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Stew Leonards

What are your thoughts on Stew Leonards? I have just returned to the Westchester area and I am hearing mixed reviews. I went there last Saturday afternoon and I enjoyed shopping there. The produce was of high quality and the bakery was interesting. The meat choices were excellent. Fish too.
It was all fine and good until I got to the prepared food section. All of a sudden, I turned the corner and there were people putting their hands in large vats of freshly deep fried potato chips. I was appalled! I thought it could not get worse and upon the next turn, there was a sign reminding people not to sample the food from the buffet table. I thought, who would do that?? Apparently, the people who had finished their meatballs 50 feet back, using their fork to double dip into the General Tso's Chicken!
So a pleasant shopping experience went completely in the opposite direction. I was glad to find out at the end, that I was going to get a FREE ice cream for spending $100. So it wasn't a total loss.
Is this a common practice or did I just go on a bad day?

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  1. I hit the salad bar and the hot foods section there on a regular basis and I've never noticed anyone sampling. I didn't even think they give out plastic utensils until you get to the cashier. If I did see something like that though, it would be a big turnoff to me too. I'll definitely be paying more attention from now on.

    1. Large vats?? Do you mean the employees putting them in bags after cooking or are you talking about the bowls they put out for sampling? It's never bothered me (and they're quite good) but if you don't like it, don't try them.

      And I don't know why you're reading more into the "no samples" sign on the buffet than there is. They don't want people taking free food from the buffet. Seems like a reasonable thing to do given that they do have other samples, and maybe their clientele was inclined to help themselves.

      1. as for the sampling issue, I'll leave that alone

        As to Stew's, there are some excellent things about it. Number one - dairy. The milk, butter, and cream at Stews is FAR superior than supermarket quality dairy, and cheaper. For that reason alone, I schlep up there with my four kids weekly. The cream is never ultrapasteurized, the milk is fresher and the butter is naturally sweeter. Produce is usually pretty good and you can find some good deals.

        They have a nice selection of seafood as well. The deals are quite good. Again, better than the average supermarket. You can find higher quality at places like fairway or whole foods, but you also pay twice the price.

        The meat I find to be average, sometimes pretty good, not bad, but not much that I'd go crazy about. Same statement re: whole foods/fairway applies here too.

        My only real complaints about Stews are the somewhat limited selection and, if you go during busy times, it's truly hard to navigate through the place. But I know what to expect, and since their dairy is just so good, it's completely worth it to me.

        3 Replies
        1. re: adamclyde

          I agree with adamclyde about the dairy at Stews, and we do shop there quite a bit, but I sometimes feel that things can be on the edge of freshness. You have to buy carefully. I've had tomatoes go bad just a bit too quickly, and though we buy quite a bit of fish at Stews, we have brought home some fish -- notably scallops -- that we've had to toss. It would be nice if you could smell the fish before they double wrap it in plastic. Despite this, the fish is definitely of a higher quality than the supermarket, where I would never buy fish.
          admanclyde -- do you really pay twice the price at Fairway? WF yes, I would agree with, but not Fairway.

          1. re: roxlet

            We've had excellent experiences at the Norwalk store's fish counter - selection-, quality- and help-wise. If something from Stew's went bad, I'd bring it back; as far as I know they have a very lenient customer service policy. If you don't feel like going back, I'd shoot them an e-mail from the Stew Leonards website and see what happens.

            Otherwise, I agree with just about everyone else - a pain to navigate, but great dairy and usually decent meats and mainstream produce. I go way early, about 7am, to beat the crowds.

            1. re: roxlet

              I agree with adamclyde, the dairy alone makes it worth it. When I moved to Westchester last year I had forgotten how much I missed the wonderful yogurt I had as a child (I grew up 5 min from the Norwalk store when they were a small dairy store with a petting zoo!) until I started shopping at Stews again.
              I also think they have really good seafood, on a side note, I think Whole Foods lately has been really slipping and Stew's tends to be even better, at a much better price. You do need to be careful, I bought some avocados recently that never softened, but I've had problems with produce at some point or another from pretty much every store.

              The salad/food bar sign is there for legal reasons I'm sure, and I have never seen anyone sampling from the hot food bar, though I usually skip it. They do however give out samples through out the store, maybe you mis-read the situation?
              I do love the home-made soups, the chicken orzo is sooo good as is the Manhattan Clam Chowder

              Overall Stew leonard's is my favorite place to get most of my shopping done, they can be limited in what they offer, but the quality of what they do offer is much better than the average supermarket IMO.

          2. I shop at the Stew's in Norwalk. Not on a regular basis, because I hate dealing with the crowds and the format of the store (in that if you forget something, you have to either wind your way upstream or start back at a cut through to get back to what you forgot)! I do buy a big quantity of their ground coffee and store it in my freezer, along with bialys and bagels. The fish department has such a great variety that I should go more often, and the quality is always excellent. The produce is decent, but they don't have the more unusual items, so I do have to go to a better market for that kind of stuff. I don't buy prepared foods in general, so I haven't experienced the buffet areas! They also have nice fresh flowers at a decent price.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sibeats

              We go to the one in Yonkers, and no, we've never brought anything back since it's not next door and it usually happens when we're in the middle of preparing some big dinner & there's no time. I'm sure they would be fine about it, but it's annoying that it has happened a bunch of times.

            2. when the jfoods first moved to ct he went every weekend for produce and stuff. now he rarely goes.

              All the following comments are about the Norwalk location.

              He thinks the dairy products are good and the milk well priced. little jfoods liked the chocolate milk. now he has found other stores that sell better produce (Greenwich produce) meats (scotts corner market) and fish (scotts and new wave). Plus the navigation is a nightmare except during the week and can't get there during the week. And when jfood gets to the end he bolts through the prepared section and it is somewhat unappealing.

              For those who live on the 95 side of FFD county it's a nice choice, but jfood is a couple of miles north of the merritt, it too long a drive for him.

              2 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                I usually don't buy prepared food anywhere, except for bbq chicken. But this week DH and I shopped for all the requests my family logged in for our early M's Day feast. My little ones love chicken fingers, no surprise there, and we bought them already prepared at Stew's. The picky littles loved them and scarffed them up happily. We also bought pricey rib eye steak, vegetables and halibut which the menfolk grilled and they were all wonderful.
                Once Fairway comes (yay!!) to the area I think Stew's will lose a lot of it's luster but for now there are so few good food markets in lower Westchester that Stew's has little competition in it's price field. Whole Foods is great but too expensive for my weekly shopping list.

                1. re: lucyis

                  As with so many food stores (and IMHO Whole Foods and yes, even Fairway are among them) it pays to be selective. I've had some very good fresh potato chips and good seafood chowder and we grab a presentable roast chicken when we need a quick dinner. They also carry some good local products, like the smoked salmon from Mount Kisco Smokehouse and some local cheeses. And BTW, some of their sushi,while not elaborate, can be fresher than the fare served at some of the more trendy local pan-Asian restaurants in the area.

              2. I am a big fan of Stews - I shop at the Norwalk store almost every week. Agreed the dairy is the best (and cheapest!) around, and it is the only supermarket I will buy fish from. I also like that they've started carrying grass-fed beef and antibiotic free chicken. One thing I really like is something they implemented fairly recently - they post signs above the produce about where it comes from. Stews tries to get a lot of its fresh produce from local CT farms, which is good in so many ways (food miles, CT economy, etc.) I can't say I shop there for any packaged goods since I tend to find those a little over priced. Navigating the store can be a pain, but just make sure to go during off hours (early a.m. or after 6 on the weekdays) and your experience will be 100 times better.

                11 Replies
                1. re: A avenue

                  I was just there last week and noticed the signs above the produce as well. I thought that was a really nice change and made me feel better about buying the produce. I also noticed the "naked" chicken and beef. I didn't realize the beef was grass fed...I saw signs that said it was hormone free and antibiotic free. I think all of these changes will make me start going there more often for those items. I went after dropping my daughter at the bus stop at 7:00 am last week and there were about 5 cars in the parking lot, so I've found the ideal time to go for me!

                  1. re: A avenue

                    Heads up-- I assumed their naked beef was grass fed-- but I was watching a video they had playing in the meat section on Friday and they proudly proclaimed it is all grain fed. I was surprised, since I assumed vegetarian fed meant grass fed, and a little disappointed (since reading Pollan's book wherein he describes the raising of cows on grain without antibiotics). I do buy their naked chicken, which I find to be quite good. Who knows for sure what's going on with the chicken, either though.... more reason to look forward to the farmer's markets...

                    1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                      Wow, really? I swear I read something somewhere when they came out with their "naked" beef/chicken that mentioned grass fed. Thanks for the heads up! I certainly am looking forward to the farmer's markets....

                      1. re: A avenue

                        Ok, I investigated a little, and on their website, it says grass and grain fed. That video really caught my eye, though, because they didn't mention grass, only grain, and they seemed to be using it as a big selling point. http://www.stewleonards.com/press/07N...

                        1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                          I just found out that the ranchers who raise the cattle for Stew's will be at the Norwalk store on the 23rd and 24th. I guess I can ask them in person and find out what the story is.

                          1. re: A avenue

                            I hope I can also go and ask them very specific questions. My husband has worked in the beef business in Kansas and he is 90% sure SL beef comes from a feed-lot where the cattle are fed or at least finished on grain. So we need to ask if the cattle were 100 per cent grass-raised (almost non-existant in the U.S.) or started on grass and finished on grain (a possibility) or were fed 100 per cent grain. In any case, we also need to know if the grass or grain was treated or organic and if the cattle were given any hormones, antibiotics etc. in the raising process. There are some very small cattle raisers who truly give organic grain or grass and no hormones etc. but the amounts they raise are very small and quite expensive.

                            1. re: lattelover

                              I just need to know if the steak tastes good. I find that out by buying it, cooking it, and eating it. If the price seems worth it to me, I'll buy it. If not, I won't.

                              If I want to stay at a boutique hotel, I don't stay at the Marriott.
                              If I want a boutique wine, I don't shop at my local strip mall liquor store for it.
                              If I want a boutique, organic, grass fed, hormone and antibiotic free, dry aged Striploin, I dont shop at Stew Leonard's for it.

                              Just my opinion

                              1. re: frequentdiner

                                Compared to many markets in the area, Stews offers a lot of stuff no one else in the area does.

                              1. re: i_eat_a_lot_of_ice_cream

                                I met with the ranchers this afternoon and produced a full report for this thread which the Chowhound team for some reason I cannot fathom removed from the TriState Board and put under "Chains". Wish I knew how to ask them to put it back where it belongs.....If you want to see it, go to "Stew Leonards Naked Beef...etc."

                    2. I love Stew Leonard's in general for dairy and fish and meat. However, we were at the Yonkers Stew Leonard's on Mother's Day and I did see, with my own eyes,two huge vats of potato chips that people were just sticking their hands into. These were meant to be samples, but I think a scoop of some sort would have been more sanitary. And, then, at the hot food buffet, I saw a customer ask an employee for a plastic spoon so she could sample something. I had to wait to see what happened. The employee gave her a plastic spoon and she took her sample from the hot buffet. So much for rules. I do not know what she did with the spoon after that, but it does make me think twice about buying food from the buffet section.

                      1. We go to Stew's once every few months just to see what's new and exciting there. I like their produce and prepared foods (the vegetable egg rolls particularly) and the employees are always friendly. It's fun to watch the sushi man make all the rolls too. On the downside are their politics, and that you can't get the sale price unless you buy the 6-for-$10 or 3-for-$5 or whatever it is, since I rarely need that many of anything. Also I don't care for the Christmastime petting zoo outside (though I think that's just me).

                        1. Went there once and hated it. The rat's maze style of merchandising is annoying and hugely time wasting. Or maybe it's just me. Also, way too crowded. Some people just love it but I don't plan on returning.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: FillMyTummy

                            No, it's not just you. The rat's maze floor plan IS annoying, very annoying. Still, SL is good for some things -- the dairy is outstanding, the meat and fish are good, and the garden center is nice -- but it certainly isn't a place I frequent.
                            Oh, and you can't beat their checkout system.

                            1. re: dolores

                              as others have mentioned, if you plan the times, it makes it very pleasant. It seems they've recently made a few tweaks to their layout to avoid some of the bottle necks (Norwalk, at least).

                              And for me, who has 4 kinds under 6, the singing vegetables and food make for a much more interesting experience (read: more sane) than normal grocery stores...

                              1. re: adamclyde

                                >>who has 4 kinds under 6, -- :O)

                                4 kids or 4 kinds of kids under 6!!! Awesome either way, adamclyde.

                                1. re: dolores

                                  hah! they are all different, but, yes, that was meant to be "kids" not "kinds". Very funny.

                          2. I go to the Norwalk store pretty frequently because it's three doors down from my office and I can grocery shop on my lunch break. There are things I like and things I don't lie. They have a good meat variety (You should have seen me the day I saw a package of something I didn't recognize and then shrieked "OMG IT'S A RABBIT" before throwing it down. I got some puzzled stare. I am just not used to seeing rabbits in supermarket.) and a good seafood variety. Roxlet's comment about the scallops is spot on. I had a coworker buy scallops from there and they stank up the office refrigerator.

                            I don't like that fact that you can't buy shelf goods unless you buy in bulk or want to buy very expensive brands. I only shop for my husband and myself, so it doesn't make sense to buy Stew's specials.

                            I really hate the store navigation. People have "Supermarket Rage" rather than road rage. Actually, I get the rage when someone is slooooowwwlllly ambling through the store, completely oblivious to anyone around her and blocking your every move to go around.

                            I'm more apt to drive down the street to Whole Foods if I want to do a big shopping trip. If I want a big slab of meat or some cheap seafood for my husband (I don't eat it), I will go to Stews. I am likely to go there for milk as well.

                            As for the hot case, I've never seen it be unsanitary, but the food is WAY oversalted.

                            1. I went to Stew's in Yonkers last night....... (Thanks to reading about it here, and having the idea implanted in my head).

                              Fortunately, at 730pm on a Tuesday it wasnt that busy, but I DID take particular notice of people sticking their grubby fingers into the large communal sample (16"-18" or so) bowls of chips (plain and sweet potato)... I did witness a man grab with his hands and leave many touched, behind... I also witnessed some guy with a clear produce bag half filled with them that he obviously took so he could snack on them while he shopped.

                              With my mind on sampling, I noticed several sample containers throughout the store of communal food for offer. Among the offerings I saw broken up in their containers, without tongs or utensils, were cookies, and muffin top pieces. It is much more sanitary for samples to be served in little individual paper cups. This is how it was done at Williams Sonoma over the weekend. Maybe someone at Stew's is listening (and reading)?

                              I didn't see anyone sampling food at the hot or cold buffet.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: frequentdiner

                                >>sticking their grubby fingers into the large communal sample

                                Ewwww. Good warning on the chips, should one be so inclined. I wonder if management would be receptive to a word in their ear?

                                >>he obviously took so he could snack on them while he shopped.

                                I noticed the same thing in Morton Williams -- some woman put more than a few pieces of chicken in the metal takeout tray and with fork in hand, was eating while shopping. I followed her only a short distance, since it would have been too aggravating to keep doing so.

                                It's amazing how disgusting some people are.

                                1. re: dolores

                                  not surprising dolores, the american eating habits...very very strange indeed in many many ways

                              2. I'm not sure if you or someone else complained, but I was at the Stew's in Brookfield, CT today and their potato chip samples had tongs in them. First time I'd seen that.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: MisterBill2

                                  It wasn't me that complained....... Perhaps someone there reads these boards. Good for them for taking a positive step.

                                  Do you know what? It may illustrate the power of the internet. Before the net, one might fill out a comment card or talk to a manager, and if the manager doesn't feel like responding, or agreeing, they may do nothing and it wouldn't make much difference. Now, a few people write here, and they can make legitimate points, and their words can be seen by many (i have no idea how many). The management can be compelled to act because the words can be so powerful and make an impression on so many individuals.

                                  Perhaps this was our own mini version (in new media) of "The Jungle" exposé by Upton Sinclair, of the meat packing industry that changed the way they operated at the turn of the 20th century.

                                  Got to love the 'net.

                                  Alternatively, maybe someone just decided it was time to put the tongs in the chips. :)

                                  1. re: frequentdiner

                                    All Stewie's stores have suggestion boxes and from what I've seen in the past, it does seem as though they go out of their way to listen to complaints and do something about it. So perhaps they are reading what people say here and responding! Now if we could only get that big chicken to stop following me through the store....

                                    1. re: sibeats

                                      I left a suggestion in the box at the Yonkers store about 2 years ago. I got a letter back from the GM a week or two later telling me what a great idea it was. My last trip I saw that they finally implemented it!
                                      (If it interests you, I suggested that in the pre-packaged salad bowls they put croutons in their own sub-container so they stay crunchy.)

                                      I also left a note once thanking a couple of security staff for helping to change a flat. This was also acknowledged in writing.

                                2. Tomorrow I will do something that I have never done before -- return food. As we reach the tail end of our kitchen renovation, we have had to rely on prepared food much more than we ever have, and this afternoon, my husband came home from Stew Leonards with a largish tray of fried chicken. It was stale and dry, having sat somewhere for far too long. Since the customer is supposedly always right at Stews, I will bring it back. I am pretty sure that they will be accommodating about it, but I do feel that the quality of food at Stews has gone downhill recently. This bears it out for me, and I am annoyed at having to go up there tomorrow, though I am determined to set it right.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: roxlet

                                    Interesting, I bought fried chicken from the Yonkers store last week because I didn't feel like cooking. My husband loved it and the piece I tried was moist, crunchy and very good.
                                    Although another day I bought the crab cakes thinking if I liked them I would order a bunch for an upcoming party and THEY were dry and gross.
                                    Stews will take anything back, so at least their policy is good, though it is a pain to have to return something.

                                    1. re: SweetPea914

                                      Yes, they took them back no questions asked, and then gave me some for free, and it was much, much better.

                                  2. We used to shop at the Norwalk store frequently when we lived in Mount Vernon. Since we moved to NJ we haven't been back more than once or twice. I was very excited to discover they were coming to Clifton, NJ and then dismayed to discover it's only a wine store. Sorry to hear that the quality seems to have slipped. As for the sampling issue, many of you sound like the Ben Stiller character in "Along Came Polly"

                                    1. Has anyone heard anything about the Farmingdale store? Last I heard--years ago--SL had sued the state DOT because the latter had refused to give curb cut-through rights (apparently in collusion with the airport).

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Scott_R

                                        That's pretty much the last we heard of it too although left LI and up in Westchester now so haven't been following but out of curiousity googled and am getting nothing recent.

                                        You have Fairway in Plainview Scott - be happy.

                                        1. re: Scott_R

                                          I thought it was more than that, it was that they could not get permission from the town to open the store (already built!). Was it because of the curb issue you mentioned?

                                          Stew's really seems to have problems opening stores. They've apparently owned property in Orange, CT that they have been trying to build on for years. The neighbors fought them but I think they finally have the approvals.

                                          1. re: MisterBill2

                                            best chicken corn chowder ever, i dont live close but get gallons of it every time im up in westchestor,