Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Whole Foods Has Opened; The First Visit Left Me Overwhelmed, But I Finally Caught My Rockfish

The patio overlooking the Columbia lakefront
The couple was just behind me looking at the fish display.  Whole Foods opened in Columbia this morning, and we were in the lunchtime crowd.

They pointed.  They talked varieties.  They were clearly excited by just the idea of seafood because they were dressed for the office and clearly couldn't carry a fish with them.

Then the woman turned to the guy.  "Oh, wow," she said.  "We're in trouble."  He nodded.  "Yes, we are."

The pickle bar
If you're a Whole Food kind of shopper, then you are in trouble with the new store that opened in Columbia.  It's beautiful.  It's huge.  It's exactly the pricey temple to eating that you've seen in other towns, but now it's calling you from nearby

I barely looked at the central aisles today.  My first visit was a long circle around the edges where Whole Foods serves all kinds of convenience -- from ingredients like fish, sausages and meats to takeout like salads, fresh pasta, and olives to full meals like pizzas, bi bim bap, and sandwiches.

The meals seem as important to me as the grocery store.  Like Wegmans, Whole Foods offers tables after table of seating.  They want you to buy and sit.  They even have a deck and an indoor space that look over the lakefront.

I've said that this makes the Columbia lakefront a broad magnet.  People can shop.  They can just buy a meal.  In good weather, they can picnic outside.  Maybe stroll for a drink at Clyde's or our favorite cookie at Le Comptoir.

The cheeses
Today, I circled for things that I already know.  Some produce, a cheese, flowers, and the chicken sausage that will become a freezer staple for grilling, pasta sauces and more.   I planned to return for fresh pasta.  I gasped at the pickle bar.  A dozen kinds of pickled cucumbers.  Four kinds of kimchi.  A scattering of other cured vegetables.

I took my leap at that seafood counter.  I had two great fishing trips that both ended as fish-catching failures.  But Steve Vilnit talked up rockfish and showed me how they're caught in Chesapeake Bay traps.  I took the plunge on a small one that the fishmonger scaled, gutted and butterflied.  That's sitting now in the fridge with olive oil, roasted garlic, basil and lemon juice smeared inside.  Ready for the grill.

Does anyone else have stories from the Whole Foods opening day?  I'm sure that I'll post more as I try new items.  (Four kinds of kimchi!)  I'd love to hear about the actual meals -- the pizza, the lunch counter. . . .  Welcome to Whole Foods -- especially to the folks who moved to Columbia to work at the store.  I met a cheese guy who left California and felt duty-bound to warn him that this isn't the August heat that he should expect next year.

For more on the Whole Foods, check out the Two Dudes Who Love Food.  The teenaged bloggers made a short video about the store and making two healthy school lunches.  Just don't believe them about "wraps."  I love whole grains.  I love tortillas.  But America has ruined too many great sandwich ideas by switching bread for whole grain tortillas.


Marcia said...

Not a foodie like you and your followers. I stopped there because I was near. Sample two free items outside, headed inside, overwhelmed by the people the long lines and headed right back out. It will have to wait for another less crowded day for me to enter that store.

Anonymous said...

I didn't plan to stop by on opening day but happened upon the craziness and decided to stop in to check it out. I figured I would just walk around and check it out, no purchases, but just a few steps in the door I was seduced by fresh corn and sweet cherries. I walked by an olive bar that was so pretty I wanted to stop and take a picture, and I don't even like olives! Like you I stuck mainly to the perimeter with a side trip down the chip aisle. I was tempted by the wall of fresh baked pastries but decided not today. I left with a single bag of groceries and was treated to a sample burger on my way to the car. I will definitely be returning to check out the cheeses and seafood, just not until the crowds subside a bit.

Unknown said...

Funny enough I got a chance to visit the original Whole Foods just this past Friday in Austin, Texas. I think I know that flavor of overwhelmed that you felt because that's exactly what I experienced. This new Columbia location doesn't have nearly the features that WF Austin does but it's impressive in its own way. For a late lunch/early dinner me and the finomcee shared a meat lovers square slice (fresh from the state of the art 850F brick (?)) oven, a short rib pastrami sandwich (pure - served on rye w/mustard), some selections from the salad and prepared foods bars, and a select few agonized-over choices from the wealth of desserts available. Almost everything we sampled was more or less good to exceptional. And the seating was really excellent and a disyinctively unique feature of this particular location.

It's interesting to note that they were very competitive on some gourmet/specialty grocery items that I'd normally be buying from David’s Natural Market, and had a vegetarian/vegan/healthy hot+made to order section on the perimeter that seemed to be directly competing with DNM's cafe.

Also, after checking out, we received a $10 off $50 coupon. Guessing this is a one time or limited time offer for their grand opening. Very glad to have yet another excellent foodie destination for groceries and dining!

Anonymous said...

Checked it out today myself. Pretty nice. Seemed kind of small compared to most of the local grocery stores here although it might be because I didn't see everything. It was quite packed and crowded, so I was in a hurry to leave. But I did buy a few things. They have a nice selection of spices, flour, nuts, grains, and all sorts of other items you can buy in bulk there. I'll have to try again on a less busy day. Guessing the crowds will die down in a couple of months just like when Wegman's first opened.

StephenC said...

Hi. I was there for the grand opening bread breaking ceremony yesterday morning. I arrived early enough to get one of the 200 gift bags that were handed out. Inside were organic kettle corn (Whole Foods' 365 brand), organic coffee from the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company, a sampler of Celestial Seasonings' English Breakfast black tea, a small sample container of bath salts, and a secret savings coupon worth $2-$100 (you find out how much the coupon is worth at checkout, mine was $2).

I was still on my way to work, so after the bread breaking ceremony, I went in just to get the organic raspberries and St. Germain baguette on sale yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to see the rest of the store, but I was happy to be there for the opening. What a great day for Columbia yesterday, after years of waiting for Whole Foods to arrive!! :-)

Here's a link to Whole Foods' grand opening deals:

Grand Opening Week Deals

Bren said...

I grew up in Fulton most my life, and I thought what they have done is lovely. I like how they took that building and made it a beautiful community spot.

I tried some things that looked safe easily because I was a little overwhelmed with the choices. I tried the pickle bar! I am a huge pickled anything fan. I would say it is worth a try. Fresh pickle veggies are a different experience than a pickle from a jar, and these were great. From the cucumbers, the spiced pickles were my favorite, and of the others I liked the asparagus. I like the jared Wickles okra better than the more fresh pickle, because the fresh still had a bit of the sliminess and I like my okra more spiced. The kimchi was the best I had outside of Hmart. I tried the premium and the bokchoy. The spice and fishiness was toned down, prob for a more general palette...but the rankness is the part I like about kimchi. Of the two, the bokchoy was better just because bokchoy itself has more flavor. But again, I would rather get the oyster kimchi from Hmart.

The vegetables were beautiful and it will be interesting to see how prices are affected at local places like roots. The sunflower and radish sprouts were of a better quality then I had seen locally before. I mixed some into a seafood salad I made from the salad bar! The salad bar was great since they seem to be experimenting with non-standard flavor pairings.

In the prepared section there was a Lavender Honey Latte (cold brew), that I thought was pretty amazing for a bottled coffee.

I have been mourning the loss of gluten for three years (a foodie that loses gluten is a sad foodie), but this place has some nice things I have not seen before. Had to buy the GF plum sauce and GF Korean BBQ sauce. There was more I wanted but I have a full pantry at home. Gluten free baked goods are in the freezer, but as a former baker I had to check out the prepared regular ones and they looked amazing. Had not mourned so hard that I could not eat it in I bought some for my friends and I am going to watch them eat it and pretend it is me. A sweet potato cupcake with roasted marshmallow? That has to be awesome.

For allergies, I felt it was not as well labeled as Wegman's and is going to take some extra time to become an easier place to shop. However, I think it will be worth it.

Gabby said...

I attempted to buy a special $5 rotisserie chicken. Unfortunately, 30 other people had the same idea. It was packed on a Friday afternoon. However, the lines weren't that bad. I was definitely overwhelmed given the crowd. The store is nice. But, I'll continue to visit other WF locations until the crowds die down.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, but too expensive for me. Libby's large can of pumpkin was over $6 and at Giant it was only over $3 - same exact thing.

I didn't get a chance to look at everything though, it was pretty busy in there. I'll check it out again, but I don't think I'll be a regular shopper there.

jones said...

We went tonight (Wednesday) to check it out but mostly for dinner because we knew they had a little restaurant. We were really disappointed. Attempted to order at "The Counter" but waited for several minutes for someone to take our order before giving up. They weren't even that busy (Wednesday night). So we tried the sandwich counter. All the sandwich ingredients had clearly been sitting around for a while (and were not covered well IMHO) and looked pretty bad. We ordered a couple sandwiches anyway. We tried them, but they were so underwhelming that we pitched them and went elsewhere. I guess our expectations for a grocery store restaurant were unrealistic.

Junior Barnes said...

FYI - On the other side of the sandwich/pizza counter (in the seating area) is a Korean bowl ordering area. It's very easy to miss and they should do a better job of publicizing it. I haven't ordered anything from there, yet.

Trip Klaus said...

While I'm sad to say I am very disappointed with the meat departments at all the local Whole Foods, which seem to have abandoned a relationship with local farms in favor of Australian beef and Icelandic lamb, I can confirm that the sausage maker at the Columbia branch has gotten the chicken chorizo recipe correct and is doing a great job.