There's a new market in town that's worth a visit. Vine Ripe Market opened last week on Fletcher Parkway between Baltimore Dr. and Jackson Dr. in La Mesa. It's closer to Jackson than to Baltimore, right next to the Chili's.
Given the name I was expecting it to be produce heaven. Names can be misleading. Vine Ripe is actually a grocery store with a strong inventory in Middle Eastern goods. There are fruits and veggies, to be sure, but it's not the primary focus of the store.
The pricing on the produce is inexpensive, the quality is fair. If you're good at choosing produce, you won't have a problem, but some of the produce was a little past prime. The selection is interesting and not typical of grocery stores. There were even a few items I've not seen at the Farmers Markets with any regularity. Here are some of the things I found. 4 kinds of eggplants - chinese, Italian (skinny), globe and Indian. The Indian eggplants were the small round variety, like a big marble, but slightly withered at the top. 5 kinds of grapes - black seedless, red seedless, regular old green grapes, champagne, and raisin grapes. Calabacitas (Mexican zucchini), English cucumbers, "wild" cucumbers, Middle Eastern cucumbers. Fresh Okra. Fresh Pistachio nuts. Fresh dates still on the stalk. Very nice looking quinces for $.99 each. Beautiful large pomogranets. A large variety of chile peppers, including fresh red cherry peppers. And the tomatillos looked great.
There is a bakery doing only breads now, many flat breads, but more pastries will be added. They are also working on a meat market. As of today, they were only offering 3 or 4 marinated fresh choices and a few pre-packaged items. Mostly beef, veal and lamb. There was a good amount of frozen New Zealand lamb in a variety of cuts, as well as a few organic chickens in the freezer case, along with some all beef, Halal deli meats (sausages, lunch meats)
There is a separate cheese counter that is better stocked at this point than either the bakery or meat counter. I counted 8 different varieties of Feta - Greek, Italian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, French and even Danish. Half the choices were from cows milk the other half from sheeps milk. I purchased some of the imported Greek feta from sheeps milk and have been snacking on it this afternoon. It has a smooth texture, but still crumbles nicely, with that sharp bite typical of sheeps milk cheeses, with a plesantly salty taste. I can see that I will definitely be going back to work my way through the rest of the fetas, and I'm not a huge cheese fan. There were also wheels of some other cheeses, a lot from Bulgaria. What kind they were I'm not sure, and the counter staff is still learning their products.
Attached to the foot of the cheese display case is an olive bar that runs the entire length of the counter. I counted at least 18 different varieties of olives (well actually probably many of the same variety, just cured in different ways) as well as some cucumber pickles and pickled turnips. I purchased what they were calling Spicy Sicilian Olives. They aren't especially spicy, but I suspect in a week or so after they've had a longer time to marinate they will be spicier. They were large green olives in brine with pieces of fresh lemon (with rind) and slices of serrano chile. There were Kalamata and Moraccan and several different kinds of green olives, all of them either straight or in some kind of special flavoring brine.
There were all kinds of imported canned goods. In addition to the Middle Eastern products, there also seemed to be a large number of pickled German imports, sweet and savory. Many, many herbs and spices, dried, powdered, pickled, preserved. Some of the names of the herbs and spices I recognized, but there were a lot that I picked up and wondered what it was and how was it supposed to be used. Most of the spice packages did not have anything more on the lable other than the name and the price. Large selection of canned and bottled Patak products used in Indian cooking. There was a very large can of Truffles for $18. Also a very large selection of fruit nectars, both in bottles and aseptic packages.
The store is clean and everything in it is new. A lot of the refrigerator and frozen cases are still being stocked. Checking out was slow. Checkers are still learning the produce codes and only 1 of the ATM/Credit card swipes was working so all 4 checkers were using it. Staff is friendly and eager to help, but they're still learning what everything is too.
Vine Ripe still has a lot of kinks to work out and growing to do. Right now it has a lot of very interesting products, at very, very competitive pricing, and lots of potential. If the owners can keep it together and work through the opening shake out Vine Ripe could become a routine shopping stop even for those that know little about Middle Eastern foods.
It's definitely a chow hound worthy the trip.
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