09 February 2012

Seattle's Grocery Store Fetish

Sunday Sauce:  Imported tomatoes from PFI,
quality cuts of meat from Whole Food, dried herbs from PCC

Grocery stores in Seattle is one of my favorite topics.  I guess you could call me a real Seattle GSS. That's my term - a "Grocery Store Snob".  While my modest side wishes I was not a GSS, I recognize that I am quite particular and quite spoiled given the excellent quality of grocery stores in our area.  When it comes time for great produce, fresh fish, specialty food items or just a plain good value, I've got my list and thankfully it's quite long and varied in Seattle.  As a Realtor, buyers want to know about neighborhood home values and local schools, but almost as crucial is how close good groceries stores are to their prospective new dream home.  And as a Realtor who cares dearly about food and cooking and eating, I've got my opinions.  Whether sourcing food for the kitchen pantry, for a special dinner party with family and friends, or for my Casa Fiore's Cucina cooking classes (it takes 12-15 grocery stops for one class!), here's a list of the stores I frequent, complete with a mini review.  Obviously, Seattle is a big town, so I don't pretend to know all of the great spots.  This is just my list - I am sure you have yours.  What are your favorite grocery shopping spots?  Please do share!  Without further adieu and in no particular order, here is where I shop.

Metropolitan Markets.  I frequent the one in Hawthorne Hills for convenience, but the best one is in the Proctor District in Tacoma; we stop there every time we go to visit Great Grandpa Fiore.  I agree, way expensive (and have you ever noticed, there's something off with the layout at the front of the Hawthorne Hills store), but excellent foodstuffs all the way around.  I pick and choose what I buy here - some nice cheese, Salumi cured meats, some produce or seafood in a pinch.

QFC.  I remember as a kid hearing my parents say, "Oh, has QFC ever gone down hill."  It seems that the fall is long.  At risk of sounding like a geezer, "Oh, has QFC ever gone down hill."  That being said, compared with what I've found while travelling the rest of the county, we are lucky to have a chain as decent as this to place at the bottom of the barrel.  And to be fair, some stores are much better than others.  I guess my real problem is paying Whole Food prices for something that is nothing close to Whole Food quality.  Unless I have little time to spare, I get the basics and basically that is it.

Trader Joe's.  I will chime in with the chorus and agree, this is the greatest snack shop EVER!  It is true that the TJ line of foods is really just repackaged good, quality stuff, and therefore a great value.  However, beware of the produce and much of the meat, which QFC, even the feeble flagship U-Village store, can beat on most days.  And beware of the Roosevelt store when busy, which, as far as I can tell, is from 8am-9pm.

Here's is what you are looking for.  Now good luck in getting here.
Pacific Food Importers or "PFI".  Hard to locate and old-school crotchety Italian-American ("One pound minimum!"), this place is still one of the best food stores in town.  All kinds of bulk flours and staples, a good range of canned tomatoes, peppers and other odds and ends, many varieties of panettone at Christmastime, and super selection of bulk olives.  Though hard to find, it's hard to miss this spot whenever I throw a big dinner party or cooking class.  Sure, De Laurenti's is great as well, but PFI is my go-to spot.  This place inspires in the kitchen.

No-need home-baked bread:  tipo 00 and semolina flour bought in bulk at PFI
Uwajimaya.  One of the best places to purchase seafood in town.  And surprisingly affordable.  Best range of produce in town and good quality stuff.  You can find stuff here that you cannot find anywhere else.  Always a great adventure and always a great vibe in this store.

Whole Food.  While it is difficult to tolerate the snooty Cascadia-Ecotopia vibe whenever I visit (is this place Seattle's walking-talking version of Portlandia, or what?), there is no doubt that most everything is superlative at this store (I frequent the Roosevelt Ave. location).  Stellar meats and produce, great cheese selection, tasty takeout.  I do think their cakes are overrated, but overall a place to really get excited about food.  Word of warning:  shop wisely to avoid a dangerous ding to your debit card.

Ballard Market.  My very favorite store day in and day out.  Just the right balance for me of excellent quality, selection, specialty products, good specials, and value brands.  Great beer selection, solid and fresh seafood, always something great on sale like baby back ribs or mangoes, and possibly THE best produce in town.

Screaming deal for these beauties at Ballard Market
Central Market.  Owned by the same group that owns Ballard Market, this could really be the best store in town.  Huge and just packed to the gills with so, so much great stuff.  Problem for me is, it actually isn't "in town".  Though worth the trek and not so hard to get to, alas, it is located in Shoreline just off of 99.

PCC.  Best store for spice shopping:  best selection, freshest spices, best prices.  Beyond that, a bit pricey and, for me, a bit overly focused on exclusively organic ingredients (before you blow me up with a comment, read further and you will see that I am big proponent of organic, natural food).  Overall, these are really fine stores.

West Seattle Thriftway.  Just an all-around great store, much like Ballard Market.

The Market.  The Pike Place Market is still a wonderful place to shop for a meal.  For me, given my geography and personal circumstances, regretfully I do not get there often enough.  However, for range and quality and fun, The Market is a blast.

Vashon Thriftway.  A real anchor store in the heart of town on Vashon Island.  Offers a lot more than just food to Islanders... great beer selection, excellent produce, good balance of fancy- and value-driven items.  Good vibe to boot - what else would you expect on Vashon?  Very friendly place to shop and to be.

Fremont Fred Meyer.  Just kind of a fun store to go to.  Heads and shoulders above any other Freddy's.  Solid.

Local farmers markets.  Love to make a stop at the Phinney Farmers Market when the cherries and peaches are in.  Beyond having excellent, local produce and products (like "98103 honey"... that is honey from bees buzzing around in my neighborhood!  How cool is that?!!), just a great and easy food/community experience.  University Heights Market is one we visit as well.  Wherever you live these day you can find a local farmers market, which is a real triumph because it shows you just how far we've come in our food culture and habits.

My garden.  This IS the best place for sourcing prime, fresh, unusual, healthful, tasty, and value-driven food products.  No tomatoes can beat my tomatoes for tastiness, tenderness, freshness, variety, and eatability-literally-right-off-the-vine-with-juice-running-down-your-forearm-and-in-between-your-toes goodness.  Nothing beats my beets in January baked straight out of the dank, frigid ground.  Nothing beats inventing dishes with whatever is fresh TODAY.  Nothing beats assembling an original flavor bouquet from the 25 or so fresh herbs growing on hand.  Can you see that I can go on and on with this?  I will spare you...  but it's really the best store I know of in town!!! Try starting one of your own and you will know what I know.

So, you tell me:  am I really just a spoiled Seattle GSS? 

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