going to try out that Han Ah Reum -- thanks, lady with the long name!

b said...

Megan, About the market opening in Jackie's building. The person to ask is Gordon, the bar manager at the Quarry House. He was tending bar last night (Thursday), and he seems to think he will get it open before the summer.

silver spring penguin said...

H-MART RULES!

Gary H said...

Uh, Sniders?

Thayer Avenue said...

Mmmm... wings.

I will say that another way to get fantastic produce is Peapod. Say what you will about the Giant stores, but we've ordered Peapod many times, and it's as if they pluck all the best stuff from the warehouse before it has to take the trek to the stores (which, I'm sure, is the case).

Next time you have the need for it, the advance time to order, and have a coupon (readily available for reduced delivery fees), I highly recommend it.

Woodside Park Bob said...

Be sure to watch the expiration dates on meat and eggs at the downtown Silver Spring Safeway. We've seen very very expired packages still on the shelves. The Safeway at Four Corners is much better about getting expired products off the shelves.

Nas said...

I don't think you were being cheap. I think you chose to shop like an average American at their local supermarket for that oh-so-American day. The one gathering where we shun salmon mousse stuffed cherry tomatoes and proscuitto wrapped asparagus for the chip and wing. Who knew Giant would fail to deliver for this...sham on them!

By the way, I picked a free mag called Edible Chesapeake at Whole Foods last time I was there. It's all about local sustainable agriculture and organic farming. It also had info on subscribing to a CSA (community sustained agriculture) where you pay a sum directly to a farm and get a weekly delivery to a local pickup point.

One such CSA was called Fresh & Local CSA out of WV. One of their box pickup points is in Silver Spring (it said off 29). Has anyone utilized them? If so, how was the produce/service, etc. Remember this is different from other produce delivery b/c you are subscribing directly to the farmer.

Nas said...

Han Ah Reum is about as exotic produce-wise as you can find in the area. Took a food history class at UMCP and one of our assignments was to go there and browse the produce.

Anonymous said...

The drummies/wings from WF are excellent, we make them all the time. One note, when you see the sticker on the chicken in WF that is blue and says "air chilled", that is Bell & Evans chicken repackaged for WF. B&E chicken is simply the best IMHO. The red stickered chicken is WF chicken, not sure where it comes from...so always go blue.

Springvale Roader said...

Nas,

I just came back from HMart, and while it does have a huge array of Asian food, you'll find even more exotic stuff at the Thai Mart on Bonifant (or is it Thayer?). Not that I eat them, but I haven't seen any other place that stocks frozen imported waterbugs.

b said...

The Thai Mart, is on Thayer, and is great for those who aren't afraid to explore beyond typical western fare. While Whole Foods is my main market, the Thai market has much better prices for Asian fare. They have some really freaky stuff in their freezer that is great if you have the balls to fix & eat it.

Anonymous said...

It is astonishing that Giant continues to have so little real competition as a mainstream food store. Much as I love Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, I can't get everything I want there. But I have vowed to NEVER again shop at the downtown SS Giant for all the reasons mentioned here, as well as nasty, incompetent clerks, the lack of shopping carts, and poorly stocked shelves. I think they figure all of us in Silver Spring are poor and stupid and won't notice.

Carl said...

As I understand matters, Giant is going to upscale all their stores to compete with WF. I mentioned this to the manager last week and she confirmed the change. When I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Sniders? LOUSY produce, okay deli, FAST checkouts, which is great on the weekends compared to any other "mainstream" grocery store.

The takoma park/SILVER SPRING Food Coop on Grubb Road is not a bad little store, especially given how small it is. Parking is a breeze there!

Anonymous said...

I honestly hate to say this, but feel it to be true... The SS Giant on Arliss Rd & Flower Ave is a crap store that seems to cater only to the low income immigrants by Long Branch and University Blvd/Piney Branch. If you want quality food, then don't look for it in that store. That Giant just doesn't care. I live around the corner, and yet treck all the way down Piney Branch to the Safeway by Piney Branch and Georgia Ave. That Safeway is always in good shape. As well, I find that the clerks at Safeway ALWAYS treat me with the best customer service, ALWAYS. The employees at Giant just don't care.