Market Watch: Attention, shoppers! One of the nation's leading upscale food markets, Whole Foods, has come to the Valley, poised to compete with AJ's and Wild Oats for your disposable-income food dollars.
The company started out almost 20 years ago, in Austin, Texas. Now it's the largest natural-foods operation in America, with close to 90 stores and almost a billion dollars in annual sales. (Attention investors: The NASDAQ symbol is WFMI.)
As you might expect, produce is the heart of the business. Whole Foods' organic fruit and vegetables are particularly noteworthy. Sure, these days even your neighborhood supermarket carries organic carrots, apples and lettuce. But Whole Foods offers a staggering range of organic produce. Turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, parsley root, fennel, kale, red chard, arugula, daikon radish, dandelion greens, collard greens, kohlrabi and yams are just some of the options.
The cheese section is also topnotch. Check out idiazabal, a Basque-country sheep cheese; Gorgonzola dolce, soft and wonderfully smelly; or real Italian fontina. And this is also the only cheese shop I've found that carries French Munster, one of the world's great cheeses. (It has nothing in common with the dreadful "Muenster" cheese that comes out of Wisconsin.)
The meat department boasts that its beef is raised without hormones, additives or growth stimulants; its poultry has never been caged; and its sausages are prepared without preservatives.
Naturally, there's an in-store bakery featuring crusty, European-style breads. The bakery also does marvelous pastries, if the cranberry scone and fabulous sticky cinnamon bun I ate are any indication. A sushi maker rolls out about two dozen varieties before your eyes. You'll also find fresh pasta, gorgeous Valrhona chocolate, pates, membrillo (a quince paste from Spain), 20 different varieties of olives and just about every vitamin and nutritional supplement on the planet.
There's also a complete prepared-foods section, with salads, chicken, wraps and hot dishes. I had a tasty "rustic sandwich," focaccia filled with grilled red and yellow peppers, eggplant, onions, squash and carrot.
Whole Foods is at 5120 South Rural in Tempe. Look for several other branches to spring up soon in Scottsdale and other demographically promising parts of the Valley.
Book Notes: The folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) want you to give up meat, fish, eggs and dairy. So they've come out with Cooking With PETA: Great Vegan Recipes for a Compassionate Kitchen (Book Publishing Company, $14.95).
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No, you don't have to subsist on twigs and berries. Learn how to make tofu cream cheese; Worcestershire sauce without the anchovies; butterbean pate; gentle shepherd's pie; seitan stroganoff; tofu foo yung; vegetarian feijoada; mock chicken salad; faux fish cakes; and deviled tempeh spread. There's even a turkey substitute for Thanksgiving, and chocolate "nice cream" for dessert.
To order, call 1-800-695-2241.
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