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Jun 2, 2008 10:55 AM

Where are the hidden shopping gems in Napa?

Oh ... crap ... this latency problem in Chowhound is a pain. I thought a post got deleted, but it just took quite a while to post.

That being said, it was hijacking a post about another topic and it is probably better to post here.

There have been a lot of complaints about the new Oxbow Market and I was told that there was a lot better shopping in Napa.

I would seriously like to know where the secret hidden markets and farmstands are ... not just the city of Napa ... which I seriously doubt exist ... but the entire county of Napa.

For all the years I've read Chowhound, the advice I've read has been that Napa people go to Sonoma to shop ... especially Sonoma Market.

If Vallegras or Sunshine Market have something great, I've missed it.

I'm not talking about the out and out tourist traps like Dean and Deluca or the deservedly bankrupt Oakville market.

I love the ambiance of the strawberry stands ... but seriously ... they aren't all that ... or organic.

I went through my notes and every worhtwhile market, cheese shop, farmstand, was in Sonoma. I am seriously at a loss to think of somewhere wonderful anywhere in Napa.

So where do you folks shop?

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    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Hoffman and Omi's are definitely gems for incredible fruit, walnuts, eggs, etc - call before you go.

      I don't think there is any market that has not yet been discussed here. I like Brown's Valley but it doesn't compare to Sonoma Market (yes, I'm another Napan who treks there to shop occasionally). As napaeats suggests, Oxbow has not been a hit with locals. Many of my neighbors are purposefully boycotting. I find it more of a museum honoring food than a place to buy groceries. But I am excited about the spice shop.

      The true hidden food gems of Napa, in my opinion after living here 10 years, are not shops or markets. They really are hidden and will stay that way. There is fantastic food to be found from locals who don't advertise. People with a piece of land planted with vineyards for cash, but also raising lambs, pigs, goats, or rabbits to sell. Fresh olives to cure from families with a couple of trees. Eggs from neighbors with a few hens. No marketing, no fancy packaging. Occasionally people with excess fruit or nuts put ads in the newspaper. In late summer you will find card tables set up in driveways offering peppers or tomatoes or peaches and a coffee can to put the money in. Mostly it is word of mouth.

      Napa does lack the diversity of shopping available in other parts of the Bay Area, but basic, quality ingredients raised on a small scale are harder to find in those places.

      1. re: Junie D

        Junie D you nailed the true hidden food gems of Napa. It's the local food underground, and it extends not just to the meat, produce and dairy you mentioned. It's the professional winemaker neighbor who knocks on my door to present me with a glass or a bottle of the not-for-sale wine he makes for his family. Or the friend who will trade wine for some of his game. And the stuff you can forage for, if you know where to go.

        I haven't checked it out thoroughly but I've seen enough evidence to convince me that there's even more goodness being sold out of battered trucks on small dirt roads and from small apartments on weekend mornings. You just have to be there at the right times.

        I personally like the Oxbow, and several of my neighbors agree. None of us focuses on buying weekly groceries there, but it's a good spot for specialty items.

        I like heading down to Vallejo to shop, for the cheaper prices and the ethnic diversity it offers. For example, you'll have a hard time finding fennel at Food 4 Less Vallejo, but they've got chayote and long beans. The produce isn't always the prettiest, but the quality of flavor is very good.

        1. re: Ruby Louise

          "local food underground" - that's it! And, in my experience, like yours, it ranges from as informal as wine industry people who make vinegar for friends, to quite organized, as in Lucy Gore's Thur and Fri night take out dinners.

          1. re: Junie D

            Interesting. Thanks all for the replies. Actually, I saw one of those card tables last fall next to a persimmon tree. No one was around so I didn't stop. Next time I'll take a closer look

    2. The cheese selection at Sunshine is excellent. But it's still a supermarket cheese section and not a substitute for a great cheese shop that takes proper care of the cheese, cuts it to order, offers tastes and has a knowledgeable staff. The meat counter at Sunshine is also quite good, and IIRC they do carry some locally raised/produced meats and meat products.

      I can't imagine living in Napa (proper) and trekking to Sunshine in St. Helena on a regular basis. It's really good for what it is, but not a destination.

      1. We'll stop by the Farmer's Market on Saturday in the parking lot of the Oxbow Market (not that small, daily farmer's stand thing that Oxbow has every day right outside the building). The Farmer's Market used to be across the street and seemed a bit bigger than the one now in the Oxbow parking lot. A few years ago, I'd go to the Tuesday Farmer's Market which seemed like the "real" one which had more selection than the Saturday's version. But I don't know if that's true today as I haven't been to the Tuesday one in years (stupid job...)

        We're not too hung up on the local thing. Actually, our favorite vendor at the Farmer's Market is Buenos Aires Gelato (based in Oakland) which we think is the best frozen treat in town. Five dot ranch and the cheese merchant work well for us. Whole Foods can fill in the gaps.

        I've heard mixed reviews about the Osprey seafood place but haven't gotten around to going yet. It will be interesting to see what the Kanaloa seafood shop is like when it opens in Oxbow.

        We're not die-hard foodies so we'd have to have a really compelling reason to go out to say St. Helena regularly for non-restaurant reasons and deal with the traffic on 29.

        The other thread suggested that Oxbow could be for the locals, but that's not true. I don't care what the designers say. Like Robert mentioned, the city of Napa itself is actually on the lower middle class side with a median household income of $50K on a population of ~70K. Most of these folks aren't shopping at Whole Foods, Oxbow, etc. nor are they eating at a lot of the upscale restaurants that have opened in the last 5 years or so. I think one of the consistently busier restaurants in Napa is actually the local Applebees.

        Vallergas had to close down 2 of their 3 stores in recent years because of the shifting demographics and the lower prices of the chain stores were too much for a lot of the locals to pass up.

        The city of Napa has made it clear for a while that they want to aggressively go after the tourists who mistakenly end up in Napa thinking that this is where they should be when someone mentions Napa Valley. Some bitterness from the locals who feel like all the civic dollars go to keeping the outsiders happy whereas the people who live there get the crumbs.

        2 Replies
        1. re: napaeats

          "Vallergas had to close down 2 of their 3 stores in recent years because of the shifting demographics and the lower prices of the chain stores were too much for a lot of the locals to pass up."

          I think the Silverado Trail store was closed because the Ritz (or developer) made them an offer they couldn't refuse on the JV site.

          1. re: Junie D

            You're right, but I doubt it would've made a difference in a few years. The traffic per square foot seemed similar to the Imola location when we shopped there. It was a no-brainer to just close the Vallergas down and replace it with the JV.