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Mar 8, 2008 04:23 PM

Specialty Produce (San Diego)

A buddy of mine has been telling me about this place for a while now, so I finally met up with him and his wife to check it out. It's a large warehouse operation, supplying local restaurants with produce and other foods, but is also open to the public. Prices were marginally better than I've gotten in stores, for example 2 quarts of Juice Evolution tangerine juice was $10, which is about $4-6 in savings over a place like Whole Foods.

The interesting thing to me, though, was the huge selection of produce, including many items I've rarely seen elsewhere. I took some pics, but unfortunately not many of them came out well. Some of the things I tried to shoot, unsuccessfully, were the incredible number of micro greens they had. Celery, basil, broccoli, shiso, corn, etc. They weren't cheap: my compatriot bought a couple of containers, only to find they were $16 apiece, but if you're a fan of these the selection was impressive.

They also had lots of cheese, including boxed whole wheels of Humboldt Fog, manchego, cotija, plus the standard commodity bricks of muenster, smoked gouda, etc.

If you need food coloring-enhanced tortillas to make chips, they also had these.

Not too much in the way of organics on hand, however.

They also have a lot of dried goods, including numerous dried chiles, beans, pastas, grains, as well as exotic items like black truffles, both whole, and in shavings.

The best part for me, though, was the walk-in freezer which had a whole wall of gelato from Gelato Vero, with many flavors I've never seen from them. Mascarpone, vanilla marshmallow, creme fraiche with blueberry, maple walnut, and saffron were some of what were on hand. The price wasn't too out of control, $36/1.5 gallons. Seems like it'd be great for a party.

This is definitely a place worth checking out, if for nothing else than to walk around and see where your restaurants do some of their shopping.

Pix (the few that came out):

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  1. Is everything essentially bulk?

    I asked this on another thread but was unable to receive a definitive answer: where do you enter Specialty Produce? Is it from where the loading docks are? Is there another door where you enter?

    7 Replies
    1. re: DougOLis

      No, not everything is bulk, but some things are. Cheese, gelato, dry goods - essentially anything that's pre-packaged is bulk purchase only. Produce is not. The produce boxes are open, and if not you're free to open them.

      To get in, you walk to the end of the street it's on that intersects Hancock, and turn right at the chain link fence. You'll see a sign at the end of the walkway guiding you in. It's to the right of the loading docks (when you're facing the loading docks).

      1. re: Josh

        Gelato in bulk? From Gelato Vero? I'll be there with a spoon.

        Thanks for the rec, Josh!

        One note on microgreens... did you happen to see Japanese parsley (I think that's what it's called)? It's one of those "hot" garnishes nowadays. It's a two-leaf sprout that's tiny, but packs a lot of flavor.

        1. re: geekyfoodie

          Sounds like you're describing what's known as kaiware, which essentially are daikon sprouts. They sport two bright green leaves on top of a long pale stem, with a prickly heat hidden behind a moist, vegetal skin. Best when used sparingly over a contrasting color or floated on top of a soup, it has an almost architectural look to it and can bring subtle textural interest to a dish.

          Specialty Produce does carry it, though I doubt there'd be any advantage of getting it there since kaiware are readily available in the Asian markets. OTOH maybe it's just a clever excuse to go visit the place! :-)

          1. re: cgfan

            Cgfan, it's a good thing that you included a picture, otherwise I would say your description was spot-on! It's not the daikon sprouts... imagine tapered leaves instead of rounded leaves. Two little tapered leaves coming out of a pale stem. How long, I'm not sure, as they're always trimmed short.

            I believe I've been tasting the baby sprout of mitsuba. What do you think?

            1. re: geekyfoodie

              Very possible, but if so it should have had 3 leaves. (Mitsuba literally means three leaves... 三つ葉 = "三つ - mittsu - three" + "葉 - Ba/Ha[ppa] - leaf) It's also available in the Japanese markets, though what's in market are "full sized" and not sprouts.

              1. re: cgfan

                Hm... then it probably had 3 leaves then. I'm more certain about the shape of the leaf than I am about the number. If mitsuba is also readily available, then it's taste-test time! I've had kaiware a number of times, but they'd be an interesting side-by-side comparison.

      2. re: DougOLis

        Doug, there isn't really another door for shoppers. There is a garage door on Noelle street where you can enter the facility, but if you use that door, you have to pass through the refrigerator to sign in and pay.

      3. Sounds interesting, I'll have to check it out - sounds like it would be a good place to shop for a big party or dinner event.

        1. Do they have a lot of fresh and more unusual herbs. I am still looking for places where it is possible to get for example chervil (I see it very rarely at WF), ramson, savory

          3 Replies
          1. re: honkman

            I don't precisely recall seeing any of those herbs, but they did have things like shiso. I think their website has a listing of what they offer.

            1. re: honkman

              Check the link Josh posted above, their entire inventory is on-line. Because produce is seasonal they may not have absolutely everything everyday. They probably do have chervil and savory on a pretty regular basis. Ramson I'd doubt. This is a commercial operation selling to the trade, if it's being used in by SD restos, they've probably got it somewhere on the premises. Call ahead and if they don't have it, find out how if they can get it and how much you'd have to buy.

              1. re: honkman

                Chino Farms just recently had chervil. I'm not sure if they normally carry it or that was a limited time thing.

              2. I've been to Specialty Produce a couple of times, mostly to get kennebec potatoes. Having recently moved from Oakland I got spoiled with the incredible produce I used to get at Berkeley Bowl, and after much searching the only place that seemed to have them was S.P.

                Their price for most vegetables is reasonable but I found their prices for fruit were high. Possibly it was a matter of volume, as they didn't have a large selection of fruit when I visited. Since you're walking around a real warehouse you have to keep your eyes on the lookout for forklifts. They also require you to sign in and get a badge as soon as you enter due to sanitation and insurance rules.