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Jul 9, 2008 07:30 PM

Baza: New "World Foods" (e.g. Russian) market in Newton

I noticed this sign earlier in the week while driving down Needham St. in Newton and pulled in today when I had a few minutes to take a quick look.

This place is called "Baza" and is located in Newton off Needham St, tucked behind the Papa Gino's and Filene's Basement. You can't see it from the street but if you know the area, it's where Boston Baby used to be.

Inside is about the size of a smaller Trader Joe's (which is what I was kind of hoping for in product type) but it's quite different and I'm not sure how well it's going to do in this location and demographic. Think "Brookline's Bazaar" tries to "Whole-Food-ify" itself - a large produce department, lots and lots of imported Russian goods. All sorts of intersting items in the dairy department like a huge variety of yogurts and cheeses, bulk items like grains, rice, granolas, nuts and candy, organic (Amy's...) and foreign/imported frozen foods (like, an entire freezer full of various dumplings and blintzes of all types), a huge variety of fish, a sushi bar and a self-serve prepared hot and cold entrees and foods section - most items werey not labled though so for the unititiated like myself, it was hard to identify most of the offerings. Some things were obvious: there was rice, chicken and pork prepared several different ways, stuffed cabbage, various cooked sausage (one interesting type was super long and skinny like two feet of coiled up pencil), prepared vegetables, and lots of things I wasn't sure about: various meat or potato mixtured patties and breaded cutlets, blintzes with unknown fillings, etc. Also, since the store seemed very empty and new, I didn't feel confident puchasing foods from a steam table at 3 PM. There was a sign that said something like "1/2 Price 7 - 10 PM" but how long can the same pieces of chicken stay on a buffet steam table? And will they really toss the stuff at the end of the day and put out all fresh the next day? I doubt it, so how do I know that today's beef patty in gravy wasn't sitting on the steam table for 8 hours yesterday, too?

There were also olive and cold salads bar, pay by the pound/self serve but there were a few family groups standing around the hot and cold self serve bar, chatting and I'd imagine fingers borrowing a taste here, an olive there, which is what I don't like about those types of bulk service buffets. Sorry if I sound neurotic. I don't think I am excessively so but I still don't like to buy olives or roasted peppers if I see fingers going into the bowl rather than tongs.

They also had a baked goods area and wine and beer, lots of imported packaged goods, tons of those brightly colored wrapped imported candies and also lots of Russian printed colorfully and individually wrapped frozen ice cream treats that look like popular little kid fare.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you a heads up on this brand new place they are trying to style like a mini Whole Foods supermarket but they're not quite there. All the staff spoke Russian - I think the "Bazaar" works fine in Coolidge Corner and is in a small shop and 90% of the clientele are also Russian but at this location behind Filene's Basement, it's the ONLY grocery store nearby so they may need to try appeal a bit more to the typical Needham St. shopper who might be after more basic goods. Certainly they've got a great location and it's big and must be expensive to rent so I don't think they'll survive if they remain an extreme distination specialty store only and maintain language barrier issues. But who knows.

So head over there when you're in the neighborhood, and share what you think.

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  1. I wouldn't call it a great location, because if you miss the small portable sign they put on Needham Street, you would never know the store was there. It's on a dead-end road near a large TV antenna and not much else, and can't be seen directly from Needham St. (it's even set back from the dead-end street) so they will have to generate their own traffic.

    It looks like an interesting store. Like you said, it's in a grocery-free zone of Newton, which may help them draw customers from the area who are not necessarily Russian or Eastern European food enthusiasts.

    30 Tower Road, Newton, MA 02464

    1. I dropped by today and it looks to be an interesting place. Lots of sausages and smoked fish. Good prices on their meats. Unfortunately, one thing has soured me a bit: I bought some cherries ($3.39/lb) and when I questioned the checkout person about the tare, she stated that it was set in the computer. Okay. When I got home I weighed the cherries - of course I had paid for the packaging. I hate that.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mirage

        I was just there -- and definately an interesting market... I hope it give Sudburry Farms a run for its money! But, I also hope that they translate and give some of us non-russian speakers / readers a chance to taste some of the items. I bought some Armenean bread, some skim milk - and spent a long time looking! They were giving samples of smoked fish.... no thank you! Reminds me of my Russian born grandfather... who always ate the stuff, and then he stunk of fish! Let us taste some of the pasteries or cookies instead!

        1. re: cheesehead in recovery

          Oh, and one other thing... the employees need to speak a bit more English if they hope to appeal to us Non-russians.... Its ok to speak Russian if you're at Mirage, or at a private party, or talking to your cousin Misha, but when I got to the check out counter, and the kid behind the counter barely spoke English, that was REALLY annoying.

          1. re: cheesehead in recovery

            Everyone I spoke to did speak English - and they were passing out cookies to sample! They were very plain, but tasty - would be good with tea. I did try the smoked fish which was good, but the piece I had was bony and the disposal of the bone(s) was awkward. But I enjoyed my visit.

            1. re: mirage

              I was poking around there yesterday too. Sorry to have missed you, Mirage! I didn't buy anything but will definitely go back. The range of fish is fabulous. Visions of wonderful brunches to come were dancing in my head. Interesting jarred foods from around the world, the frozen blintzes, pierogies, etc looked enticing. The
              bakery seems to be in its infancy but holds promise with fresh breads and dessert items. My mother, who lives in the neighborhood, has complained of the lack of grocery stores. I hope it does well.

      2. We finally got there, too. But first, full disclosure: I speak Russian and I am familiar with Russian food. We shop only in specific Russian stores for things we can't buy in regular supermarkets -- just similar to how we sometimes shop in Super 88 or an Indian grocery store.
        Now I can say that I disagree with several points of the original post. Not only everybody there speaks English, I actually tried to ask some guy something in Russian and he didn't speak Russian. I also heard that there is a test to get job in Baza, which includes English, although I did not test anybody there for their English skills.
        I also think their sign on Needham St is OK - not great, but visible enough.
        Nobody tried to finger pick salad bars when we were there, but maybe we just missed some obnoxious folks you saw.
        I find their prices higher than, say, in Bazaar on Cambridge in Allston (we like it better than the one on Beacon.) Baza indeed has a very nice selection of cheeses and fish, but they didn't have our favorite cottage cheese Bazaar always has (large curd and fairly dry; this cottage cheese is made by Friendship, but I have never seen it in any grocery store.)
        So, I think we'd go to Baza only if we are in the area, but they have a good chance to succeed in that location. I don't think they can compete with Whole Foods, but they might be successful against Roche Bros.

        4 Replies
        1. re: mmirman

          By the way, Mmirman: A girl I work with buys Friendship cottage cheese at a grocery store. When she returns from vaca on Monday, I'll ask her where she gets it.

          1. re: mmirman

            Market Basket also has Friendship cheese, also a nice variety of Latin American cheeses.

            1. re: mmirman

              fyi, I was in Baza yesterday and noticed they have the Friendship cottage cheese in the cheese case, near the by-the-pound fetas.

              1. re: mmirman

                yes thank you i was reading all the reviews thank you im glad were getting one from a person actually knowledgable on russian food, but i can never find any whitefish very upsetting!! by the way they also have friendship cottagecheese in the butcherie on harvard st near blockbusters

              2. To compare this with other Russian markets:

                1. Everything is labeled, in English, with prices.
                2. Everything is organized, so sausages / salamis are not piled by the dozens in a great heap.
                3. Fewer prepared Russian foods that I saw, not counting the hot buffet they have for $5.99 a pound.

                As a real market, it has real produce that is reasonably priced like another market. They have a dessert counter with cakes and pastries. They have a smallish real cheese display along with the stuff in the fridge case. They have many of the basics you need.

                As a hybrid market, they have a large assortment of smoked fish, with a ton available in packs in a case and more behind a counter. They must carry 40 kinds of bologna, much from Poland.

                Given that the Star / Shaw's in Chestnut Hill is closed and Omni is gone, this location serves a large population. I highly recommend it for non-Russians, both as a regular supermarket and as a place where you can try a variety of new foods. I'm talking dozens and dozens of salamis, all labeled in English and priced.

                And everyone speaks English. I think this is a good attempt at bridging the cultural barriers and would urge anyone in that under-marketed area to go there.

                1. So, I'm taking a pause from my lunch from Baza market to report on just how good it is!

                  The hot bar has a huge and unusual variety of items--Duck legs (!) lamb shanks, kebabs, pork ribs, rice with shrimp and raisins, all sorts of veggies--all beautifully prepared. The cold bar looked great too--but it was the duck legs that hooked me, so I went with hot.

                  Happy to report the duck legs are great--flavorful, cooked just right. Since my picks were heavy on proteins, I chose small bits and, even smallish and after sitting in a chafing dish, the leg was cooked perfectly, a bit of lamb shank and pork ribs were also good. I have a variety of peppers , onions , etc along with a stuffed Italian pepper that is great! Although for the life of me, I could not tell you what it's stuffed with. Seems like rice and a pale meat--maybe pork--with a tomato-y background, but so well minced I can't really tell what it is. But it is yummy and I will ask what's in it next time I'm there.

                  For the market itself, I agree with above posters on the wonderful selection of really interesting stuff and a nice staff.

                  I will also add that as far as the hot and cold bars go, they were meticulously maintained and, as I'm enjoying it as I type, not at all a bit stale. Nothing day-oldish, no on coughing or picking at with hands. A lovely hot and cold bar.

                  I was in there for an hour and would have stayed longer but had to get on to work. Just wanted to put in a plug for this great place--I will definitely be back, for ready made stuff like this and groceries--nice looking sushi too and amazing array of smoked fishes!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                    Those ducklegs are amazing. I work a block away, sometimes you'll find a horde of us from the office making the quick trek for duck legs. I also liked the pilaaf rice with chunks of (lamb?) and raisins.

                    1. re: Prav

                      I also have a can of stuffed baby eggplants (I might have thought these would be dubious, but tried a canned version from WFoods which were also from an Eastern European country and they were good!!) and a nice Castellano cheese waitng for me in the car.

                      They were sampling the cheese today. It is a semi-hard Spanish cheese. Not to be confused with the Castellano at TJs'--a creamy blue.

                      Can't wait to go back!

                      1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                        Was the fish fresh or frozen? And what kind of fish do they sell?

                        1. re: bearzie

                          Fresh, frozen, smoked, canned--you name it. Lots of the usual suspects: salmon, trout, mahi mahi, etc. But I'd never hearf of sprats (looked like sardines), all sorts of herring (fresh, smoked, canned). Many others.

                        2. re: SeaSide Tomato

                          I stopped by after work and the lady was aggressively pushing cheese/sausage samples on me. :) As well as some sort of Russian cream-based soup with dill and sausage in it...

                          Of course, I picked up some duck legs instead. Quack.

                          1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                            The have the best cheeses at good prices!!! I am a sucker for Morbier, and they have it. I loved their selection of wines as well. Definatelly coming back.