Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What You'll See At The New Columbia Wegmans

Fill a Wegmans truck with your favorite food
I didn't have to go to the new Columbia Wegmans.

I had planned on waiting a few weeks for the rush to slow, but then I had Monday off work and focused on food.  And I was excited.  I drove over at 8 am and ended up wandering around for much more than an hour.

What should you expect at the new Wegmans?  I appreciated the pre-opening publicity, but sometimes journalists get a little caught up in detail like square-footage and the number of check-outs and miss the way that things feel.

Gourmet cheese
It's huge.  The Wegmans is enormous.  The aisles are wide.  The store stretches forever.  It's more like a Target than a grocery store.  Get a map because I missed sections and had to loop back.  At the entrance, it's a gourmet store with prepared foods, bakery, meat, fish and cheese.  Then it's a huge produce department.  Then it's a grocery store down the center, then it's a steel-shelved club store at the far end.

But it's not exactly four stores stitched together.  Some items are scattered around the store.  There is bread in the bakery.  There is more way in the back.  There are sodas in a half dozen aisles -- including San Pellegrino next to Italian cookies on the aisles with pasta sauces.  It's more broken-up than a grocery store, which just means that you can walk around and make discoveries around any corner.

The food and the people are unusual.  For my first visit, the hot spots were cheese, bakery and fish.  They're just varieties and qualities that I can't find in any single store around here.  They all range from the good quality regulars -- like a nice cheddar block or a good $2.25 Italian loaf -- to exotic pushes like $22/pound European cheese, diver boat scallops, and enormous whole rockfish.

Sausages and hot dogs
The Wegmans service does really stand out.  I had one cheese sliced in half because I just didn't need an $8 block.  I tasted another and definitely bought something extra as a result.  At the meat counter, the guy explained the three prosciutto.  He was clear.  He had real descriptions and a real opinion.  He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and it encouraged me to spring for the stuff that he liked best.

The prepared foods are a big draw.  Just to the right of the entrance is a small food court -- sushi, sub shop, coffee shop, and row after row of prepared foods on the buffet.  But Wegmans goes one step farther.  The fish and meat sections have all kinds of "semi-prepared" foods like fish with a marinate or a topping, packaged up with directions printed on the front.  Produce sells already-chopped vegetables.  The cheese section sells ready-made tasting plates with four varieties and some dried food, ready to just put out for a party.

Those kinds of meals makes Wegmans a great place if you have an appetite, but not the time to start all the way from scratch.  Wegmans wants you to eat in the store.  There's seating in the cafe with more outside overlooking McGaw Road.  It's a real place to go for lunch or dinner, then pick up your shopping as well.

Overall, I go for excitement.  I'm not the best at price-watching.  I cook, and I cook with just a little meat.  So it's easy to splurge when you're buying vegetables, beans, cheese, and one thing from the meat counters.  I noticed that Chobani yogurt was $1, and that's a draw.  But I don't know how your bill will add up, and I'm suspicious about every chains and their claims about beating all the local competition.

Overall, the Wegmans lives up to the hype because the food is exciting.  I saved a real exploration until Mrs. HowChow and I could wander through together.  But bulk candy looks fun.  Bulk grains look interesting.  I saw five loaves of bread that I wanted to try.  We have bagels for this morning, and I'm excited to see if they live up to the New York billing.

Not that Wegmans replaces everything else.  I love Whole Foods' sausages, and I was bummed to realize that Wegmans' meat department doesn't offer anything similar.  Similarly, Mrs. HowChow needed Clear Jel for a pie, and that isn't on their shelves.  At some point, I want to grill and can sweet and hot peppers for the winter, and I'll go back to H Mart for spectacular, cheap vegetables.  In the same way, Howard County was full of markets and bakeries before Sunday, and I can list off the fun -- like cookies and nougat and crabs -- that will keep me shopping around.


Matt said...

I have to agree-I've always been skeptical about the price comparisons-they compared a lot to Safeway (for all we know-it was the NYC prices!). I keep an eye on supermarket prices, and I noticed they don't compare themselves to Giant at all. I will still go there (Giant) for my main shopping, but I am excited about this place for the fresh take out, the bakery, and the hard to find items I usually trek to Whole Foods for. Also, the ready made food will make this Wegman's a lunch hotspot instantly, which is great b/c I would hate to know they were wasting all that prepared food.

Elizabeth @ The Bare Midriff said...

Wow; that description overwhelms me! I've been to a Wegman's before, and it was just as you described it. Sounds like a good place if you're hosting a party and don't want to prepare everything from scratch.

I think I'll still wait for the crowds to dissipate a bit before I venture there though - don't really care for crowds if I can avoid them!

Dan said...

There was a big Wegman's ad in the Post last week doing the typical grocery comparison thing and they were comparing themselves to Giant. Of course, it's all bunk since they'll just pick items to include in the ad where they beat the competition. I think the not-so-secret Wegman's secret is they have better grocery prices but get you in the prepared foods area Mr. Chow was talking about, which are very marked up (but very good, so whatever). Anyway, Wegmans4Life!

Trout said...

I live about a mile from the Frederick wegmans, so I can give a 'one year later' follow up. The prices are competitive for everyday items. The big difference is the store brand foods are higher quality at wegmans than giant/safeway.

The first few weeks/months your bill will be higher as you find and try all the new stuff, but with practice you can keep your bill low and get better stuff than at other places.

My favorites: King Arthur flour for $3.50ish (everyday, not sale), Green box pasta ($2 per box, quality of the $4+ imported stuff), the little jar of pesto ($$$$ but a tiny spread on a piece of toast with a fried egg is amazing), and all three varieties of wegmans brie.

Anonymous said...

I do a lot of shopping at the Hunt Valley wegmans(I work near there) and I've noticed that the prices are very very competitive with the local stores. I'm cheap so I do a lot price shopping. Wegmans, overall, works out to about $10-15 less per shopping trip than Harris Teeter and $5-10 than Safeway. I don't really go to Giant so I don't know about them. I will say, when HT has their triple coupons, I'll still go there.

I never buy any of the prepared foods, so I don't know what their markup/price is like. In fact, I don't think I've even ever gotten food from their hot bar.

I went to last night and it was a little crowded but not bad overall. The grocery section was pretty empty but the prepared foods/veggies/cheese/meat areas were PACKED. Spent about $150 and now I have enough food for a couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

I know you have been waiting a long time for Wegman's. BUT, getting tired of all the hype. The company is NOT as friendly as they make themselves out to be (is any company).

Mike said...

The in-store flier you can pick up as you walk in the door has three pages of price comparisons between Wegmans, Giant and Safeway on more than 60 items. In the fine print, it says that prices were checked at Giant (7200 Cradlerock in Columbia), Safeway (5485 Harper's Road in Columbia) and the new Columbia Wegmans on May 26. Some of the prices are not that far apart but some price differences are huge. For example, the whole rotisserie chicken is $3 cheaper at Wegmans than either of the other stores.

I'm sure you could do your own comparison and find something cheaper at another store but my experience in shopping at the Frederick and Hunt Valley Wegmans is that the only place that compares favorably on prices is Food Lion. I'll still have to pick up a couple of things at Food Lion occasionally but the price, selection and much more pleasant employees at the new Wegmans are more than enough incentive to do most of our shopping there.

K8teebug said...

How much is Pepino? That's what I use to compare all the stores. So far, no one beats Mars. no one.

Anonymous said...

I still haven't been in yet but driven by several times since I live nearby. Looking forward to checking it out and SO glad it's another option besides the horrible Giant on Cradlerock near me. I drive right past it to go to HT once a week but now I can add Wegman's into my options. :-)

I'm wondering how long Wegman's will be allowed to keep those garish sale signs out on McGaw Rd. However you feel about Columbia's signange policies, it's still not right to give Wegman's a free pass.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to going. I go to Roots on occasion for things I haven't found elsewhere, but salespeople are rude more than friendly.
Recently moved here from VA and I feel I spend a lot more at Giant than I did at Harris Teeter in VA. Buy mostly the same items so not sure why there is a such a cost difference. Hope to see a price savings at Wegmans

HowChow said...

@Anon (who is tired of the hype) -- I promise this isn't going to be the Wegmans blog. I had a fine Saturday on Main Street with some fun ideas to share. And please avoid the hype by checking out some other local place. I do recommend the egusi at Kuramo -- http://howchow.blogspot.com/2012/06/egusi-at-kuramo-in-columbia.html

beach57 said...

I was at Wegmans on Monday at 8 am also. I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet and uncrowded it was. It gave me a chance to chat with some of the employees. When I returned Tuesday afternoon, it was packed. I would recommend shopping early in the morning on a weekday if possible.

I'm a huge fan of Wegmans since they came to Hunt Valley 7 years ago. In my opinion, Giant, Safeway and Harris Teeter pale in comparison. They are the Nordstroms of grocery stores. I plan to do most of my shopping at Wegmans from now on.

perrik said...

It was like an amusement park of food.

I picked up some pretzel rolls, locally-made hummus with Old Bay, and various other edible items. The store size is a bit overwhelming, but that does help spread out the crowd (except around the food bar, yikes).

That Old Bay hummus is really, really good.

I live a little south of Maple Lawn, so Harris Teeter will remain my primary source of stuff... for now. However, I foresee a lot of Trader Joe/Wegman combination trips in my future!

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the Old Bay hummus, I'm going to look for that tomorrow.

I made burgers with the pretzel rolls today and they were outstanding.

Morty Abzug said...

Went a little after 9p on Monday. Some specific items I went looking for:

Smoked whitefish: yes, both packaged and whole! Unfortunately, the counter with whole smoked whitefish closed at 9pm. [Which is much later than the various counters at Hickory Ridge Giant would be open.]
Smoked sable: yes! Again, that counter closed at 9pm.
Chopped liver: no.
Corned brisket: no. What?
Tongue: no, neither in the deli nor in the meat department. The meat department said they could special order it.
Chorizo sausage: yes. At least two options.
Rainbow cake: no. But they did have "rainbow cookies", which looked like small slices of rainbow cake.
Chopped liver: no.
Life cereal, maple and brown sugar: yes!
Diamond Walnut halves: no.
Green Giant green bean casserole: no.

Anonymous said...

Went this AM at 8. Lots of parking, no lines at check out. Able to meander around to check out the store. Friendly and helpful staff. No mole which I have not been able to find at Giant nor HT. Had hoped Wegmans would have it. Oh well. Spent less than I would have at other stores-bought some bakery items- bagels (not NY but ok)and sfogliatelle,(haven't tried them yet to compare to NY) smoked blue cheese, burrata, Italian breatd, Italian sausage, dry scallops + some odds and ends. Happy so far.

K8teebug said...

I went yesterday at 5pm. Bought some pretzel rolls for salmon burgers and they were great! I like that they're a different shape than the ones at HT.

Prices at Wegmans were wonderful. Pepino pizza sauce was 1.35, comparable to Mars and Chiobani yogurt was 1.00. Their price on eggs alone is worth the trip. Bought groceries for 50 bucks which would have been easily a 70 dollar HT trip.

I think where you could really spend the money there is with the hot bar and prepared foods. At 8.49/pound, that could really add up.

Seafood there looked just AMAZING.

K8teebug said...

Oops! Forgot one more thing. They have Vosges candy bars there for six dollars, which is about a dollar cheaper than I've seen them for sale anywhere!

Daniel said...

Morty: my guess is at least two of the items you were looking for, Corned Beef and Chopped Liver (twice), were available at the kosher counter which is between the Bakery and the main meat counter (across from the lobster! tank).

Anonymous said...

Does Wegmans have crab cakes, either already-cooked or cook-it-yourself? thanks

beach57 said...

I've been back to Wegmans every day this week. Mornings are generally quiet. Afternoons are crazy busy!

The sushi department seems to be extremely popular. This afternoon, I counted 8 employees busily preparing various items.

I was surprised to discover that several items that I typically buy from Costco are less expensive at Wegmans, including beef tenderloin and 80% lean ground beef.

I wanted to compare their prices to the River Hill Giant, so I picked out 53 items that I typically buy from just about every department in the store. The prices at Giant were 28% higher than at Wegmans!!

The customer service at Wegmans is outstanding. Just today when I was checking prices at Giant, I overheard a customer ask a clerk if they carried a particular frozen food item. The clerk said "I don't know" and didn't offer any additional assistance. I can tell you that would never happen at Wegmans. Every employee that I have encountered has been helpful and friendly.

Personally, I won't be shopping at Giant any longer now that Wegmans has finally arrived.

Wally said...

Yes, I'm sure Wegman's is a nice place. Two things bother me:
Wegmans was allowed to violate several zoning issues and possible liquor laws since the county government was falling over themselves to bring them here, supposedly for the jobs. However, people will not buy more food, so long term jobs will be lost at other grocery stores.
Two, the nanny-staters in HoCo always preach that we should eat fresh, healthy, etc., yet Wegman's business model is based on selling a large portion of high fat, high calorie, high sodium, large portion (and high profit) prepared foods. Ah, Howard countians are so cute when they're hypocritical.

dzoey said...

Went for lunch today (Thursday) and was surprised at how crowded it was. The prepared food area was just as busy as opening day. Still good though and we got to use the "select-any-flavor" coke machines (like at BGR).
Instead of made-to-order Ceasar Salad, like at Hunt Valley, the Columbia Wegman's has made-to-order Nachos/Burritos. I tried the Fiesta Nachos and found the chips to thin to hold the topics. It worked well as a knife-and-fork salad, but not great as Nachos. The nacho cheese dip was ...different. Not bad, just not what I was used to, sort of sweet and not peppery enough.

The veggie bar was good, especially the asparagus flan.

We tried the chicken salad from both the regular deli and the Kosher deli and preferred the Kosher deli's version - more chicken flavor, less filler.

Still trying to train the kids about not taking more than they can eat from the food bars....

Anonymous said...

Wally: I can tell you I personally have no interest in the prepared foods, and I'm shocked that there is such a big deal over it. Coworkers who have tried their stuff just gave it a "meh" rating.

I've been there 4 times, for various meats/cheeses and general shopping. I'm neurotic about prices and I can tell you about 80% of what I buy is cheaper there. But when I have coupons and Harris Teeter has their triple coupon days I'll be going to HT. There are a couple of different I want to see if they can get for me, since they say they can get whatever is in season.

Morty Abzug said...

@daniel: thanks. I had already checked the kosher section for chopped liver and corned brisket, but the case didn't have any, and the department was closed when I got there.

Went again last night, and found that there was a lot less selection than there had been last week (no smoked whole whitefish, no smoked sable.) Asked Fred, the guy behind the counter, and he said that they had been running out of lots of different kosher foods, including chopped liver, corned beef brisket, sable, and smoked whitefish. In particular, they've already gone through 3 cases of whitefish. He said that the Wegmans management hadn't been sure that there would be enough demand for a kosher section at all, and only decided to proceed with it in March. When they hired him and told him this, he told them that Howard County was the first county in MD to recognize Jewish holidays; and that Howard County has plenty of Jews, Muslims, and strict vegetarians who would frequent the department.