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Whole Foods just opened here, what are your favorites?

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Lynne Hodgman Feb 5, 2002 12:03 AM

We went to the pre-opening of Whole Foods here in Kansas City and I was so excited to see many of the items mentioned on the boards here. Like the Muir Glen (or is it Glen Muir) tomato products, the Mexican chocolate for hot chocolate, etc.

The store had a major tasting party with a $10 donation (the so very reasonable Midwest!) to a food bank. We feasted on marinated asparagus, spring greens, smoked salmon, shrimp, several varieties of chicken sausage, some outstanding gouda/blue cheese, pate, a lovely brie with fig jam, some mediocre lemon bars, excellent olives, dolmades, roasted onion stuff...well, you get the idea. Sure didn't need to go out to dinner afterwards!

But I wondered what are the favorites of Chowhounds? For instance, is their 365 brand consistently good? I did like the lemon Italian soda, but not the orange. Wasn't impressed with the maple almonds (not crunchy enough) and thought the vegetable-product veal was really terrible. Wonder about the yoghurt. Wonder about the grains.

It seems a lot larger, cleaner, and more varied than Wild Oats (which wasn't convenient for me anyway). Any wild raves you have would be appreciated. And I was so dumb, I forgot to wear my chowhound T-shirt. Will do so next time!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. t
    Tom M. Feb 5, 2002 12:56 AM

    What I have always found so excellent at Whole Foods, having frequented a variety of locations, is 1) their meat counter and 2) their cheese, and 3) their produce. Never have had too much interest in their canned or packaged products.

    1. t
      ted Feb 5, 2002 07:59 AM

      Definitely the cheese. Also, all of the bulk food is a good thing b/c it's uncommon here in Atlanta. And my parents and I have a long-standing love for their peanut butter- I think it's genetic. Then there's the random-sized blocks of high end chocolate for cooking, the green olives with lemon that my wife and I put into gemelli w/ cauliflower. I've visited their salad bar a few times for lunch also. And, when they have it, the unbleached parchment paper is a good price, too.

      1. s
        Sarah C Feb 5, 2002 08:24 AM

        I like the house brand frozen edamame (soy beans in the pod). Practically the only source for them here in New Orleans, and reasonably priced. Everyone is right about the cheeses, and in our local store they have an olive bar with several varieties you can sample before you buy. Also a good source of basic King Arthur flours.

        1. r
          rjka Feb 5, 2002 08:41 AM

          In addition to Muir Glen, the Whole Foods in CT also carries an excellent line of imported organic Italian tomatoes called Bioitalia, which I think is better than Muir Glen. In general, Whole Foods products are very good, the only question is whether they are worth the very high prices and whether you can get it elsewhere at better prices, ie, Trader Joe's. My one really negative comment is that the store I go to has an awful fish department-selling old smelly fish-but I would suspect that this is a specific store issue.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rjka
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            LizzieSSSSSS Feb 6, 2002 08:21 AM

            Rjka--Are you referring to the WF in Greenwich? Funny, I always thought there was something fishy about that fish counter... (please pardon the pun). My husband thinks I'm crazy.

            I'm kinda mixed on the Whole Foods phenomenon. I've been to the Chelsea outpost, and was really impressed. They have an amazing selection of sauces, marinades, etc that I haven't seen the likes of anywhere else. They also have a fantastic salad bar, with tons of hot and cold selections, and great soups to go. The beer selection is great, too!

            Then there's the Greenwich WF: kind of a suburban sellout. The place is so packed they need a guy directing traffic sometimes! As someone else pointed out, they've raised the bar for the Food Emporium and the Stop & Shop, which is good. They have great mushrooms, and most of the produce is impressive--but I have never purchased garlic from them that didn't have those green shoots, which annoys me to no end. The bakery is dreadful. The cheese counter, on the other hand, is super. I like the butcher, though many cuts are way overpriced. They have some nice pre-marinated stuff for when you're in a hurry to eat. They're far from skilled, though--we asked one of the butchers to pound a chicken breast for paillard and when we got home discovered it was mutilated.

            1. re: LizzieSSSSSS
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              rjka Feb 6, 2002 09:44 AM

              Yes, it is the Greenwich one. I pretty much agree with you on all the points. On the bakery, I've found the breads OK but never tried the pastries/cakes. Meat is very good but expensive and agree on the cheeses. They've done a good job recently expanding their selection of chile peppers and mushrooms, but I only buy produce there that I can't get elsewhere cheaper. I had two bad experiences with the fish. First I bought some shrimp that after shelling was so limp that it was clear it had been sitting out a long time, then a few weeks later I bought some cod that when I got home had an overwhelming stench that I threw it out immediately (I should have returned it). I just think their fish does not look fresh- it looks dull and often the flakes are beginning to separate- and is out of character with the rest of the store.

          2. r
            Redbone Feb 5, 2002 09:03 AM

            Our Whole Foods in Charlottesville, VA has a gorgeous fish counter, very pricey but so far infallible. Bionaturae brand organic pasta is great, and sometimes on sale. Haven't tried it myself, but 365 brand olive oil got a good rating in Cook's Illustrated. I find that Whole Foods, while expensive, is not so bad if you stick to bulk (ours carries semolina and chickpea flour!) and organic produce. Regular produce is way overpriced.

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              pat i. Feb 5, 2002 11:03 AM

              We have one in south Jersey. To me, the store is a necessary evil - it's the only place in my area where that sells really good fish. Other than that I can't stand their politics and holier than thou attitude. I actually got a dressing down from some pasty faced, dread locked fishmonger because I asked for sea bass.

              Also, be careful not to trip over the shaman drumming circle in the produce area and knock over the display of Panda Puffs cereal.

              3 Replies
              1. re: pat i.
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                Brandon Nelson Feb 5, 2002 12:08 PM

                Concur!

                Lots of tude at Whole Foods. The local cheeky nickname for it in Marin County is "Whole Paycheck". I can't help but take notice when people that live it one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. grouse about prices. They do however have very nice pershiables.

                Chow!!!

                1. re: Brandon Nelson
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                  raj1 Feb 5, 2002 12:29 PM

                  In Boston we call Bread & Circus, which is owned by Whole Foods, Bleed & Suck Us.

                  1. re: Brandon Nelson
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                    louisa Feb 5, 2002 01:42 PM

                    i've got a love/hate relationship with my local whole foods - ack - beverly hills. while i do like the 365 brand and often it's the only place to find certain organic foods easily, i've found one too many sprouted garlic bulbs - green shoots sticking out of it! - and moldy apples to be completely happy with it, especially given their prices. and their meat? forget about it. it's like a frickin' rodeo drive jewelry case! and some problems there too - once, bad ground chicken and another time i asked them to cut up a whole chicken and it wasn't until i got home that i discovered that it looked like it had been through a woodchipper.

                    and thanksgiving is the funniest time. one particularly funny couple was talking about buying organic cranberries - it HAD to be organic for them - but then they decided not to because they thought it would be too hard to cook. hello?! boiling sugar and water?

                    like i said, love/hate. it serves a purpose but has become such a status thing in this - dare i say it - foodie culture.

                2. r
                  raj1 Feb 5, 2002 11:20 AM

                  I like the Tropical Source chocolate chips, especially the espresso roast variety (add them to your chocolate chip cookie dough along with a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon). The gingerbread cake from Dancing Deer is terrific too.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: raj1
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                    C. Fox Feb 5, 2002 02:20 PM

                    I'm gonna take this opportunity to rave about Dancing Deer. I'm lucky, their stuff is available in my local supermarket. Their Chocolate Tangerine cookies changed my whole outlook on life. Try the Sugar Cane Lime ones too. All of their products are made from high-quality, all-natural ingredients. Their Sweet Home Project sells cookies to benefit the homeless.

                    Here's a quote from their website:

                    "Dancing Deer has an intensely loyal customer following. It is a small company of people who are passionate about food, nature and aesthetics. Its management philosophy is that if people are happy it shows in the food. We are dedicated to maintaining the quality of products as well as the quality of life at Dancing Deer."

                    Sounds pretty chowhoundish to me. And it really does show up in the food.

                    Nope, I'm not associated with the company, just a rabid fan.

                    Link: http://www.dancingdeer.com/store/defa...

                    1. re: C. Fox
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                      rjka Feb 5, 2002 03:06 PM

                      I've tried the sugar lime cookies, and while they're fine, I find it hard to justify their high prices, $4-5 for I think 8 medium size cookies at my Whole Foods.

                      1. re: rjka
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                        C. Fox Feb 7, 2002 02:27 PM

                        I know, I know. But those Chocolate Tangerine ones are so sensational, I splurge every now & again. They're big enough so that I never want more than one at a time, so a package of eight can last me a week or two.

                  2. r
                    Renee Feb 5, 2002 12:03 PM

                    The 365 brand of Balsamic Vinegar won Cook's Illustrated blind taste test of Balsamics last year (up against some really famous, expensive brands).

                    I'm lucky. There is a Whole Foods within walking distance and with the exception of an occasional visit to Trader Joe's I don't shop anywhere else.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Renee
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                      Rubee Feb 5, 2002 12:32 PM

                      The 365 brand Extra Virgin olive oil is highly recommended also and much better than any of the supermarket brands....

                    2. k
                      Karl S. Feb 5, 2002 12:24 PM

                      I still miss the real Bread & Circus, the Boston-area original that WF gobbled up a few years ago. In the same way that Starbucks eventually killed off our beloved Coffee Connection except for leaving the name. Still, I shop regularly. Produce remains king, and they are dependable for odd items that would otherwise be harder to find (and definitely not under one roof), like the glass-jarred Spanish tuna, to cite but one example.

                      One result that I am happy about is that it seems to be driving up the quality in a couple of my local Stop & Shops, where sometimes I can find even better produce (and obviously cheaper) and other "fine" items than in WF; for now, competition seems to be improving quality. I now no longer need to go to WF every week; sometimes, once a month will do. WF should not dream of resting on its laurels; it's not Nirvana.

                      1. c
                        ChrisKC Feb 5, 2002 12:31 PM

                        I live in the Kansas City area also and didn't even hear of it. Where is the store located. Would love to check it out. Thanks, Chris

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ChrisKC
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                          Lynne Hodgman Feb 5, 2002 03:29 PM

                          Hi Chris,

                          The pre-opening was last night and the real opening is tomorrow morning at 8. The store is behind the defunct Glenview Theater (just west of Metcalf on 91st) and everyone was very pleasant and helpful. I will be there tomorrow or Thursday for sure!

                          1. re: Lynne Hodgman
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                            ChrisKC Feb 6, 2002 12:45 PM

                            Thanks Lynne,
                            I think I'll check it out this afternoon. How exciting!

                            1. re: ChrisKC
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                              Lynne Hodgman Feb 6, 2002 08:52 PM

                              What did you think??!!

                              I am going tomorrow to buy goodies for my book club dinner. We talk about food at least as much as we do books!

                        2. d
                          Daniel C Feb 5, 2002 12:45 PM

                          Here in Pasadena, CA, I shop Whole Foods for all the veggies I didn't pick up at the local farmers' market. My other favorite parts of the store are the bulk items, the butcher counter (definitely better selections and thicker cuts than my local mega-mart), and the deli counter (Cheeses! Parma and Serrano ham! Olives!).

                          Whole Foods also gets extra stars for the wider selection of eastern and middle eastern food items--so much more than the local mega-mart. It's a good alternative when I don't have time or inclination to go to a store catering to the specific culture. There's also the large selection of fruit drinks that come from brands other than Ocean Spray, not to mention the interesting selection of soft drinks. (Ginseng gingerale? I'll try it.)

                          Whole Foods' 365 line of products are generally pretty good. I know my cabinet has jars of their whole tomatoes (I prefer them over the ones in cans) and their balsamic vinegar.

                          Finally, the thing about the attitude in other Whole Foods must be a local thing. Everyone I've interacted with here (especially the butchers and the wine guy) are some of the friendliest and most helpful store staff I know.

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                            Millicent Feb 5, 2002 01:25 PM

                            Don't know how store-specific this is, but I love the storemade soups from the San Francisco store. They make a nice variety of meat/vegetarian with dairy/vegan soups that are great for those nights I can't face cooking. The spicy sweet potato and spinach-lentil are my favorites, but all have been very good.

                            On the other hand, the 365 brand of beans in glass jars (as opposed to cans) taste funny -- avoid them.

                            1. l
                              Lynne Hodgman Feb 5, 2002 03:36 PM

                              Thanks everyone for your helpful stuff on WF. Alas, no Trader Joe's here and the Wild Oats is where it seems a bit scruffy and attitudinous!

                              I will try the 365 balsamic vinegar and the olive oil. I know I will be buying their cheeses and some of the deli foods. The produce looked gorgeous but I can't see paying double for Fuji apples...

                              Now I too can experiment with canned/jarred tomatos!

                              1. s
                                SG Feb 5, 2002 03:47 PM

                                My staples are 365 spring water, excellent, beats "poland springs", deer park etc. Gerolsteiner water (not sure of spelling), cheeses, and also during winter fresh oysters in the seafood section.

                                Vegetables and fruits tend to be overpriced but I do spring for the occasional unusual item not found in regular supermarkets.

                                1. l
                                  LisaPizza Feb 5, 2002 04:15 PM

                                  Keep your eye on the cheese department. I know of a couple of Whole Foods stores in So Cal. that have no idea how to store or handle cheeses. Their cheeses are often overripe, moldy, and way past their prime. It helps if you know what a particular cheese is supposed to look like when it's at its peak.

                                  1. l
                                    Lindsay B. Feb 5, 2002 05:11 PM

                                    Good stuff from Whole Foods Boston (Westland St.):

                                    *Wasabi peas
                                    *Tamari Almonds
                                    *Fresh Olive Rolls
                                    *365 balsamic vinegar (rated highly by Cook's Illustrated, ahead of many expensive brands)
                                    *365 fresh orange juice is as good as Tropicana, and cheaper
                                    *Their cheese counter rocks hard for Jesus
                                    *Black and green olives from the deli section

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Lindsay B.
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                                      zora Feb 5, 2002 10:31 PM

                                      There are five Whole Foods stores within a five mile radius of my home (two are former Bread and Circus). I find that the selection and quality are not all the same. The two that were formerly B&C have better cheese, fish and bakery departments. I can get Maldon Sea Salt (British fleur de sel) at WF much cheaper than at Dean and Deluca, ditto Lyon's Golden syrup. They carry Patak's Indian sauces, chutneys and pickles. Also, no one has mentioned bulk spices and dried herbs. In the winter, when there is no farmers' market, I buy organic free range eggs at WF. I used to get yogurt there, but now I buy that at Trader Joe, along with most other dairy products. WFs have a fairly good selection of beer, and have occasional good sale prices.

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