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The depressing decline of Balducci's

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Tom Steele Feb 13, 2001 01:54 PM

Call it denial, but I refused to believe all the bad stuff I'd heard about Balducci's (the Sixth Avenue @ 9th St. edition), which began several months ago in the NY TIMES.

I was quite a frequent visitor to the store over the years, but for the last three months, I hadn't been, mostly because the new Garden of Eden on 14th just east of Fifth more than met my Balducci needs, and it's far more conveniently located (I live a few blocks south of Union Square).

Welp, today I tooled over to Balducci's to get some fresh foie gras for my honey and I to devour on Valentine's Day. It was a heartbreaking experience. Something depressing has taken hold of the atmosphere. There's a dingy affect, customers look anxious and demoralized, the "salumneria" now resembles a Food Emporium deli counter (ugh), and a lot of the cheese is pre-cut and wrapped in plastic. Worse, the entire seafood area on the north side of the store really smelled bad, which means only one thing: They're getting very sloppy. The breads looked okay. The vegetables: C+. Fruits: B+. The only area that seemed unaffected (thank God) is the butcher corner.

Those of us who have watched food purveyors decline well know what a slippery slope down it is. R.I.P., Balducci's. . . .

Right afterward, I zipped over to Eden, where the precise opposite prevailed. There are only two problems: It's actually overstaffed--you constantly have to move out of the way of people stocking shelves. And it's occasionally overpriced. But that doesn't stop decidedly yuppie throngs from clogging the place. No matter: It's a great store. It reminds me of the OLD Balducci's of, say 20 years ago.

By the by, if you visit Eden and are cheesing it, ask for Hassad. He's a real prince and knows his cheese!

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    yvonne johnson RE: Tom Steele Feb 13, 2001 04:39 PM

    i've lived in the village going on 13 years, and in my view the store has been sloppy for a long time. i've returned mussels, salmon, fruit, milk, all of which were rotten/spoiled. I eventually gave up going there. The service wasn't great; the staff sometimes gave the impression that customers were an interference! I see the Balducci cafe has shut down, the store looks barely stocked and I read last week that the store's Web site is inactive. As you say there are much better places to go.

    8 Replies
    1. re: yvonne johnson
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      Bob W. RE: yvonne johnson Feb 13, 2001 09:25 PM

      Hasn't Balducci's been taken over by Sutton Place Gourmet from DC? Sutton Place carries Balducci products now.

      I've never been to Balducci's, and these posts are depressing. You just expect some places to never change.

      1. re: Bob W.
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        Alexandra Eisler RE: Bob W. Feb 14, 2001 02:17 PM

        Yes, Sutton Place bought them out in June 1999.

        Gourmet News had an article in the January publication on the new management team and it looks like they may be expanding to new areas under the Balducci's banner...

        1. re: Alexandra Eisler
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          Bill RE: Alexandra Eisler Feb 14, 2001 11:37 PM

          Here's my experience at Balducci's on the UWS: When I asked the cheese man for aged, imported Asiago. The guy pointed to a piece of cheese in the display case and let out what sounded like a grunt. When I saw that it was fresh, domestic Asiago I continued to look. He did'nt like that and started yelling that I was not complying with his instuctions. A great way to build up good will!

          1. re: Bill
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            Robert Sietsema RE: Bill Feb 15, 2001 10:37 AM

            I've been a frequent Balducci's shopper for ten years, and it's been fireballing downward ever since Sutton Place "Gourmet" (screw 'em!) took over. Sure, there were always bad parts of the store--Mama Balducci's carryout section, for example, and an understocked cheese section--but the butcher shop was top rate, the produce fresh, and the bread counter a thing of beauty. The first thing Sutton does is replaces the stunning variety of good fresh breads with lots of stuff made in their own bakery--stuff that keeps for days and tastes like cotton. Then they fired most of the experienced butchers, and the new young ones are unknowledgable, and insolent about it! Just try to get them to cut up a chicken without ripping the skin off--when you ask nicely they look at you like you've asked them to stand on their heads and sing "Volare". Sutton has even hiked already-outrageous prices (a half-pint of blueberries was $4.99 one day--same half-pint selling on the street for $1.49, same Chilean brand exactly--the next d

            1. re: Robert Sietsema
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              kathryn RE: Robert Sietsema Feb 15, 2001 06:25 PM

              Lou is the only good butcher left there. I always ask for him if he's not up front. He's accomodating, and knows what he's doing.

              1. re: kathryn
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                Amy B RE: kathryn Feb 19, 2001 04:39 PM

                I live in the neighboorhood and do a lot of cooking. I buy all my meat at Ottomanelli's on Bleeker and am very fond of the staff there esp. Frank. Balducci's has gone the way of many other NY institutions, and it is hard to let go of it. I especially mourn the death of the bread counter and the cheese counter, and I am not a big fan of Ecce Panis. I shop (not all on the same day) at a combination of the Portugese fruit stand on Bleeker, Murray's, Gourmet Garage (carries Sullivan St. bread), and Chelsea Market (esp Amy's and the Fish market)and Jefferson Market (mostly when I want to get everything in one place). Am going to give Whole Foods a chance....

                1. re: Amy B
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                  Tom Steele RE: Amy B Feb 20, 2001 02:29 PM

                  Yeah, Ecce Panis has slid ever since the Santo family sold it. It used to provide the best bread in New York, IMHO. No longer. Give me Sullivan Street Bakery. Yesterday, I chopped up a stale loaf and fed it to my food processor to make breadcrumbs, and even THEY were succulent! (I keep a ziplock bag of crumbs in my freezer.)

                  It IS hard to let go of Balducci's--I have so many, many fond memories going back over two decades. Shopping for special-occasion meals, chatting with the long-gone butcher, just looking at all that beautiful food. Now it's just dingy. So depressing.

      2. re: yvonne johnson
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        Pat P RE: yvonne johnson Feb 15, 2001 11:07 AM

        They have also discontinued their catalogue and have closed/are closing down their commissary kitchen in Long Island City.

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        dan RE: Tom Steele Feb 13, 2001 05:15 PM

        I don't even think the butcher is any good any more.

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          Brad K. RE: Tom Steele Feb 14, 2001 02:19 PM

          If you want to experience true Balducci's depression, venture to the new one on the UWS. A glorified Food Emporium, at best. (I asked for foie gras and they tried to give me duck liver mousse, and also asked for a nice piece of strong, smelly French/Swiss muenster cheese and they thought I meant the processed American kind!)

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