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Products from Specialty/Fancy/Health food Stores that are Worth every Penny?

So I walk into a Fresh Market (the highest priced store, yet very good quality, in the area) everything is gorgeous, if money was no object I float around the store filling my cart with a rainbow assortment of everything; I would only shop here and buy whatever I felt like at the moment. But alas money is an object and my eyes bulge at the prices that I am just not accustomed to paying. I can't stop my penny pinching brain, "Sure this looks interesting, but is it worth 16.99 a lb. If I get only two how much of a lb would it be, I wonder how much this bag weighs"... my cart is empty. So I turn the question on to you, the more adventurous spenders what is really worth the the price tag, what can you just not live without? What items do you wish you could turn the jar inside out and lick the little bits left at the bottom? In what ways do you use these items?

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  1. Old Chatham sheeps milk yogurt -- $2.69 for (i think) 6 oz, but amazing!

    cheeses -- nothing like what you get in a grocery store

    if your place has good fresh granola, or hand cut smoked fish, that's worth it.

    Also boquerones (sp?) = white anchovies, often $20+ a lb and absolutely delicious.

    High quality chocolate bars, another worthy splurge! If you want flavored chocolate dagoba has some nice ones (i'm enjoying one with raspeberries and rosehips today)

    Dry scallops (not in the preservative goop like in the grocery store) -- so different!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Produce Addict

      grind-your-own peanut and almond butter. the difference is huuuuge (especially because you can add your own degree of salt and honey)

    2. I see cheese is mentioned already.

      I'll add bread. You can't beat a great bakery for bread.
      Sausages.
      Smoked meats (Bacon, sausages, hocks, etc.)

      DT

      1. Loose leaf teas
        NOT the coffees usually, since they mostly sit in large bins... no way it stays fresh

        1. Fage 0% yogurt
          artisanal bread
          organic sprouts (esp. sunflower sprouts)

          1. Thanks for the imput! I have always been able to splurge on some cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano because it lasts so long and is so flavorful you don't need to use a lot with each dish. Though I have tended to stick with the sale cheeses outside of the ones I know, which I am probably missing some of the best that way
            .
            Hmmm never tried white anchovies I have recently started putting regular anchovies in tomato pasta dishes how do you use the white ones?

            Dried scallops - I have had those in chinese dishes at restaurants, what do you do with them from the grocery store?

            Will have to try some of these yogurts, haven't had anything more fancy than Stoneybrook Farms...so I might be in for a treat, do you usually stick with plain or vanilla and put in your own fruit?

            5 Replies
            1. re: VBeatso

              White anchovies are delicious eaten by themselves, unlike the tinned ones which are way too salty on their own. If you've had Saba (mackerel) sushi, it tastes a little bit like that: vinegary with a nice briny note.

              1. re: VBeatso

                I think Trader Joes has Parmigiano Reggiano... some very good flaked parmesan in a tub, not terribly pricey.

                1. re: VBeatso

                  Depending on what cheeses are on sale, it can be a great way to learn about new cheeses. Just go with the most off beat one that's on sale. Try not to repeat and before long, you've tried a whole whack of different ones.
                  Oh yea, and remember to make note of which ones were the best.

                  DT

                  1. re: Davwud

                    As a cautionary note, I've had problems sometimes with cheeses that are on sale - even at reputable cheesemongers - often they are cheeses that are at or past their prime. I realize that otherwise reputable stores shouldn't do this, but sadly I've had this experience. So I'd make sure you taste the piece of cheese before buying it.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Good note -- I would also note that I would never buy cheese from a place that won't give me a taste. Don't know how Fresh Market works (again, I live in NYC, so I'm rather spoiled), but if I go to a cheesemonger here and they won't let me taste, I go elsewhere (but I always buy -- I'm not one of those sample people who don't buy anything).

                      Another note on cheese (I seem to be full of notes today): don't feel that you have to get only smelly or weird cheeses. A raw-milk manchego or a raw-milk camembert is a thing of beauty, if you haven't tried those. Everyone likes manchego, so that might be a nice place for you to start, just get the best one that you can.

                      And of course, if you find yourself really liking it, there are several great sources on the web for you to order from, and I know Murray's in NYC will ship for, I think, a $25 minimum.

                  1. re: Jimmy Buffet

                    Persimmons and dried persimmons.

                    My favorite cereal from Dixie Diner (Maple Smaps)

                  2. Lots of these stores have the freshly-made ravioli, which I love. Rainbow in San Francisco has excellent (and not that $$) ones, as do many fancy food stores.

                    1. Hard to find Spanish or Moroccan olive oils for salads and finishing dishes. Good fish, well handled (but I live in the Midwest, whereas people on the coasts don't have to pay more for freshness.) I also find a difference in the taste of parmigiano reggiano from Dean and Deluca, even in comparison to Whole Foods', both of whom cut from the wheel. D&D's is creamier and more delicate, somehow, which makes it worth the extra $5/lb. for some uses. Oh, and candy like licorice if often much fresher in gourmet groceries.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: amyzan

                        I've found Mustapha's Moroccan Olive Oil at Cost Plus World Market - in the neighborhood of $10ish maybe?

                        1. re: Cinnamon

                          I'll third the cheese and bread recommendations, with the following reminders:

                          1) You don't need a big hunk of cheese when you're eating better cheeses. A small amount of the good stuff will do, as you tend to taste it in smaller pieces and a little goes a long way. Don't forget, you can also use it in salads, or just have a piece for lunch, or dinner, with a glass of wine and your good bread.

                          2) Since I'm single, I can't possibly go through an entire loaf of the good stuff, but I have found, per the instructions at Amysbread.com, that you can freeze and refresh bread, which I've taken to doing with fine results.

                          And if you're going to branch out on the cheese front, don't forget to try some new breads too. I love most cheese with some sort of raisin/nut loaf, and if you can get Amy's, the fennel/golden raisin is to die for.

                          Oh, in a completely different vein: a good balsamic is also worth the money. I don't buy the most expensive, but I've very much enjoyed cooking with my good balsamic, and it's the same thing as the cheese: you use it sparingly, so the bottle goes a long way.

                          And now in a comPLETEly different vein, I've started paying more for eggs that aren't raised in cages, and for humanely raised meats when they are available (which is all the time here in Brooklyn). It may cost me more, but since I'm going to continue to eat eggs and meat, at least I can feel a little bit better knowing the animals aren't factory farmed under awful conditions.

                          1. re: Cinnamon

                            I haven't seen that one, but I don't know of a Cost Plus anywhere near either. The Moroccan olive oil I buy is Moulins d'Mahjoub, which might actually be Tunisian now that I think about it. It's quite expensive, $25 for a 350 ml bottle, but it's sooo good.

                        2. Great spices, from Penzeys http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzey... or from The Spice House http://www.thespicehouse.com/info/eva... You can buy in small quantities, and the products are always fresh, which makes a huge difference when cooking. I also buy really good quality chocolate for baking.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: lulubelle

                            I second the fresh spices thing. Completely worth it for Saigon cinnamon from most anywhere. I even bought a big container at Costco, of all places, and I adore its soft rich flavor. Very different from the Cassia cinnamon that you find in your local store.
                            However, in SF there is a place called SF Herb Co. that will sell big bags of whole spices at a fraction of the grocery small bottle price. I think they do a big mail-order business too.
                            Actually, toast and grind any spice yourself, and you'll really enjoy the difference. Tends to be cheaper, lasts longer, and the aroma is fantastic. If you must get pre-ground at the grocer's, get the smallest tub. Toast that as you need it, and you'll still get some benefit. Fresh oils/aromatics in spices are really helpful when you want to eat on the cheap and still feel like you are having a quality meal.

                          2. Wow I really envy you all living in NY or San Fran or other really big cities. I used to live in Toronto and was incredibly spoiled with my own spice shop, cheese shop, butcher shop, fruit and veggie shops and they were all pretty close by, had high turnover/good quality and I was able to stretch $$ so far this way. I could get just what I needed and rarely even went to a regular grocery store, it was amazing. Having that experience has really soured my feelings about what is available in smaller communities and pricing, I probably spend more than triple what I used to on food, which is far less quality, and being forced to buy in bulk there is more waste. I haven't found a cheese or spice shop here, there is a few butcher shops really spread out with low turnover. I was actually trying to find some of the type of popcorn my family grew when I was a kid by going to all the specialty/fancy/health food stores, and not even the Fresh Market had non-microwave popcorn possibilities. Now I will have to order it online where the shipping cost is as much as the product. The Fresh Market the cheese is pre-cut so I would have to buy a big hunk, I don't think you can do samples. My area isn't even that small so I guess I should really feel bad for the ppl living in even smaller communities, I am lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's an hour away.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: VBeatso

                              Should've moved to Ottawa instead. I came from culinary wasteland to culinary paradise. I don't know what I'll do with out my cheese shops and the like when I have to move.

                              By the way. I splurge on French mustard with crushed chardonnay grapes and violets in it. So good in dressings and on a procuitto and basil sanwich.