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more Brooklyn Fairway disappointment

  • g

I have always been underwhelmed by the produce at the Red Hook Fairway, but liked the cheese a lot--cut to order, great selection, good prices. But yikes--I was there a few days ago and the cheese situation seems to have taken a turn for the worse. They were charging around $18/pound for Parmigiano reggiano--pre-cut and smothered in plastic. I'm sorry, but for that price I can go to Di Paolo's and get amazing Parmesan cut to order--and know its exact origin. Or, I can patronize my charming but wildly expensive neighborhood gourmet store. Or, I can go out to Bensonhurst and get the same quality Parmesan as Fairway's for $12/lb, and cut to order. Fairway's Parmesan was always pre-cut, which is not the end of the world, but they seem to be moving away from cutting many cheeses to order (particularly cheese w/rind)--or was it always this way? All the Gruyère (different varieties) was sitting out on tables, precut and wrapped. I wanted a pound, and asked the guy behind the counter if he could cut me a piece (so I wouldn't have to find two smaller wrapped chunks that added up to that). He said no--it was all cut and wrapped at the warehouse then sent to the store. They had precut so many of the cheeses that some were piled on a ledge in front of that area where they cook the fresh mozzarella (which is oddly tasteless and good only if you get it while it's still warm and eat it right away; they wrap it in plastic while it's still hot--ick--instead of storing it in water). Cheese wrapped in plastic piled against a hot steamy pane of glass--Dutch Parrano, I think it was, sweating into its cellophane. Hardly worth the $14/lb (or thereabouts) that they were charging. Perhaps this is the result of Fairway having opened to many stores-it's a supermarket chain instead of a "market"--but a supermarket without good prices. Prices are really high on the other items as well, including the mediocre produce. Organic milk and interesting yogurt are still fairly cheap, but not many other bargains. Right?

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Fairway Market
480 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

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  1. "it's a supermarket chain instead of a "market"--but a supermarket without good prices. "

    I think you summed it up correctly

    8 Replies
    1. re: Tay

      It certainly has become that. I live near the original location and while its been steadily expanding over the past 20 years, its become much more suburban-supermarket-ish and chain-ish just in the past year. It seems to have become quite corporate. Which only makes sense given their aggressive regional expansion and the sale to a private equity firm last Summer. (I won't swear to the latter, it got very little mention in web-foodie circles, but I think I remember reading about it somewhere else.)

      1. re: Tay

        They seem to have contentiously planned to go from a destination to a neighborhood supermarket. Their prices reflect a lack of competition, people no longer have the money to spend, and increased cost of the items to Fairway. The lack of selection might indicate that their upscale customers are being squeezed and are no longer buying certain items. The last time I rode my bicycle there from Ocean Parkway where I live I found their salt section had shrunk down to just a few items. Maybe it is back but I now look to the internet for all such items, including cheese, as I can no longer know for sure what will be in Fairway before I trek out there. As a neighborhood market it is fine and I would shop there, I don't think it is fair to complain that they are not catering to infrequent shoppers looking for items that rarely sell.

        As a final note one draw to the area for me was LeNell's Likker store which is gone.

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        LeNell's
        416 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 11231

        1. re: Geo8rge

          Fairways has several different locations for the same item depending on market segment. I(upscale, mass market, organic, etc) they may have moved their specialty salts.

          YOu are right that destination clusters are important. in getting you to remote areas for shopping, etc.. I dont go to the fresh tofu store in sunset park as often since the very convenient little vegetable store across the street - closed - I could dbl park and hit the two stores in 5 min flat. That means I also get to Ba Xuyen, Patel Mkt and other places in that direction less often.

          1. re: jen kalb

            I learned that Fairway categorizes nonorganic foods as "grocery" and "speciality", thus creating at least 2 separate maps within the store. They also rotate/change products depending on sales, so some things will always be here and then gone--I only use one sea salt anyway, so not an issue here. But other items can be. Fairway Red Hook is a destination by default, but always a business the bulk of whose clientele I'd guess are folks with cars from Park Slope, Bay Ridge, and other such areas.

            1. re: bob96

              "....but always a business the bulk of whose clientele I'd guess are folks with cars from Park Slope, Bay Ridge, and other such areas".

              Yep. We live in Brooklyn Heights...I could take offense at the "other such areas" comment, but wont :-) ,,,. & go to our neighborhood Key Food stores for a couple of items per day, as we do with our neighborhood groceries and bagel places, etc. (hey, that's one of the main reasons to live here -- everything within 3 blocks walking distance). However, our major, once every 2 weeks (we dont cook at home that much), shopping is at Red Hook Fairway. We run into neighbors regularly... even some friends from Battery Park City.

            2. re: jen kalb

              I just moved to Sunset Park. Where is the fresh tofu store? I'm very excited to hear of it's existence.

              1. re: flowergarden129

                Its on the east side of 8th Ave, right next to the Buddhist temple that is, I think at the corner of 50th st. (or 51st?). The tofu store has a red awning and has noodles, soy milk, that soft tofu sold as a dessert, eggs and bean sprouts as well as their standard tofu squares.

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                Taste Good Soya Food
                5103 8th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Thanks! I can't wait to check it out.

        2. Produce doesn't last 2 days Better shopping at Rossmans 26st @ 3rd ave Not happy with the cheese much better quality at most Queens shops Lets remember Fairway is not the "Family" store they play themselves to be They have gone corporate That being said a SMART shopper can do well there

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          Rossman Fruit & Vegetable
          770 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11232

          3 Replies
          1. re: cutthroat49

            There are bargains, and good ones like groceries, olives, olive oil, some deli, and dairy, to name just some, but, yes, you can get better produce quality and cheese values, but not a better selection, at, say Coluccio or Frank + Sals. It's a trade off, and always is: selection/convenience vs.________. I'm just not going to give Eli Zabar, Blue Apron,
            or Dean +DeLuca their extortionist prices.

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            Coluccio and Sons
            1214 60th St, Brooklyn, NY 11219

            Frank & Sal
            8008 18th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11214

            Blue Apron Foods
            814 Union St, Brooklyn, NY 11215

            1. re: cutthroat49

              I used to be a devotee of Rossmans until I realized that all my fruit spoiled after about 2 days there too.

              1. re: cutthroat49

                "Corporate" is the key word here. I become increasing less enchanted with Fairway every time I shop there (which used to be almost exclusively, now frequently). And their prices are often the same or sometimes marginally higher than those of Whole Foods--I feel more and more as though I'm subsidizing their relentless expansion rather than saving a buck. It's nice to catch a sale there but other stores also have sales--you still need to comparison shop. And I've never liked their produce--I think Whole Foods does it better, even though you have to pay through the nose for it.

              2. I think that the problems that you describe w/the Red Hook store are true also for the Plainview store. Produce is borderline at best and, as a result, I've switched to getting fruits and veg at Shoprite instead where the quality is better and the prices much better. Agree too about the mozzarella - tasteless. The cheese shop used to be the highlight of my F-way trips - not so much any more. Hopefully F-way reads these boards and will take note.
                On the plus side, when compared with most grocery stores, Fairway blows them out of the water selection-wise.. And Cutthroat is right - you can do well price-wise if you shop carefully. I don't drink them but a friend picked up a couple dozen Honest Teas at $1 ea. She said they sell for $2.50/bottle in midtown. I found Fibre 1 on sale for $1.79 once - that's a crazy discount! Usually it's $4.50 or more. So, as sad as I am to see the decline in quality in certain areas, F-way still remains my favorite store. And I've shopped up at the new Stamford store twice since it opened - still bright and shiny new with great customer service and nice produce and cheese depts.

                4 Replies
                1. re: EM23

                  Yes, you're right there are some bargains. Like Bob mentions above, the olive oils seem to be great deals. It's the cheese thing that really bothers me; maybe because I so loved the Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins (who worked at Fairway when he wrote it--don't know if he does anymore). Reading that book years ago really opened my eyes to the wonderful world of cheese!

                  1. re: gnosh

                    Steve J. is a co-owner. Still very involved.

                    1. re: Steve R

                      they stll have very fine cheeses there, but too much cut stuff especially the soft cheeses - dont buy cuts of these any more.. I dont mind the hard cheeses like gruyere - but its important to pick a piece that havent been sitting around too long.

                      have had problems with boxed salad greens rotting within a day or two and have stopped buying them there. but other things in the produce area can be just fine if I cant make it out to Three Guys or equivalent.

                      Really enjoy their olive oil selection, private label and selections, especially the opportunity to taste.

                      1. re: Steve R

                        We're talking the same Steve J. who, in The Cheese Primer, exhorts shoppers to avoid buying pre-cut, plastic-wrapped cheese and insist that it be cut to order?

                  2. i agree with pretty much everything you (and others) have posted on this thread. Tho, I will say that reggiano parmesan has gone up in price astronomically lately--it's not just fairway that has raised their price so high.

                    The cheese counter has become a disgrace and the produce is def hit or miss, but for the area, fairway is probably still the best "one stop" grocery store around, in the sense that they are the most likely to have everything you need. I don't shop that way normally, and only go to fairway for the things i find to be bargains there or can't get anywhere else (their prime beef specials every week are a great deal) but once in a while, when I don't have a lot of time to shop for a dinner party or barbecue, i'll head there because i'm pretty sure i can get everything there, unlike my local met food or trader joe's, the other big options in my nabe.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: missmasala

                      My biggest disappointment with Fairway is that ALL of their shrimp comes from Asia. I do most of my shopping at Fairway and buy shrimp on 7th Avenue.

                      1. re: psnative

                        Fairway in Harlem at least used to have LA gulf shrimp, and don't anymore, for obvious reasons. I've seen these and other US shrimp elsewhere, though, at a reasonable price. What gets me is that calamari are from Asia, too, when they're all over the seas here. I rarely buy fish anymore, but have had good results with Fairway's. I agree with Jen about the boxed salads, and about the state of some of the cheeses--I stick to hard cheeses, but even sometimes you'll find old and tired specimens here. Always trade offs: I love melons, and their summer selections and prices are great.

                        1. re: bob96

                          Another bone to pick: Fairway's Faux Salmon...I don't know how they do it except for the as-advertised food coloring (why oh why?), but if it's char, call it char. The flavor, the flesh and the fat layering bear no resemblance to any salmon bought at Whole Foods or any local Korean-owned fishmonger.

                    2. you know what i hate about fairway: the fact that they have almost everything you are looking for under one roof rather than having to go from store to store to store. it's really annoying. decent produce, a good deli counter, and excellent smoked fish counter, an okay cheese counter, a great meat counter, breads, groceries, beer, and a massive yogurt section with more varieties than i've ever seen. and it's clean! and the prices are usually better than most places in the area! with a view of the statue of liberty!

                      man, how i'd rather be shopping in a basement gristede's on 3rd avenue.

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: jon

                        " decent produce, a good deli counter, and excellent smoked fish counter, an okay cheese counter, a great meat counter, breads, groceries, beer, and a massive yogurt section with more varieties than i've ever seen. and it's clean! and the prices are usually better than most places in the area! with a view of the statue of liberty! "

                        Except for a view of Lady Liberty, sounds not quite up to par with my local Stop&Shop. :-)

                        1. re: Tay

                          Fairway with its hundreds of olive oils and vinegars, including estimable store bottllings, prosciutto from both imported and domestic sources, and numerous imported items, such as colatura alici, mostarda, etc, specialty produce like chantarelles and heirloom citrus in season, a huge range of fresh roasted coffee at a good price,artisanal cheeses (which can be tasted prior to purchase) cut to order, and a large organics section,tops most chain grocery stores, even very good ones. the fact that some sections do not rise to the high standard does not mean its not a terrific resource still.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            As usual,Jen, your points are well taken. Perhaps I was expecting to have my socks knocked off when I visited.I guess it also depends on what customers are looking for in terms of variety.

                            1. re: Tay

                              some of the regular supermarkets are doing a lot better these days. dont want to turn this into a supermarket thread but it is surprising what variety is coming into some formely pedestrian stores. I am actually glad Fairway isnt better because its a PITA to shop there, and I feel a little guilty about doing so much of my shopping at places like Fairway and costco, instead of Sahadi, Coluccio etc etc.

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                              Sahadi's
                              187 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11201

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                Whenever it's possible, especially, for specialty items, I still try to shop at the neighborhood stores,EG: Local Deli's and Bakeries. Otherwise I fear they'll be gone and then, too late, we'll mourn their loss.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  You should feel guilty about not shopping Sahadi's more often! I travel to Brooklyn from Manhattan to shop there--the products that overlap with Fairway are cheaper and they have stuff I can't find elsewhere (I was thrilled to pick up a brick of saf-instant gold label yeast that I don't think is available in any other brick-and-mortar establishment in NYC and they have black walnuts, too). Sahadi's rocks!

                                2. re: Tay

                                  I felt just like you having visited the one in Douglaston queens the other day---it's hyped and overpriced.

                                  1. re: janie

                                    I've found Fairway in Douglaston to be overpriced and absolutely nothing special ever since it opened. Their produce is often not fresh. I've found multiple boxes of molding strawberries being sold. I've bought pre-cut, packaged squash that cost $1 more than at Stop & Shop and it molded within two days, which was well before the expiration dated stamped on it. I've bought hummus there that turned out to be rancid when I brought it home and opened it. I've bought fresh ricotta that spoiled the next day. Absolutely disgraceful. The employees at customer service are polite, but management does not address issues that sorely need addressing. Now, I go there only for peanut butter and yogurt.

                                    1. re: IWantFood

                                      agree overall, i go there for gluten free items that are hard to find and good bob mill selection and organic pear juice which is very hard to find--their produce is overall lousy, and packed in so tightly impossible to take anything out without tearing or causing an avalachanche--i complained and they did nothing about it--olives at douglaston were looking quite nice for awhile but last week not good at all--their ravioli selection is pretty good--don't buy packaged cheese and their fresh mozzarell does not look like it's handled properly--won't elaborate further--the cashiers are all very nice and some of the guys who work there are nice and helpful but others just horrible in fact--nasty, rude, and a bit scary actually--won't elaborate further--but yes, examine everything carefully, a lot is not fresh, and their deli offerings are rather unappetizing and their hot bar overpriced and uniformely lousy--seafood not the best sources, although the halbut and scallops looked ok last week when i was there...for certain things they are good, like frozen hard to find items and some dairy items with goat milk etc...but there are lots of issues and problems there that frankly exist at their other locations too..so that's just the way it is.

                              2. re: Tay

                                With all the complaints, Stop&Shop, Waldbaums, Pathmark, Acme are 10x worse than Fairway.

                                1. re: irvingk

                                  The Stop & Shop I patronize happens to be excellent, however it's on SI. Having shopped at some of the Brooklyn Supermarkets you listed, I can see why you say Fairway is superior.

                              3. re: jon

                                yup. obviously, Fairway is not going to get an A+ with everything all of the time, because who would? Seriously, as a "one-stop" shop, it is lightyears better than anywhere else.

                                1. re: chompchomp

                                  Fairway is by far the best supermarket in Brooklyn. There deli counter, appetizing counter, cheese counter, fish counter and meet counter are far superior to any supermarket in Brooklyn. They also have anything you need, one stop shopping instead of shlepping here and there and wasting gas.

                                  1. re: irvingk

                                    I wouldn't touch any gross Asian farmed shrimp they try to poison us with God knows what its pumped full of

                                    1. re: AubWah

                                      Yes Of course... At least with gulf raised shrimp we know they were exposed to high quality BP oil as opposed to 'God knows what' in Asia. :-)

                                      1. re: Tay

                                        With all said, nobody tells you to buy the shrimp. They have other fish which is very good. And how do you know where they come from.

                                        1. re: irvingk

                                          My posting was an apparently failed attempt at sardonic humor.
                                          My apologies that you didn't get it. :-)

                                          1. re: Tay

                                            Tay

                                            I know you usually recommend good restaurants and know you like good food.. You really have to try Fairway and give your opinion of it. It is really far superior to any of the supermarkets. As good if not better than most of the real expensive stores. Everybody has different opinions. I like the store very much.

                                            1. re: irvingk

                                              Irv...
                                              Fair enough: I will try to be more fair minded when it comes to Fairway. :-)

                                          2. re: irvingk

                                            Because they are required by law to state where they come from on the sign. I like the wild shrimp from Guatemala they sell at Eataly. I'll pass on Fairway's Scallops from China while I'm at it too