I treasure Austin’s grocery stores. My grocery shopping rotation includes: Central Market, DK Sushi Supermarket, Fiesta Mart, my trusty HEB, MT Supermarket, Randall’s, Sprouts, Wheatsville Co-op (which I only discovered last year!), and last but not least, Whole Foods, which calls Austin “home”. Each of these grocery stores carries products I crave that I can only purchase at that store.
Lately, I have been feeling the most love for HEB’s Central Market. I usually shop at the North Lamar & 35’th St. location, phone 512.206.1000
My favorite things from or about Central Market:
1) This store has serious depth of infrastructure. More than any other on the above list, Central Market buyers seem to do the best job at finding the unusual or unique products that make me stop and look and sometimes buy. Ex: Yesterday I went home with 1-meal quantities of 3 sauces from their sauce bar that I’ve never purchased before as well as that strange-looking vacu-packed Spanish omelet in their dairy section, opposite their yogurt wall.
MT Asian Supermarket and Fiesta Mart also carry products outside of my comfort zone. However, unless I have a recipe I’m ready to try, I am probably not going to go home with the fascinating thing swimming in the water cage at MT Supermarket, for example, especially since I’m trying to waste less and only buy what I’m actually going to use or cook.
2) I love the sauce bar across from the deli area. Buying sauces from Central Market makes a meal extra special but still keeps total cook time < 30 min when I'm sear-roasting a salmon fillet and roasting lemon-parm-broccoli. My favorite: Avocado tomatillo sauce, about mid-way down the bar. I can get exactly the quantity I want, and I save the prep time of avocados and tomatillo sauce making. Yesterday I bought small quantities of three different types of Spanish sauces: romesco, spicy sofrito, and a third Spanish sauce that can’t remember the name of but looked intriguing and had ingredients I rarely use. Each sauce came to < $1.xx each after weighing.
3) My third favorite thing is Central Market’s different themed events and celebrations that they seem to put a lot of energy and thought into.
Their “Spain” celebration is happening now. Yesterday afternoon there was a seafood Paella station outside of the café doors with 3 massive paella skillets going at the same time, and different themed items everywhere inside the store with their little Spain graphic near them. I purchased one order seafood paella at $8.95. All in all I liked it. It did have that crusty layer on the bottom, real saffron in it, a big head-on prawn, a scallop, fish, and a clam. I wish it had more protein (one more prawn?), and a bit less salt. The purchase process is a little roundabout – first, get the ticket from the paella chef outside, then take ticket inside and pay, then take receipt back outside.
A celebration-related detail I appreciate - the graphics their artist creates for each celebration are always in beautiful color combinations for the theme. I appropriated one of their fliers last year, went to Sherwin Williams, and based a room’s color scheme off it.
4) Central Market’s Café. I love being able to listen to live music under the shade of Texas trees before evening grocery shopping and enjoy one of their dinner specials. Where else in Austin can you do this then go grocery shopping, all without moving your car. I especially like Central Market’s French fries though I haven't had them in a while. They clearly understand the double-fry technique and their breading is light but tasty.
5) Central Market's brand of Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough, found in their dairy section directly across from the yogurt wall. This is my favorite favorite favorite all time Central Market product.
I keep them in the freezer and bake exactly the number needed for 10 minutes at 350 in toaster oven. The taste is so pure and so delicious - brown sugar, serious chocolate, butter, eggs, vanilla. I eat one, and then writhe on the living room floor. They have 3 different flavors, but I can't bring myself to try any other flavor because I am so in love with their chocolate chunk. I eat exactly one, usually twice a week, at 150 calories of blissful impact on my daily calorie budget.
Last year around the holidays they had a shortage of this product which caused a crisis in my household. I called both Central Market's and 4 HEBs before I could finally locate one at an HEB. (HEB also carries this Central Market-branded product it in their dairy section)
6) Real pretzel rolls. Occasionally Central Market will have pretzel rolls in their bread area, adjacent to the bagels or the scones. Making pretzels with that authentic pretzel taste involves lye, which I haven't had the courage to try at home yet. Last time they had pretzel rolls was during the fall.
7) Duke’s mayonnaise. Central Market is one of the a few places where you can find Duke’s mayonnaise. It’s hard to spot on that aisle though; look down to the very bottom row. http://www.dukesmayo.com/
Duke’s is the next best thing to homemade. There was a central market employee cooking something for a demo sample across from the bakery area, and one of her ingredients she was using was Duke’s mayonnaise. I didn’t realize Central Market carried Duke’s . We both had a femme squeal-fest over how good it is.
8) The bread bakery’s “Alternative Loaf”. It’s a very soft whole grain bread that doesn’t taste like cardboardy "health food" and makes great sandwiches. The baker told me it’s extra soft because they use whole grain ___ flour which adds more moisture than most other whole grains. I enjoy it because while I am trying to eat more whole grains, I still prefer soft bread for most sandwiches.
9) Duck breasts vacuum packed. Located at the end of the meat aisle right before you get to the prepackaged meat section and then the dairy section. Excellent for grilling. I buy an extra 4-pack and vacu-pack freeze the extras. 2 months later they taste 90% as good as first night.
Next time I’m going to use Marcel’s trick that I saw on his Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen TV show of
1) Using a new dog hair brush spikey thing to put a million holes in the duck fat
2) Before I grill-smoke them on the cast iron skillet fat side down at a lower temp to render the fat, I will pop them in the freezer for a couple hours. Then, I can render the fat for longer since the meat will take longer to get up to temp.
10) Their new fresh-daily muffin selection near the breads at $1.79 per. My 2 favorite so far: strawberry goat cheese and chocolate cherry pistachio.
My least favorite things about Central Market:
1) Central Market’s North’s Café Wi-Fi is perpetually broken. For heaven’s sake, what is so hard about sending a Wi-Fi signal? A million other places have figured it out. Someone from HEB's IT department needs to prioritize fixing whatever problem they perpetually have.
Every so often, I want to have a working lunch with colleagues in Austin and eat upstairs where it's quieter. But no Wi-Fi, no work. Last time I called Central Market to ask if they had it fixed, phone answerer said no, and that I should fill out a complaint card next time I’m in. I asked if she would do that for me, and she said she would ask about it in their next employee meeting.
Yesterday, they still had a sign up that said their Wi-Fi was unavailable.
2) Central Market North needs more bathrooms.
3) I wish the store café manager would have someone tweet or post the lunch and dinner specials of the day. I usually call to ask once a week or so, but it can take the café a while to pick up. Electronic is more efficient for that type of timely info. On the good, I almost always enjoy the café specials, and I do like it that Central Market’s main phone is answered quickly by a very friendly human!
Thank you Central Market!
4477 S Lamar Blvd Ste 100, Austin, TX 78745