Someone recommended this grocery store to me after I told her I was looking for cheap groceries, and maybe something similar to Sunflower Market in Provo for the more weird healthy things on my shopping list. So I drove to Central Market, which is in the Galleria area, which should have been a warning sign. The immaculate parking lot filled with Audis and Mercedes-Benzes also should have sent my cheapness alarm bells ringing. And the place looked like a high-class gym from the outside. Complete with stick-thin vanity palm trees! I bet they're organic.
But I parked anyway, hoping that my Chacos, unshaved legs, and the fact that I would be wearing my baby in a homemade Mei Tai carrier would all work together to make me seem legitimately granola enough to go inside. Because I think really nice grocery stores mainly cater to two types of people: wealthy foodies, and granola people whose need for organic, locally sourced food outweighs their desire to have money. I think I'm in the third group that patronizes this type of store: I like cooking, I'm semi-interested in the environment, my shopping list sometimes goes beyond what Kroger offers, and I love free samples!
After entering through the exit, I quickly realize that Central Market is set up like Ikea. I have to go through the entire store to checkout. I was mildly annoyed, even though I did plan on going through the whole place to scope it out, but I also got that lovely Euro-trendy feeling that I get when I wear scarves. I did make it to the entrance finally, where I found a supply of the highest-quality shopping carts I'd ever seen.
The first section of the market is produce. They boast that they stock over 500 types of produce every day! I finally got to see a Medjool date in person. And who knew there was such a thing as a mini-pineapple! Graham was whipping his head back and forth like crazy, trying to soak in all the colors, attracting all sorts of adoration from fellow shoppers. I find the bell peppers-ooo, organic. Four flipping dollars for a bell pepper? I'll take my one-dollar DDT-laced peppers, thank you.
Onto the meat section. The seafood side had a real octopus on display, it's tentacles artfully posed, like it was tickling all its dead fish friends. On the farm animal side, there was cuchinillo (roast suckling pig-a Spanish dish to go with the current storewide Spanish theme)-I guess it was pre-cuchinillo, as it was uncooked, with milky shrunken eyes staring at nothing and creeping me out. Despite that unpleasantness (even though cuchinillo is very good when it isn't staring at you like a pig zombie), the meat counter guy cut up the steak I needed for a stir-fry. What Wal-Mart meat counter guy would do that for you? Oh wait, Wal-Mart doesn't even have a meat counter-just a cold, uninviting wall of shelves with no Kobe beef to be had.
In the bulk section of the store, a place that I love, an employee approached me and said, "Is there anything I can do for m'lady and the king?" (He smiles at Graham, who responds by sucking a little more vigorously on his hand.) It was too bad I was just browsing for future reference, so I had nothing for the poor servant to do.
One of the best parts of Central Market: free samples! They had some Spanish olive oil to sample (going with the theme) that, get this, is picked during October's full moon. The myth is that it's an aphrodisiac if it's picked then, and for $40 a half liter, it better be magical. It's, ironically, called Full Moon olive oil. But the name just made me imagine a bunch of Spaniards running around an olive grove, mooning each other.
Near the end of the route was the bakery with free samples of every kind of bread! Heaven! And they supply a vat of communal butter for the bread! Also, the bread was the probably the cheapest, per calorie, food in the entire store. I got a half-loaf of rosemary bread for $1.50. Then I brought it home and dipped it in my Wal-mart brand olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and it was delicious and sexy, with no naked Spaniards to be seen.
Best things about Central Market: You feel cool just being inside, they have stuffed quail at the meat counter and just about every delicious gourmet food imaginable, and free samples!
Worst things: They don't carry Honey Bunches of Oats, Ikea setup, and the checkout line. Sticker shock extreme.
Conclusion: If I have something exotic or gourmet to get, I'll go to Central Market. For everything else, there's my friendly, shabby neighborhood Kroger, which upon reflection probably offers more free samples.