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Feb 22, 2002 11:46 AM

great groceries -- where do you go? I like Pemberton's

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I'm a new poster and I really enjoy this site!

As I was reading about the great Kimchi place in the posting about the Fresh Pond area, I was reminded how lucky I am to live in the Davis Square/Porter Square area. (Redbones, Gargoyles, Formaggios, Tu Y Yo, etc.) But I've never seen anyone mention Pemberton's Garden Market in Cambridge for groceries.

The store is on Mass Ave, between Porter Square and the Arlington town Line (an easy walk from the Davis Sq T). It used to be just for gardening supplies, but then they added a food area which is WONDERFUL. I no longer buy ANY produce at the regular grocery because I get it all at Pemberton's, where it is fresher, cheaper and with a great organic selection. They also have a beautiful deli and bakery area, great cheese, and overpriced packaged stuff (along the same line as Formaggio's). Their produce beats any other place I've been (including that place that draws huge crowds in Lexington, Wilson Farms). They sometimes have really unusual selections, like odd fruits and vegetables that they just happen to find. I love that. But most of all I love their prices.

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  1. Pemberton's is pretty overpriced in my book and often the produce sits so long it's wilted or flabby. I usually only buy produce on sale there. I agree though that it's a nice space with good selection. Their butter cookies at the bakery counter are particularly good.

    It's predictable and a big chain but the best organic produce nearby is usually at Bread and Circus in Alewife. The Harvest Coop in Central Square is good too. Wild Oats is overpriced. For basic commercial produce, try McKinnon's Meat Market in Davis Square. Their prices always beat Star Market, the staff are friendly, and your supporting a small, local business like Pemberton.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dinella

      It's true that sometimes Pemberton's lets their stuff get funny. Their displays are always lovely but since the stuff isn't refrigerated, it probably goes bad fast. However, I'm always pleased with the unusual stuff they stock, although it can be pretty random. Once they had this amazing baby bok choy and then another week these honey tangerines that melted in my mouth. I do like the local aspects of the place. I love supporting the co-op too, but gosh, everything there seems to be higher priced. I've never been in McKinnon's since I don't buy much meat -- I'll check it out.

    2. Russo's on River St. in Watertown is terrific also. Great quality and VARIETY -- fresh turmeric! exotic Asian and S.A. vegetables, fresh noodles, etc. Also quality breads and cheeses. They are wholesalers to restaurants in metro Boston and this is their only retail location. They also have cut flowers and some plants; perennials in the spring. They close at 6PM weekdays & Sat. and are only open until 2PM on Sunday, but are worth a visit. Prices are more than competitive with the supermarket sale prices, too.

      5 Replies
      1. re: ScratchBaker

        My map doesn't show a River Street in Watertown. What's it near?

        1. re: cjb

          it starts out as river street in waltham and becomes pleasant street in watertown -- same road though.

          1. re: lynn

            Sorry. I thought Pleasant St. became River at Bridge St. It's still worth finding!!

          2. re: cjb

            If you are in Watertown Sq., cross the Charles towards Galen St. (Watertown/Newton). Take your first right over the bridge (Rte 16), and then an immediate right fork (at a gas station) onto California St. In about a 1/2 mile you will be at a major intersection with a traffic light; take a right there onto Bridge St. (recrossing the Chas.) and your first left will be River St. Russo's is on the left in less than a mile.

            1. re: ScratchBaker

              Thank you!!!! Very clear directions. I'm looking forward to going.

        2. I am not a stickler for organic stuff, but I am for price and quality...both of which I can find at Haymarket every weekend (although I've seen organic foods too). Sure there are some bad produce on sale, but generally I get great stuff for cheap. I've learned to go back to some of the same vendors.
          While you're there, you can also get cheap seafood, fresh bread, cheese, and pizza.
          Examples: 4-5 golden delicious apples for a dollar
          5 red peppers for a dollar...

          7 Replies
          1. re: banana

            Haymarket is a public market of some sort, right? I know this sounds like a dumb question ,but is it anywhere near the Haymarket T-stop on the Green Line? Does it run all year round?

            1. re: Lindsay B.

              All year round, Fri. nite and all day Sat... Not native produce, but good deals...Go to Haymarket T-stop, and follow the crowds...Bring your back pack...If you have never been, keep an eagle eye, and watch EVERYTHING put into your bags..The lovely ,rubylike tomatoes that you see will not be the ones you get, unless you are vigilant and hard nosed..NO shrinking violets!! When they pull your produce from behind the counter, make sure you see it, or you'll be in for a nasty surprise when you get home. And don't be afraid to bargain, and walk away..Keep in mind that these vendors are buying discounted stuff at the produce market in Chelsea, after the big stores have bought theirs,so that even tho there are good deals, there's a LOT of rotten stuff...Consequently, the courageous are rewarded here!! You should defintely go, it's fun, it's an experience, the pizza is great, but you definitely have to put in the time, effort and ambition to reap the rewards!

              1. re: galleygirl

                I go to haymarket every week (I live in the North End). While I've grown to appreciate how ornery the sellers are, I've also learned not to tangle with them. With a lot of things you have to use them immediately or they go bad. One thing I do recommend is the salmon fillets. Always $2.50 a pound, and I've never had a bad piece. Sometimes when you bring it home you get that bad fishy smell, but it just ends up being the bag they put it in, take it out and the fish smells fresh. We have salmon enough for a couple nights of leftovers.

                1. re: jeremys

                  What happens if you do tangle with them?

                  1. re: Lindsay B.

                    They'll just snarl at you, the way any vendor would in any street market when you've caught them doing something they shouldn't, like putting rotten tomatoes in your bag...All bluster, but there is PRIDE to maintain..Keep in mind tho, that these guys have been doing business with ethnic grandmas of each ethnicity that's made Boston their first stop...They're pretty used to tough customers...Of course, I don't want to put you too much on the defensive, a smile always helps too! But it won't get you served when 5 ethnic grannies are trying to buy whole cartons of strawberries...
                    It's a street market like any street market, at least in any country other than ours....Not quite the same as the genteel growers markets we get run by the Mass.Growers Assoc, and not the same as leisurely choosing your produce at the supermarket...Shopping is a full-contact sport, that requires the engagement of all your senses!

                    1. re: galleygirl

                      I agree about the smile part. I don't go to Haymarket often, but last time there someone liked the fact that I approached them saying "how ya doin" instead of grabbing and grunting I guess. Tho there's nothing more disappointing then coming home with rotten peaches or whatever. Definitely check the merch as soon as they hand it over.

                      1. re: Joanie

                        While it has been years since I frequented the market, I always found that it was quite a simple proposition. About a fifth or quarter of what you bought would be less than desirable.

                        But you saved so much money, even if you grossed up your total amount by a fifth or quarter! That way, everyone still saves a lot, but everyone takes their share of the less desirable produce for their compost heap or pets....

                        I never once got a disproportionately large amount of bad produce; it was just enough to merely annoy but not to prevent a return visit.

                        Sounds like a prudent business practice for the rough street vendor trade....