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My favorite things from Whole Foods (downtown)

In the spirit of the My favorite things from Central Market and MT Market, here are some items I enjoy from the Whole Foods flagship downtown. Note, I'm not enough of a grocery shopper to claim that these items are exclusive to Whole Foods.

* Texas Daily Harvest milk. This is a new item they just started carrying in dairy from Yantis, TX. It is low temp. pasteurized and NOT homogenized so you best shake well before serving. I can't say I can taste a huge flavor difference, but it definitely is not as sweet as those ultra-pasteurized, over caramelized milks.

* Bulk heirloom beans. They have recently redone their bulk bins and greatly expanded their dried bean selection. If you have not been in 6 months and are into exotic dried beans, this could be heaven. They carry some of the varietes that I see on Rancho Gordo's website: Jacob's Cattle, Christmas Lima, Cranberry. Plus about 10 others I've never seen before. I've done 3 or 4 pots of them and they have generally been excellent.

* Bulk grains. It seems like they have expanded their grains as well. 4 kinds of quinoa, 3 kinds of cous cous, amaranth, two kinds of barley. I like trying new whole grains and since it is bulk, nothing is that expensive. If you haven't cooked amaranth before you are in for a polenta-like sticky treat.

* Ceylon Cinnamon also in bulk. It is frighteningly expensive ($37/pound) but it is also extremely light. I've bought single sticks that don't even show up on the register (and hence are free).

* Random exotic fruits. Never sure what they'll have but there is usually a couple of unusual fruits. I bought a Cherimoya yesterday (never heard of it) and is ripening right now. They also had a dragon fruit and whole tamarind pods. I believe I saw a durian there a few years ago. Yes, you can probably get most of these at MT at better prices, but I thought I'd mention it. Also, not too exotic, but they have baby bananas (and red bananas and plaintains. I don't know if they are a different species than the Cavendish's that we are accustomed, but these baby ones are softer and more flavorful than any adult banana I've ever had.

* Zeke's smoked hummus. An Austin product we've fallen hard for. Garbanzo beans smoked before they are pureed into hummus. They have regular plus flavored varieties--we like the thai curry smoked hummus.

* Uncooked flour tortillas: In the same section as the hummus, I've mentioned these before but can never remember the name. It's an Austin company and these are perfect after a few minutes in a hot heavy skillet.

* The bread department has two major pluses. They'll sell you a half loaf if you ask and some of their whole wheat breads are quite good considering. We like the Hearty Honey Wheat for sandwiches and the Ancient Grain for olive oil dipping.

* The pastry case has expensive pastries, but they have a greatly expanded "minis" case with decent priced miniature desserts that are usually quite good.

* At the antipasto bar, they have a hatch green chile pesto. I'll usually buy anything hatch (CM does a better job with Hatch products come August, but WF is not too far behind).

* Di Stefano burrata: They recently had this on sale for $5. I've read a burrata taste test and this was the top pick. It made an excellent sandwich on the hearty honey wheat with the green chile pesto

* Air chilled chicken. I don't buy much meat, but best I can tell air chilled chicken comes out more flavorful then other chicken. I know Central Market has carried this in the past and maybe still does. Expensive but it tastes like chicken.

* All things vegan. If you are vegan or have a visitor vegan vistor, this is the place for you. The vegan chicken salad is shockingly expensive but also shockingly good. Many other vegan products throughout the store (the local vegan queso they sell is pretty great considering it is dairy free) and they have an entire vegan restaurant.

What did is left out of this list?

Central Market
4001 N Lamar Blvd Ste 100, Austin, TX 78756

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  1. Their Beer section and the new Bar Lamar.

    6 beers on tap and 6 wines on tap, plus 64oz and 32oz growler fills. I know the barbecue station had 2 or so taps, but Bar Lamar has good beer, usually a mix of quality locals and national micro's. Getting a fresh pint of Real Ale Lost Gold IPA while shopping ain't too bad.

    The beer walk-in is always great and while it doesn't appear to be as big as CM north, (which I frequent much more often) the selection is almost always better. Nicer selection of big bottles and bombers and regional brews.

    1. Tried the Burrata yesterday and loved it - it's $5.99 right now. Burrata is a fresh mozzarella that is stuffed with a mixture of mozz and cream. I chunked it up into a salad of tomato and cucumbers with basil and good balsamic. The creamy part dissolved into the dressing which I sopped up with bread. So good. Will definitely buy again.

      Some other things I can get only there:

      * N.O. Brew Cold Brewed Iced Coffee: A concentrated coffee which I love all year but especially in this heat. Very smooth. Wish they sold it elsewhere.

      * Pretzel breads: They don't always have these, but when they do I always pick one up. They usually have a plain pretzel baguette but sometimes they have cheesy ones. So good with mustard, cold cuts, even pb & j.

      * Braising mix: In the produce department you can buy heartier greens in bulk. The mix has kale, chard, escarole, frisee - stuff you can saute in a pan (I don't know about braising it - I always do a quick saute). Anyway I appreciate being able to buy a prewashed handful of this stuff - makes for a super quick veggie side.

      * 365 almost anything: The private label stuff is almost without exception, reliably good, and well priced. No HFCS, no artificial colors, cans that are coated on the inside, etc. Plus they really seem to pay attention to how things taste. Love all the cereals, vitamin water, condiments, coconut oil (cheap!), peanut butter, and frozen fish in particular.

      * Mediterranean Feta Salsa: It's on the bulk bar near the olives. Love this stuff on crackers or even as a pasta sauce - it's feta, olives, tomatoes, herbs.

      * Black Forest Bacon: At the meat counter. Good with the aforementioned braising mix. Just sayin.

      * Seeduction bread: Just sweet enough, and I love those little pieces of millet that go pop-pop in your mouth when you eat them!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Allison L.

        Fresh bread, pizza from oven, and Belgian ales. Everything else is ridiculously overpriced or not very good (and overpriced).


      2. The beautiful display of tasty infused oils and vinegars right behind the bulk seasoning section.

        Sugarcane swizzle sticks are great for cocktails.

        1 Reply
        1. re: drdelicious

          I freaking love this store! I travel to Austin almost once a month (for the past 10 years) and I stay at the Hilton downtown. I work out next door at Pure and always stop at WF to grab dinner to take back to my hotel when I don't feel like going out. Nobody believes me when I say that the BBQ there is really good. I brought about $100 of it back to the valet/bellmen at the Hilton to sample and they loved it. The babyback ribs and pulled pork are great and when you pull into the underground parking garage, if you smell the smoker going, you need to buy some. Being from Chicago, I have pretty high standards for pizza and that's one thing I don't go for in Austin, but I love a slice of plain cheese on the way out the door. I just discovered their taco bar which is outstanding. The tacos are huge and well worth the money. If I had a hotel room with a kitchen, I'd take advantage of all the awesome grass fed/finished beef. I love that I can grab a cold bottle of Yerba Matte for a quick pick me up. Every time I come home and go to my local WF, I tell them that I just got back from the MotherShip and they are jealous. Love that store....

        2. You wrote Zeke's Smoked Hummus but maybe you meant Baby Zach's Smoked Hummus? Which is awesome, btw, for those who haven't tried. The Spicy Smoked BBQ Hummus is addictive. Also available at Wheatsville and sometimes the downtown Saturday farmers market.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ridgeback

            Thanks, ridgeback, I remembered the name wrong, thanks for the correction.

          2. i came across a revelatory item today at WF. Peach balsamic vinaigrette...it's so delicious, although i'm wondering if it has sugar in it. also hit up this post and got a few things based on it. hit up the bulk grains and got some amaranth, groats, pearled farro, , and tabouli mix. also the smoked hummus, and some Siggi's "skyrr-style" yogurt (which i haven't tried, trying to find something to fill in the Skyrr hole from our trip to Iceland last fall, sigh) hopes aren't too high, will see how Siggi's is. wanted some burrata, but this was actually a purposefully healthy trip, so no indulgences. next time!
            looked for Di S

            1. Emmi cheese fondue in a bag. It's not that cardboard box crap. Fresh shredded Emmentaler and Gruyere cheese with a little cornstarch. Add it to a garlic rubbed fondue pot with some dry white wine, kirsch, nutmeg and ground pepper. It is AWESOME! Just like the authentic Neuchatel recipe. Use their fresh baguette and sliced Granny Smith apples for dipping. Yummy...

              Incidentally, this just showed up at my local HEB too!

              3 Replies
              1. re: blueclaw666

                i was just gonna say, i have seen that at my local HEB...
                good to know it's tasty, because i would normally not take the risk and buy it.

                1. re: dinaofdoom

                  It's REALLY good, but you have to like that kind of fondue. A lot of people don't know how to cook it or serve it correctly and some find the kirsch flavor to be a little... umm... monotonous?

                  Anyway, my wife went to school in Switzerland as a child and she swears this is just like the real thing. Buy a bag and try it out. We have an authentic caquelon and a Max Burton table top burner to do it up right! :) Enjoy!

                  1. re: blueclaw666

                    my swiss friend used to make fondue for us, and this sounds like his recipe.
                    it was delicious, and i would totally be up for some kirschy cheesy goodness.
                    but, maybe when it's just a weeeee bit cooler out...

              2. I second the Feta Salsa at the olive bar. It's not spicy, just full of flavor.

                Gloria's tortilla chips from Ft. Worth. I like the plain better than the spiced. The ONLY tortilla chip that stands up to guacamole and queso without breaking. I hate thin chips.

                Coffee bar drinks with coconut milk. Try an iced mocha with coconut milk. Makes my day!

                Jeremaiah Cunningham eggs. Perfection.

                Spelt dinner rolls. Dense but great with a tuna shooter for lunch.

                I need to check out that hummus. I've never heard of it.

                1. tortillas; it's impossible to find natural tortillas in south florida. The ones at regular markets are full of nasty chemicals I'd rather not taste. WF's are by no means great tortillas (they're frozen), but it beats no tortillas on fish taco night. I've had them fresh on the west coast though, other whole foods stores with a more significant mexican population have them. I need to move to that region or make them myself

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: crowmuncher

                    CarterB mentioned the uncooked flour tortillas. I can't remember the brand (Maria's?) but my kids love them. That same brand also does spelt tortillas which I really enjoy.

                    1. re: chispa_c

                      I love the sprouted corn tortillas they have here.

                    2. re: crowmuncher

                      Margaritas...from Manchaca! Just checked the bag from my fridge. Try those.

                    3. Bubbie's Mochi Ice Cream. I got addicted in Hawaii (made in Honolulu) and was thrilled to see it at home. Green tea and Vanilla flavors transport me palm trees and the great blue Pacific...

                      1. Spent most of Friday and Saturday till 8am working on a Jun 30 deadline. Sustenance after Friday breakfast was Whole Food's Smoke Gouda Pimento Cheese with Pita chips. I kept saying "OK I'll take a break for lunch...dinner... but instead just ran downstairs and grabbed 2 pita chips and 2 scoops of that smoked gouda pimento cheese every 3-4 hours.

                        It's addictive.

                        Family wants to use my ice baggie trick to get some of back home next time they visit Austin, because their Whole Foods doesn't carry it..
                        (Ice baggie trick: Pack 2 baggies with ice, not completely full, before leaving. Make sure baggies are well-sealed. Place above and below whatever needs chilling that you want to eat during the flight, a layover, etc. Put everything in not just 1, but 2 plastic supermarket bags or something more sturdy. Then:
                        - Before going through TSA security checkpoint, dump out the ice.
                        - After passing through TSA security checkpoint, get ice re-filled, and re-chill. Every place I've asked in Austin-Bergstrom has obliged.

                        It takes 5 extra minutes before leaving and time in line, but a lot better than eating junk food, especially breakfast junk foods. I use this to chill cottage cheese and blueberries (kept separately). fyi - cottage cheese gets through TSA. Yogurt does NOT.

                        You can get the small plastic sauce-to-go containers for holding mixins from Specs. I think they are for jello shots, because when I bought them the cashier said, "you don't look like the jello shot kind of person, what are you going to use these for?"

                        1. As Sqwertz mentioned a while back, everything at WF is pretty pricey, so I try to shop at Central Market if I can, or HEB when I need something basic.

                          A couple of things I do love there: first, the sausage. It's the only place in town I've been able to find merguez, and everything else is great as well. My friend who used to work at CM N.Lamar told me that WF poached their sausage guy, who's a badass. I don't think he's regularly behind the counter as much these days, but he's still in charge of all the sausage as far as I know.

                          Their seafood is top notch. Sure, Quality Seafood is great and cheap, but the variety is a little less. WF's whole fish (oddly alliterative) selection is usually awesome. I particularly like buying their branzino, mackerel and whole sardines, which they seem to stock pretty regularly. They also have great dry pack scallops that have never disappointed me, and I've bought whole octopus there a couple of times. Beyond the fresh fish, their various kinds of salmon jerky are tasty, and the smoked whitefish is as well. Above all, they seem to get shipments in very frequently, and their staff is generally friendlier and more accommodating than CM.

                          Other little random tidbits... I found harissa in a tube there for less than two bucks. Their to-go sushi is a little more expensive than CM or HEB's, but I find it to be tastier. They also carry some hard to find produce items like ramps from time to time.

                          Oh, and one extra tip... I bought Red Boat fish sauce at WF for about 12 bucks, which was well worth it– the stuff is SO GOOD, it puts all other fish sauces I've found in town to shame. BUT... I happened to notice the other day that MT carries it as well, for about 7 bucks... so make a mental note of that if you happen to be up in the Chinatown Center neck of the woods.

                          1. Thank you all so much for this awesome list! I'm visiting Austin in a few weeks and plan on making a put stop at the Whole Foods on my way to the airport to pick up some snacks/lunch for the ride back to DC. This is a great list of ideas.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Elyssa

                              you may want to consider going to central market instead. It's similar to the WF but I think a lot better and their baked goods are insanely good and travel well.

                              1. re: xdcx

                                Yep, but try going to both at some point...

                                1. re: xdcx

                                  I usually try to go to non-chain markets. But this is the mother ship of Whole Foods....I really want to see it haha. I just hope I can pull myself away in time to catch my flight home.

                              2. The Parfait. Really good little deserts. Also for Central Market the blue cheese potato salad w/ bacon. Crazy good.