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Mar 7, 2012 06:34 PM

Russo's vs. Whole Foods

How do you compare the quality of Russo's to Whole Foods for items that are readily available at each (e.g., avocados, broccoli, apples, fresh herbs)?

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  1. Depends on the produce and when you buy it. I've bought stuff at Russo's that had gone moldy very quickly. I won't buy berries from the anymore because of that. I've also had peachs, plums, apricots, etc go moldy sooner than those I've bought elsewhere. In the summer I check to see if there are any moldy pieces of fruit in the bin before buying. I've gotten some beautiful string beans from Russo's, but I've also passed up on some horrible looking ones. I also think that the tomatoes at Russo's aren't as good as Whole Foods. I find myself really picking through the clamshells to find tomatoes w/out black spots, and both the vine and greenhouse aren't as flavorful (even when in season). But I don't buy the heirloom or the local grown, so maybe they are better.

    Russo's prices are a lot less than Whole Foods, but ppearance wise Whole Foods produce is prettier than Russo's

    12 Replies
    1. re: viperlush

      Yeah, I'd give an edge to WF on consistent quality and organic selection. On prices and overal selection, Russo's blows it away.

      1. re: DoubleMan

        Russo's wins hands down if you are a careful shopper. First, on greens, herbs and mushrooms, it has a better selection than whole foods, particularly if you are at all interested in Asian greens and herbs. Basics like lemons, meyer lemons, good apples, a range of oranges including blood and cara cara, are reliably good and much cheaper than WF. Bread is as good or better, deli products significantly better, things like nuts and dried fruit infinitely cheaper. Perishable fruits like soft fruit (peaches, etc.) and berries need to be checked: if they look and feel right, they are fine. Peppers, cucumbers of many kinds, all much cheaper and as good or better, Tasty Tom tomatoes, canned San Marzano tomatoes, etc. I only stop in to WF for what's on sale.

        1. re: teezeetoo

          I love Russo's variety of baked goods too, but I will say a few items I've bought from them has pretty much started to go stale and/or mold within 2-3 days. I love their produce and dairy sections though. I only wish they were willing to open an out post closer to me.

          1. re: kobuta

            Most fresh baked goods are best if consumed within that timeframe.

            1. re: Gabatta

              Some of the baked goods are made with butter, but some of the cookies are made with shortening. I've been disappointed with them because don't have that luscious butter flavor that I find essential in a good cookie.

              The biscotti samples seem pretty buttery, though.

              1. re: Gabatta

                Unless the bread is a sourdough, I wouldn't expect bread to last much longer than 3 days ...

                And have you tried the trick where you store the bread cut-side-down on a cutting board, and cover it with a plastic bag? (I use a large ziploc bag so the open edge is flush with the cutting board.)

                1. re: tammyh

                  I love the Russo's country loaf.

                  He's another bread tip. My husband and I cut our bread from the middle. Take the first slice from the center one and work in from each side. We put the cut sides back together, put an elastic around the loaf then wrap it in a cloth towel.

                  I wrote about this on BostonZest a couple of years ago and it's still a popular post. It keeps the bread much fresher, longer. You let the crust do it's job of protecting the crumb.


                  1. re: BostonZest

                    Awesome, totally trying this on my next loaf!

                2. re: Gabatta

                  Go stale, would totally expect it. Grow mold spots? No.

            2. re: DoubleMan

              Yeah, no doubt. And the lack of consistency @ Russo's isn't enough of a reason to skip them.The selection and prices at Russo's makes it worth the drive out there from Cambridge. Fortunately I can shop early/mid day during the week so I don't have to battle the crowds. I've found Between Market Basket and Russo's there is little reason for me to purchase produce @ Whole Foods.

              1. re: viperlush

                When are there no crowds? I tried even a weekday morning and it was crowded. But with a different crowd than the weekend. It was mostly ancient Italian men then (a good resource, I might add, so it is kind of a bonus).

                1. re: dulce de leche

                  I usually go around 10/11ish on Mondays. Compared to later in the afternoon (lunch time) and on weekends there are no crowds. I can park near the entrance, carts don't bog down the aisles, and maybe 2 people in front of me @ register.

          2. Let's put it this way: since I started shopping at Russo's, our visits to Whole Foods have dwindled down to going in a couple times a year to stock up on 365+ brand tonic for our G&Ts. When it's not farmer's market season, there's no reason to buy produce anywhere except Russo's.

            As for peaches and other seasonal fruit, it's just a matter of being a careful shopper. If you want to use the peaches tonight, buy the fully-ripe ones, if you want them over the weekend, buy the slightly less-ripe ones, etc. (Last year's peaches were amazing: there were times when i stood over the hood of the car and ate a couple as soon as I was out of the store.)

            Admittedly, the crowds can be a trial, but if there's any wiggle room in your shopping times, there are times when it couldn't be simpler. Early morning on a weekend or early afternoon on a weekday, I can pull into the parking lot and pull out again 12 minutes later with two bulging shopping bags in the backseat.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

              Funny that you should mention herbs. Russo's usually kills WF, leaving me thinking - "Man, that dill looks fantastic - what can I do with that!" vs "Do I really need $3.99 worth of chives?" when I'm at WF.
              Don't be afraid to drive up Mt Auburn to Arax too.

              Arax Market
              585 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

              1. re: okra

                Russo's has also recently started selling smaller bunches of herbs for less money. No more buying a dollar's worth of cilantro when you only need 50 cents' worth.

                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                  That's good to hear. Their herbs are so cheap, but I do hate throwing away what I can't use.

              2. re: Jenny Ondioline

                Yep, my shopping habits now mimic Jenny O's on this score. Still, I really try to avoid Russo's on weekends.


              3. i find the masses at russos easier to deal with. the annoying previleged white people conversations and driven volvo driving super-moms just out of yoga class make me want to beat myself with a 2X4.

                also 4.99 a pound for red peppers?!? where the f are these things grown? kagawa prefecture?

                19 Replies
                1. re: hyde

                  Agree with Jenny and hyde - when you factor in all the metrics, Russo's comes out on top easily. Most of the produce is as good if not better than WF, it's seemingly half the cost, and I am supporting a local business. I have flipped out on occasion at WF when seeing an "organic" pear priced at $3/lb or more. Are you kidding me?

                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                    Ditto! I've stop shopping at WF just because of the poor quality of their produce. I've found that produce from Russo's last longer and does seem to taste better. I will complain they do not carry a good selection of fresh tomatos, but during the summer i'll just hit a local farm stand for those. Agree with Jenny also, early morning on the weekends or weekday afternoon. Any other times it becomes more of a roller derby of competitive shopping.

                    1. re: jjbourgeois

                      If you think it's bad now, remember the pre-expansion Russo's? Like being in a cattle chute.

                      The tomatoes are a bit of a mystery, though they seem to have a good local selection in season.

                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                        Sometimes I miss the old Russo's - in and out and no snivelling. And I never spent over 30 bucks no matter how hard we tried. I find the crowds as the new Russo's as annoying and entitled as any WF but I can only go on Saturdays when it's mobbed and that is why people in the neighborhood never go there on a weekend. I do go to WF when I want organic- potatoes and greens for example.

                    2. re: Bob Dobalina

                      I agree as well. The somerville MB is a mob scene but the turnover especially on fresh herbs is so high and they are so cheap....MB is a united nations of shoppers and lots of small kids but people are much more polite and attuned to others around them in terms of moving carts aside, etc. than people at whole foods are. Russo's also mobbed and with lots of different people but I enjoy the experience so much. I've even wondered about those new condos across the street. If I could walk to Russo's and get what I needed several times a week and have time to explore everything they stock, I'd be in heaven! I feel like I am around "real food" and real people at Russo's and everything at WF feels sanitized, plastic surgeoned, etc. I do buy meat there the few times I buy meat other than at farmers markets.

                      1. re: Madrid

                        I have totally thought about moving into those condos for that reason alone.

                    3. re: hyde

                      Agreed - yes, Russo's is hideously crowded when I go (I have another errand on Saturday afternoon that brings me right there, so I usually hit Russo's, and either De Pasquale's or Antoines - or both). I've just trained myself to be patient, and it's fine.

                      I will not give a dime to WF - their CEO is one o' them Atlas Sharted worshippers, and a total choad. The irony being that his customers think it's some kind of feel-good organic haven for the environmentally sensitive. Between Russo's, farmer's markets and a freezer full of "local meats," I can avoid WF altogether.

                      1. re: hyde

                        It's funny because I find the masses @ Russo's to be worse than WF. But I shop at Russo's late morning/early afternoon (Mon/Tues) with all the old couples. Slow, don't care if they block the lanes, and will occassionally shop out of my cart (I see it as a compliment). Along with the "annoying previleged white people conversations and driven volvo driving super-moms just out of yoga class" who don't know how to navigate the parking lot and like to leave their kid filled carts in random places. WF (River St) I tend to shop in the late afternoon/early evening with the "just off from work, need to grab dinner" crowd. Few carts and quick moving.

                        1. re: viperlush

                          Funny, I tend to shop at Russo's late afternoon/early evening when I need to grab some things for dinner and find the crowds much less annoying than on a Saturday, so maybe it's a time of day thing. I can't say that I enjoy the experience much at either place on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

                          I've had good luck with Russo's produce in general, except with the tomatillos. I really have to pick them over or just skip them most of the time. The difference in price of things like poblanos is really striking. They are usually $3.99 or $4.99/lb. at WF, and maybe $1.99/lb. or less at Russo's. The tomatoes are so-so at most places during the winter, including WF, but the local summer tomatoes are fine. I prefer the summer tomatoes from Wilson or Verrill Farm, though.

                          Whole Foods works if you need to pick up a few groceries or a small amount of meat or fish, but the prices are too high to do a weekly shopping there. It's Market Basket and Russo's, with a stop a local place (Wagon Wheel Farm) to supplement the daily stuff, for us.

                          1. re: viperlush

                            Wow - never been cart-shopped before. Maybe my produce-picking skills need some work...

                            1. re: nsenada

                              Yeah, when I see the little old women staring at my cart and picking stuff out I feel like I've done some good produce picking. Of course I'm not about to let them walk away with it, and I do try to keep my cart close. Learned my lesson after I had to chase someone down who took my figs (it was the last box).

                              1. re: viperlush

                                My strategy for Russo's on a Saturday was to park my cart in an obscure corner and run around the place grabbing armloads of stuff and running to the parked cart. There was a game show when I was a kid called Supermarket Sweep and it kind of has that feel to it. RE WF vs Russo's there is absolutely no comparison. I use WF only for sale items and 365 items. While the discussion is produce, they have a small but good meat selection including dePasquales sausages and their cheese selection is great for price and quality.

                                1. re: gourmaniac

                                  And they sometimes have Grillo's pickles now - a new addition, I think.

                                  1. re: nsenada

                                    Good to know. I really like the P. O. E. pickles that Russo's carries, and they are less than 1/2 the cost of the Grillo's. Usually less than $3/qt. I'd like to do a side-by-side comparison.

                                    I got a quart of P. O. E. pickled red peppers for $2.05 that we've been having fun. with. Really tasty, and such a good value, as is the giardiniera.

                                    1. re: nsenada

                                      Past couple of weeks they started carying Grillo's. But I still miss Moon Brine.

                            2. re: hyde

                              The WF in Brighton on Washington St has the WIDEST parking lot lanes I've ever seen, yet somehow everyone seems to drive like jerks there. I don't get it.

                              1. re: tammyh

                                Seriously! I don't get it. It's that or the people who, for some reason, need to multiple tries when backing out of a spot.

                              2. As someone who eats ~90% organic, Russo's loses. I love their prices, overall selection, etc, but they really just don't carry enough organic produce to make it worth my while.

                                1. BTW, more to your original post -

                                  Avocados: Russo's tend to range in price from $1.99 to as low as $0.99 on rare occasion. The quality can vary from rock-hard to perfectly ripe. WF - Don't think I have ever seen an avocado less than $1.99 and up from there. Tend to be larger fruits than Russo's is my impression, but usually are more unripe than the ones you may find at Russo's. Often, best ripe avocados feel like can be found at Arax. Also check the Indian markets on Moody St. in Waltham.

                                  Broccoli: Russo's has crowns usually in the $1.49 range - have to pick a little bit but decent quality. Given Russo's price, WF is not even on my radar.

                                  Apples: Russo's is much cheaper - have the cheaper bushel basket option as well. Occasionally will get some duds, especially out of season. WF's apples are perfect - Eve could not have picked a better one. They sometimes seem not quite ripe, but they always have perfect apples.

                                  Herbs: Russo's has big value here - big bunches of everything - much cheaper than WF.

                                  A few more things that sets Russo's apart:

                                  Seasonality: In addition to staples, the inventory often changes based on what's good and this often includes unusual things - could be morels, monster fruit, persimmons, Asian pears, local berries, or my favorite (in theory) - cardone! (Cardone is actually kind of a pain to prepare - think a mix between celery and artichoke - but I really appreciate that they offer it. Also lots of Asian fruits/veggies that I am not as personally familiar with.)

                                  Root veggies - really big selection at Russo's during the winter (again, could be due to seasonality) - several varieties of turnip, onion, parsnip, potatoes.

                                  Local eggs from Chip-In Farm - best tasting eggs I've eaten.

                                  Also love the bargain carts at the back of the store - bags for a $1 with whatever stuff is a little past prime - can often get great buys there - 8 green peppers for a buck was the most recent buy - just a couple of spots to clean up, otherwise they were fine.

                                  Best experience for me is to go there with an open mind and buy what looks good.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                    I usually forget about the bargain racks unless I'm shopping in the back there. Thanks for the reminder. Stuffed peppers, anyone?

                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                      Ah, the bargain carts (as a music journalist, I usually call them the remainder bins): three dead-ripe avocados for a buck? Looks like its guacamole tonight! Oh, and here's 8 slightly spotted limes, so we'll be having margaritas too,

                                      The ultimate bargain is when the button mushrooms hit the remainder bins, at approximately a buck a pound. They're ever so slightly withered, which many argue actually makes them more pronounced in their mushroom flavor because they've lost a bit of moisture. I maybe wouldn't eat them raw -- but I don't eat raw mushrooms anyway. And they're perfect for all other applications.

                                      I will say, though, that I don't care for the items in the bakery, especially the sweets. The only baked goods I buy there are the Afghani bread and pitas from Canada.

                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                        Every now and then, gourmet mushrooms in the remainder bins. Hen in the woods for that price once and they were spectacular. BTW, I finally figured out your new name and that Allstonian didn't have a new BFF.

                                      2. re: Bob Dobalina

                                        Russo's is also cheaper than just about every single Star, Shaws, and Stop & Shop in my area. Eggs are cheaper, yogurt is cheaper ... apples are currently $0.98 to $1.49/lb and oranges $0.98/lb and it's making me oh so happy because I've been craving fruit a lot these days.

                                        The only things I really get from WF are flour (since Russo's carries none) and organic milk. Russo's doesn't have the largest (nor cheapest) selection of milk and cream.

                                        I will sometimes drive over after work and make it about 15min before closing, and it's pretty quiet then ...

                                        1. re: tammyh

                                          The Highlawn Farm milk and cream that both Russo's and WF carry is fantastic. I wonder how the prices compare.

                                          I don't think it's organic, though, so that may be a deal-breaker for you.