Some grocery stores have restaurants. Bobak's has a passable polish place; in Minnesota, Byerly's does things a bit more upscale, still with mixed results. And there are lots more. For a while it was a trend, probably because some gorcery store accountant figured out the profit per square foot for a restaurant dwarfs that of a grocery. Mostly a better idea than reality. You need someone to cook.
A while back I discovered Michael's Fresh Foods. A good sign - I was referred there from another grocery store in search of fava beans, as I remember it. I think I get it now - when a competitor mentions a place, listen. And the produce section is impressive. Large and chockful of goodness - coconuts and mangos up front, at least 4 types of eggplants (American, Thai, Indian, and Chinese on my last visit), persimmons, long beans, and more. On that first visit, I noted an interesting selection of ethnic foods throughout the store(Mexican, Greek, German, Indian, etc.), picking up some Greek chocolate on the way out. Curiosity piqued.
So I went back, and as I have slowly unpeeled Michael's I just like it more and more. At the luscious core is Manuel - the chef. He runs a deli like no other I have found. First I tried his roast lamb - they always have a leg of lamb (as well as 3 or 4 other roast offerings, including whole ducks yesterday) and I can get a nice crispy end bit in a touch of juice. Delightful. Then I branched out, still working Americana mind you, with some potatos au gratin for my bride, the potato lover. Excellently done, creamy, cheesy and smooth, but with just the right texture in the spud slices to hold it together as a potato dish (and not mush).
The day I found Birria (lamb stew, Manuel called it) on offer, I was hooked. Later visits were rewarded with large chicken tamales in banana leaves, small tamales in corn husks, carnitas, mexican shrimp cocktail, various salads, and... I have also explored Manuel's fresh made salsas, guacamole, sauteed vegies (heavy on red peppers and mushrooms), and numerous soups. Some better than others - his soups have generally disappointed, and I find his salads also a tad underseasoned, but the rest has ranged from good to very good, and at prices usually ranging from $3 to $9 per pound, mostly in the $3 to $5 range, you cannot beat it. Sort of like what Boston Market could be if the food was good and they made interesting food - okay, nothing like it really.
In the aisles I have discovered some great things as well. El Milagro now makes an upscale line of tortilla products that are good - Calidad de Casa harina are a thicker, softer tortilla that may replace bread in my house, and they make some heavy tortilla chips that are great, tho a bit over-salted. Lacking a tortilleria in N'ville, I have been searching for years for edible tortillas and Michael's has a decent selection (sing hallelujah).
At the opposite end of the store are the meat/seafood sections (also good) and the Balkan Deli counter. This is the cold deli, and much as Manuel runs a Mexican kitchen, a balkan family runs this counter. They offer Tzatziki, fresh yogurt (greek style), 6 types of feta (domestic, greek, bulgarian, and I forget). Also a very nice selection of sausages and hams, including 3 types of prosciutto. A lot more character than the other groceries in this hood.
The clientele seems largely an immigrant mix - a lot of Mexican and Indian, more working class than not. So the place offers gourmet stuff (by CH standards, if not foodie), but not priced as high as even the mainstream N'ville chains.
Go, buy yourself dinner, charge me $3.95 if you are disappointed. My current fave for fast and prepared food in N'ville, tho Gemato's is both down the street and none too shabby (do a search for long review).
Still exploring, I figure there might be an interesting liquor offering, balkan wines and more, and I need to figure out where the staff play soccer - I bet the Balkan team against the Mexican team is a great show. Probably eat well, too.
Michael's Fresh Foods
route 59 & 34 (Ogden Ave)
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