Monday, April 18, 2011

First, We Knock Down All The Supermarkets

Last week, I realized that the problem with Howard County's food options is that we have way too many supermarkets.

I spent much of last week in Manhattan.  I saw a single supermarket in days of walking around the island, and I ate wonderfully.  Some really expensive stuff.  But mostly, the food cost the same as around here; it was just better -- a brick oven pizza, a bahn mi sandwich, some French desserts called macaron.

The key to this abundance seems to be that New Yorkers are hungry.

They can't buy their own food.  So they flock to these restaurants.  We waited an hour to eat ramen on West 52d Street.  Somebody roughed out a basement and installed cooking equipment against one wall.  Hip youngsters pack the 18 seats to buy soup.  They stood around patiently in a rainstorm, way less jostling than the crowds at Facci.

You get a bowl of chicken-based soup, tricked out with noodles, some vegetables, and two slices of pork belly.  Delicious!  I'm not saying that we'll attract the three Japanese chefs in their urban kerchiefs, but someone could make some money selling ramen -- or bahn mi -- or macarons -- if we could make people hungrier around here.

First, we need to start knocking down the supermarkets.  Oh, I see you had the same idea.

Some HowChow suggestions:  Angelo's Coal Oven Pizza on W. 57th, Totto Ramen on W. 52nd, Macaron Cafe on 7th Avenue (or East 59th), and il Laboratorio del Gelato, which has moved to a new location on the Lower East Side.

I also tried Bon Chon's Korean fried chicken for the first time.  It wasn't a fair test.  We had spent so much time at Mood looking for modern fabric that I had to order takeout to get back to our hotel.  The 10-block walk killed the crisp.


icolithic said...

Whaat? I think there are more restaurants that need to be closed down (Noodles and Company, Chipotles, PF Changs, Cheesecake Factory ...). We need to phase out some of the rubber stamp supermarkets, but stores like Wegmans and some Ethnic stores are actually making foods more accessible to those who appreciate the hands-on approach. There are tons of small grocers and gourmet markets in New York ... the restaurants are great for the tourists and the working masses, but even in the city, people don't eat out every night.

Doji Star said...

I love your blog (it's the only way I can find places in HoCo), but this post was, frankly, hateful. What if one doesn't have the money and leisure to drive around buying prepared food all the time? What if, like me, you actually enjoy cooking, watch your diet carefully, and don't particularly like dining out or getting carry out? A good supermarket is a amazing thing, full of affordable food across a wide variety of sources all in one place. Not all of us are people of leisure with the time and money to go to a half-a-dozen tiny ethnic markets every week to assemble a meal, sampling drinks and treats along the way.

The major problem with many HoCo supermarkets is that they are dark, dirty, hard to find, lack parking, and have sticky floors and surly staffs. Columbia village center stores, I'm looking at you. I personally don't go anywhere but Costo, Trader Joe's, Harris Teeter (yes, ok, it is in a village center), and the Korean markets. And Wegmans, when it opens.

If people want to live an urban life full of eating out and urban scenes, they should probably not live in suburban Maryland. Move to DC.

Steve Fine said...

We need Grey's Papaya or Papaya King here in HoCo as well.

Steve Fine said...

@Doji Star. Relax, I'm sure Howchow was just joking. After all, he has been one of Wegman's biggest advocates.

Zevonista said...

Next time you're in Manhattan., you HAVE to go to one of the dumpling houses in Chinatown. Four big dumplings for a buck. A pork-stuffed pancake for a buck. We spent $2 each and left Vanessa's Dumpling House stuffed.

With good, cheap food like that, it's not surprising there are so few supermarkets there! Plus, most apartments have tiny kitchens. The entire city is designed for going out. NYC has the best food at BOTH ends of the price spectrum.

duanestclair said...

I would love to see a village center close its Giant or Safeway and became a place for all the ethnic groceries that seem to be scattered all over the area in hard to find places. I love shopping at these stores but have trouble finding them and driving all over to get to them. Wish the Market Place on Route one would have gone in this direction.

Megan said...

The problem is that Manhattan doesn't have ENOUGH supermarkets. Who can afford to eat out every single day? I don't understand those New Yorkers who don't know how to cook. Although I love the variety of restaurants in New York, it's just not practical or even healthy to eat out every day.

To be fair, I don't think you necessarily need supermarkets like Giant or Superfresh or whatever. There are tons of grocers in Chinatown (where my family does their grocery shopping). Honestly, I don't understand the American obsession of dining out all the time.

My favorite Bahn mi place in New York is Bahn Mi Saigon in Chinatown. Better than the Paris place across the street.

Brian Hooks said...

Bahaha "tricked out with noodles," great stuff.

BeerGuy said...

New York is a world unto itself.

I had a great time visiting a friend in NYC last summer and will be back but I don't think I could live there, they really do live a cramped life often without kitchens.

The setup that's evolved there is just way different from anywhere else in the country, in my view.

I guess I'm saying let New York be New York and HoCo be HoCo, although I still want a Bonefish Grill dammit.

HowChow said...

@Doji Star -- I'm not sure how to respond. Did you not get the joke? Or was this a subtle attempt at insulting me with some idea that I'm a person "of leisure?" Let me know so I know how to respond.

@Megan -- I think we actually got the bahn mi from Bahn Mi Saigon. We just walked in a place that enticed us so I didn't remember the name. But that sounds right.

Doji Star said...

@HowChow -- There are are a lot of people who seriously advocate what you described here... No grocery stores, only seasonal localvore food or tiny ethnic markets, we can survive solely on lame overpriced farmers markets, etc. I find it insensitive to the income- or time-challenged, much less to those who choose to live in the suburbs. I just felt if this were supposed to be sarcasm, it fell short of the mark considering it's something one can see posted with a straight face many places on the internet. And I'm tired of urbanites, particularly New Yorkers, continually bragging about how amazingly awesome their lives are (Really? Why do so many of them move out after a few years or lust after an escape to the Hamptons?).

Sorry, I guess the humor was just lost on me. I don't get much amusement out of life.

HowChow said...

@Doji Star -- Sorry that my post missed the mark. It wasn't supposed to be sarcasm as much as joshing. I can't claim to aim much higher than joshing around here. Sarcasm has a bitterness that seems out of place in a hobby about food.

Anyway, the post was supposed to be some thoughts from the trip to NYC -- a touch of "things I'd love to have here" and a touch of "Why haven't you posted much recently."

I had never actually heard anyone champion knocking down the supermarkets. It seemed ridiculous enough to get people to click on a link -- and then it seemed like divinely-inspired comedy when I saw the Elkridge Patch story about the wall falling down.

Greg said...

I managed to move from Columbia to Brooklyn and then, three years later, back to Columbia, and pretty much the food and drink scene in New York completely rules.

The thing I notice more than anything is just the lack of options. I'd put Victoria up against almost any gastropub I ate at up there (their poutine is divine), and the burger at LeeLynn's is easily on par with anything I had in New York, up to and including the $28 Black Ribbon burger at Minetta Tavern. But I can only go to Victoria so many times, and I don't know of a single other place in HoCo that's on their level. I love Bon Fresco, but I had three sandwich places in my old neighborhood (Park Slope, Brooklyn) of that quality, plus another one a block from my office. And there's simply nothing I've found down here that can even come close to the pizza. Or the street food. Good god, the street food.

Anyway, sorry, that wasn't really on topic, I guess. I do prefer the supermarkets down here, for what that's worth. I used to go to this Polish grocer that had something like a thousand different bottled beers, as well as fresh bread and house-made sausage, but they were a crapshoot otherwise, and the place was dirty and disorganized. If you wanted any kind of produce or quality meat, you had to make a second stop. Which has it's charm, don't get me wrong. There's a delightful old-world feel to getting bread from a baker, meat from a butcher, and produce from a farmer's market, but it's also staggeringly impractical, and I'll take the one-stop-shop at Giant any day of the week. Though not being able to buy beer in grocery stores is unfortunate.

(Sorry if this ends up double-posting. Blogger errored out the first time.)

P90 Noir said...

Of course, Manhattan also has that whole population density thing going for them and the tiny apartments with tiny (or no) kitchens. ;-)

And on the Facci note, I was there last night and they plan for the expansion to be complete by the end of May.

icolithic said...

I've spent a considerable time in NY ... living there for 3-4 months out of the year for several years...

It's a gastro paradise ... and there are tons of grocers, markets, bakeries, etc.... Part of the joy was walking to all the local specialty stores ... and my waistline appreciated it.

I never had problems with cooking while here, and I never met a New Yorker who did either.

One of the best Markets ... Zabar's.

Marcia said...

I'll make no apologies for the fact that I will miss the SuperFresh on Rt. 40. I started going there a couple years ago when Giant really began cutting back on stock. The produce department at SuperFresh is much better than my local Safeway, they have a bigger selection and the produce is in good condition. Sure, there is H Mart and other small groceries with good produce, but I like the one-stop shopping.

Over time I have come to know many of the employees at this SuperFresh. They are all friendly and go out of their way to help me. They are why I keep going to this store. The employees are the real casualties of the SF bankruptcy and I feel very badly that they will lose their jobs. Many have been with this store for YEARS, and they will be missed. I hope they are able to find jobs elsewhere in the area.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the Super Fresh in Route 40 is closing. That's sad. They are on the pricey side but it's my go-to place for fresh ham. HowChow, be careful what you wish for!

Marcia said...

They are on the list, along with the one in Elkridge. Sad.

It is indeed pricey, but generally I enjoy the experience of shopping there. As I said, I've gotten to know some of the people who work there, at least enough for small talk. Most of them try to keep customers happy. I hope they end up ok.

RHfoodie said...

What NY has is density! How many would support a store solely devoted to french fries, however good they are? Or a cheese store? Or just poultry store? Just can't happen here. To the person who suggested turning one of the village centers in a foodie destinatin - great idea. But not enough money in it for Kimco. You need cheap real estate for something like that. We don't have it here. Same thing in NY - some of these specialty shops exist at the fringes of neighborhoods. Not on 5h Ave or Times Square.

Happy eating everyone!

kat said...

This is a hilarious post and I love it to pieces.

As others have noted, though, a big factor is that a lot of the people who live in NY have little or no kitchen. It's just easier to go out for meals than it is to try to cook at home. A friend of mine up there gets by with just a microwave and a minifridge.

I love the NY food scene, but I don't think I'd trade it for my big kitchen and my ready access to fresh produce. Still, thanks for sharing your dining experience!

Steven Sun said...

That bowl of ramen looks delicious. Are there any decent ramen places in this area?

Morty Abzug said...

The title is a reference to "First, we clear all the lawyers," no? Pretty clearly intended as humor.

Anonymous said...

Another example of the snobbery, elitism and class warfare that is the epitome of Howard County. Sorry I need to be anonymous, but I've seen what happens to people who post publicly who challenge the status quo.

kam said...

I totally want to be part of the blog comment-reading, anonymous-tracking, HoCo mafia!

I'm beginning to wonder, though, if the original post might could have been improved by the addition of a ;) at the end.