This is both the most annoying and interesting store in the Bay Area.
If you like Trader Joes, you will love The Milk Pail. If you miss the Berkeley Bowl in its old location, this place has narrower aisles and a labyrinth like layout. Ive never seen so much stuff packed in so little room.
I went to check out the 300 cheeses especially the farm produced cheeses gathered by Robert Rouzaire from the area of Meaux, France.
What surprised me was the selection of bread from EVERY Bay Area bakery. In most Chowhound posts, people always rave about the spectacular frozen croissants you can bake at home. There are also frozen and baked loaves from Pescaderos Arcangeli Grocery. There also appeared to be rounds of frozen pizza dough.
Every Eastern European bakery is there: Esters German bakery, Bavarian Breads, Beckmans Renatas Bakery, Cinderella bakery and a few other that Im forgetting. Sols had bags of those thick bready bagels. Sometimes Esterss makes those also. It wasnt just bread, using Cinderalla as an example, there was a whole section of cakes and cookies.
It wasn't a few varieties of Acme, it was most of them. Im not even getting into other ethnicities like the pita, tortillas, etc.
The web site (which like the store is a maze), says Where can you find bulk farm butter for 99 cents a pound, olive oil in returnable milk bottles, aged cheddar cheese, eggs fresh from the farm? ... In addition to milk, cheese and other dairy items, the store has produce, coffee, wine, macadamia nut butter, Acme bread and even frozen empanadas from Jose's Cuban restaurant in Palo Alto.
Some of the items I noticed in the frozen section were Marianis Ice Cream, a big selection of frozen Russian dumplings and Dads root beer popsicles which I havent seen in a while.
Which brings up the issue of freshness. There are mentions on Chowhound that you have to shop carefully here because some of the great prices are due to products being past the expiration date. In fact that comes up a lot.
I agree with the opinion of one Chowhound who said the quality of the produce section didnt seem good. Excuse me Monterey Market fans, but the look and quality seems like that.
There are not only so many types of things, there are varieties I havent seen elsewhere. Ive never seen the bananaberry and cherry/loganberry flavors of Jones Soda.
The refrigerated organic Canadian style maple syrup caught my eye as well as the canned Monrovian tangerine-orange cookies.
The web site makes a point that they have beans from Mountain Views Peter James Coffee company. Bins of that coffee and others can be fresh ground. I bought the Peter James French roast. I didnt like it. It had a metallic taste.
You are on your own here. There is very little help from the staff. The customers seem focused and seem annoyed with someone new shuffling around the aisles. The first time I went was Saturday afternoon and I figured maybe it was just their busy time. Nope. Same scene during the week.
Which brings up the Cheese. Thumbs up for the big selection and prices (watch those expiration dates).
Big thumbs down because they are all precut and wrapped and there is nothing NOTHING in the way of information. If you dont know what you want, you are out of luck.
I finally found the lovely Fougerus rouzaire. There is a picture below of this pretty, delicious cheese which is decorated with ferns. The following link describes the cheese better than anything I could say. For example,
The fern was used both for decoration and to impart a woodsy, earthy scent to the cheese. The flavor is sweet and milky, typical of Brie but with more depth. Forest scents come through delightfully
Really, the smell was just wonderful. Heres the link to more info about the cheese:
The Milk Pail Market,
2585 California St. (at San Antonio across the street from Dittmars)
Mountain View, CA
Originally, the Milk Pail was a drive through dairy, later it became a drive through grocery store. Now, it's an independently owned open air grocery store and European-style market.
Check the website out for more info.