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unexpected chow shopping in San Leandro

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I came home from a morning's shopping in San Leandro with a passel of unexpected food finds.

First, I didn't realize there's a small farmer's market in the parking lot at Bayfair (in the southeast corner beyond Macy's). Not a frou-frou organic market, but lots of sparkling fresh produce at good prices. There seemed to be strong representation of vendors from Half Moon Bay and Watsonville, and also my favorite Santa Maria strawberry vendors (who also do the Saturday market in Oakland). I bought three of the biggest, freshest artichokes I've ever seen for $1.50 each.

I managed to resist the no-name tamale vendor, but was seduced by the young man pushing samples at the Afghan food booth. Apparently these people are at many local farmer's markets, but I've never seen them. The spinach bolani he was sampling with various spreads was delicious. I bought a some and some of the sun-dried tomato hummus. Highly recommended! http://www.bolaniandsauce.com/index.htm

I also bought some baked goods from Alonso Bakery in Hayward. The pastries were only okay -- I'll report back on the pizza-like "focaccia" with artichokes and mozzarella.

Clare's Teacakes sells downhome-style baked goods, including bite-sized pecan and sweet potato pies and red velvet cakes in a small loaf shape. Dibrova sausage, the Filipino food people I've seen at Temescal, a kettle corn stand and Beckmann's bakery were the prepared food vendors I'd seen at other markets.Rworange, you'll be astounded to know that there was no Sukhi's stand! Basically, it's a nice little market that's worth a stop if you're in the area.

At the Bayfair Target I was checking out their higher-end chocolates and came across one I hadn't seen before: Frey's (from Switzerland), dark chocolate with lemon and black pepper. I couldn't taste much pepper, but it was one of the better lemon-chocolate combos I've had. They also have the Lindt 85 percent, as well as the 70 percent.

I went into the Big Lots in Greenhouse Marketplace for shower gel ($1.50 is the right price to pay for shower gel!) and took a pass through their food selection. I'm always on the lookout grapefruit marmalade and they had some pink grapefruit from Italy ($2.50). But the score was some Redisland Australian olive oil spray: 100 percent cold pressed extra virgin olive oil; unlike other aerosol olive oils, there's no soy lecithin, just olive oil and propellants. It has a much better olive oil flavor than my TJ's olive oil spray, and it was $2 for a 5.2 ounce can. More info: http://www.todaysgrocer.com/news_arti...

There's been a lot of discussion of wine bargains at Grocery Outlet -- anyone checked out the wine at Big Lots for hidden gems?

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  1. I'm shocked that Sukhi's wasn't there. Yeah, the Afghan guy is at Old Oakland and Montclair that I know of.

    Clair's is also at Old Oakland. Didn't get much response when I asked about Southern teacakes on the general board. Don't remember what I sampled at Clair's but it was pretty good.
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/334046

    Thanks for posting about the market. I like some of the no big deal markets. It sounds a little like the El Cerrito market which I like a lot (and they have THE best melon vendor) , but maybe bigger.

    Did you see wine at Big Lots? I just stepped into the worthless FoodMaxx near me for the first time since I've lived in the area. Big Lots is next door so I might check it out wine-wise. Didn’t realize they had food.

    10 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Yeah, the have wine at Big Lots, but I've never really taken the time to sift through it. Their food selection is pretty sad, and not always that well prices, but there are occasionally some gems -- usually specialty items that for one reason or another didn't catch on and the distributor is liquidating. They also have a lot of brands not usually seen in the local chains: small brands, regional brands, etc.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Went to the San Pablo Big Lots for the first and last time today. The wine selection there is probably like what you said about the food at the San Leandro store ...

        " pretty sad, and not always that well prices, but there are occasionally some gems "

        No gems today. Not even close and the prices just sucked. They had Crane Lake which I like alot, but it wasn't that big a bargain ... $3. I've bought it for that price on occasion at Berkely Bowl. There were other brands like Forestville, Lazy Lizard and Down Under. The food selection was pretty sad and again the prices weren't great. Some jars of peanut butter had lids that were open. Lots of the stuff looked real old or bottles were half-filled.

        I forgot about your finds, darn it. I did wind up with a bag of Jolly Time white popcorn for 50 cents. Hope it pops.

        So I figured I'd try the last store near me that I hadn't stepped into ... Smart & Final. This store was just insulting.

        It was a downscale Costco without the good prices ... all those huge industrial-sized cans. Some of the prices were more expensive that Raleys. They had half-gallons of Breyers Ice Cream for $6. I looked twice because I couldn't believe they were charging that much. They also sold ... I kid you not ... buckets ... yes, huge buckets of some sort of ice cream. I've never seen a container that big. You know the size of containers in ice cream shops ... twice as big ... and plastic.

        The wine was awful as well and again as expensive as regular markets. Man, I didn't even know Inglenook was still in business ... maybe that was the Final part.

        And it was one of those Nazi-run stores. Next to the security guard with a gun at the door, there were two signs stating they would prosecute people if they took the carts or bounced a check.

        It was no Grocery Outlet. Besides the really cool food and wine with amazing prices the Grocery Outlet in San Pablo treats the mainly poor people who shop there with respect ... like they are people. No guards. No signs. The clerks have been kind and patient and never condescending as people dug out their last pennies or had to de-ring some items due to lack of money. They are just nice. I was telling someone the other day that it's like the Nordstrom of bargain outlets.

        I am so NOT into bargain stores. I can barely tolerate Trader Joes. Yet for some reason Grocery Outlet rings my chow bells and I enjoy stopping by every week.

        You did inspire me to try some ruby red grapefruit marmelade when I saw it at Lola's ($9)
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39385...

        1. re: rworange

          Smart and Final has its points, but I agree that the vast majority of their stuff can be found elsewhere for equivalent prices. Less if you keep your eye out for sales at supermarkets and places like Target. If you want food service-type products for some reason, though, you can get them there without having to have a membership or deal with the lines at Costco.

          I'm bemused by your characterization of TJ's as a "discount" store. I've never thought of it that way, and I don't think it considers itself one. It's a specialty food store without the "gourmet" prices. I'm not disputing the fact that for whatever reason you don't like it, just that I don't think that "discount store" is an accurate description.

          1. re: rworange

            I've been to the Big Lots in Milpitas and Salinas. Pretty slim pickings in food and wine compared to the Grocery Outlet stores I've visited.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Yeah, as I said, I mostly go for shower gel, lotion, etc. And toilet bowl cleaner -- their "the works" is the best!

        2. re: rworange

          Yeah, Bolani (the Afghani food vendor) is also at the Saturday Oakland market (Grand Lake). I guess they're sort of the the Sukhi's of Afghani food, because they seem to be at every market I've been to lately.

          I like the spinach bolani too, and there's a garlicky minty soft cheese spread that's pretty good, especially with their sweet jalapeno jelly which is sweet but has a kick to it.

          1. re: chompy

            I've seen Bolani at Montclair and at Temescal. The difference is the actual guy handing out samples -- the guy I've seen at Montclair is awesome (bet it's the same guy, from Ruth's characterization above)

            To start with, he just seems like a nice guy. He just throws sample after sample at you, often with multiple components (bread and a couple of spreads, sold separately). The stuff is pretty good. He doesn't make people feel bad for trying something then not buying. Then he starts saying he'll give you a discount if you buy multiple things. I always end up buying more than I wanted to -- often $10-20 -- and I see others do it too. (And when I go by the same vendor's booth with a different person at Temescal, I hardly buy anything)

            Lots of vendors are stingy on samples or aren't aggressive about handing them out. But when I think about the ROI on this guy's samples, I'm really convinced that the guy at the Montclair market has it right...

            1. re: jmarek

              Yup, definitely the same guy. I was short on cash, or he might have gotten me to buy more! After I'd had several samples I was standing there trying to make my choice and he started feeding samples to another couple. When the guy turned him down, he just turned around and offered the piece he'd just assembled to me. More samples! Anyway, their stuff is $5 or two for $9 and he was offering me $4 each for anything after that. I think he was even giving some stuff away when they were getting ready to close down.

              Anyway, it's great convenience food: healthy and delicious. For lunch yesterday I stuck a piece of the spinach bolani in the toaster oven and it reheated really well.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Wow, he's everywhere! He is usually at the Saturday Oakland market as well, and I agree that he's really great with handing out the samples...and it works. I always end up buying stuff there once I get drawn in. He does seem like a genuinely nice guy.

          2. re: rworange

            The Afghan guy is at Marin also.

          3. A coworker of mine always buys wine at the San Leandro Big Lots and lets me know when he's found a gem. Last gem they had was a Zinfandel from Pietra Santa. I think he bought them out though.

            1. I was wrong -- there is a Sukhi's stall. I'm sure rworange will be relieved.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                It is officially a farmers market then.