Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In Praise of Wegman's

I'm one of those people who has long believed that a car is simply transportation, not an object upon which I must lavish attention and care. Over the years I've had gearhead friends (along with the father and brother of a longtime galpal) who simply couldn't understand this. I don't know what my car's horsepower is, how many spark plugs it holds, or how you go about changing the oil. I gladly pay for these services so that my car can get me from Point A to Point B and back. That's it.

I used to feel the same way about grocery stores but my wife changed all that. When we first started dating I had been happily, blissfully shopping at the same Acme store for several years. I didn't have my mother's patience to turn each shopping trip into a money-saving competition and if Acme was 20 cents per pound more expensive than whatever store sat across the street, then so be it.

I'm not sure how we ended up trying Genuardi's during one of her trips to see me, but it opened my eyes. They had nicer produce, the store was cleaner, and you could even swipe your own ATM and discount cards. Yes, I'd been wrestled from my familiar little coccoon, but I was okay.

Upon moving to the Baltimore area I latched on to SuperFresh as my store of choice. It was close to home, had wide, bright aisles and things like meat, produce and fish were relatively fresh and tasty. No complaints. Plus, they installed self-checkout aisles which -- in my mind -- are the second greatest grocery store invention of the last ten years. The first? Deli ordering kiosks. 'Nuff said.

A year or so ago SuperFresh began revamping their local stores. My little world was being rocked again. All of a sudden they were moving products around, adding a meat counter and olive bar, touting organic produce and handing out bread samples.

Naively I thought these were simply improvements to help make my experience better. And then I heard the whispers about something called Wegman's. The way people, including my wife, talked about it you'd have thought they invented the grocery store or perhaps food itself.

“It's just another grocery store,” I thought. “What's the big deal?”

When Wegman's opened in Hunt Valley a few months ago its arrival was met with rock star-like adulation from press and public. The Baltimore Sun published breathless articles about it while people actually camped outside to be among the first through its doors. Though outwardly sickened I was inwardly curious. Remembering the Acme/Genuardi's dust-up I realized that I would have to give it a try.

Admittedly, my first visit to the store was underwhelming. The layout seemed odd and confusing, the aisles were short, and I just didn't understand the fuss. “I'll stick with my SuperFresh” I sniffed.

A few weeks ago we went back again, taking more time to explore the aisles, examine the specialty items, and feast on the olive bar. While the olive bar at the SuperFresh seems like a crass afterthought crammed into an open space between the buffalo wing bar (I kid you not) and a cookbook spinner, the olive bar at Wegman's is nothing short of breathtaking. Especially for an olive lover with a hard-on for olives stuffed with cheese. (Pardon my french.)

You want olives stuffed with cheese? You got 'em. You want olives marinated in a hot chile sauce? Done. Hot peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone? Done. And that's about 1/20 of what the olive bar offers.

We've been going back on Friday nights lately, stopping in to make dinner selections so neither of us have to cook. Chris has embarked on a diet/nutrition plan which encourages lots of sushi so she's able to indulge in whatever types of rolls or nigiri she might have a hankering for. Me? I'm the ultimate comfort food fan so I've been giving Wegman's the ultimate test... trying out the dishes I've loved since I was a mini-Hungover Gourmet.

Week one was meatloaf and gravy with mashed potatoes and mac & cheese. Week two satisfied my craving for fried chicken with some homestyle macaroni salad like my mom used to make. Oh, yeah, and some mashed potatoes.

So far I haven't been let down. I cleaned my plate both meals and would have either take-out dish again. All they have to do now is install a deli counter ordering kiosk and I might have to seriously think about switching my allegiance completely.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Hip, hip, hooray for Wegman's!! I'm not sure how I ever survived without it. Our Ithaca Wegman's is the place to be for young and old. It's ALWAYS busy, which makes me wonder if anyone in Ithaca works or not. Thank God for the playroom where I can drop off the kids - then I can have a little "me time" perusing the aisles (especially the organic food and latest cook books). Welcome to food paradise! Glad you finally made it to the ultimate shopping experience . . . Wegman's!