Feeling Your Hautes: Ten years ago, I believe there wasn't a single high-end grocery store in town. That changed when Euro Market opened in Uptown Plaza at Central and Camelback. In the early 1990s, AJ's took over that spot, and then quickly expanded into other demographically promising parts of the Valley.
Trader Joe's, a California-based operation with a shifting inventory of gourmet goods at discount prices, set up several outlets five years ago. So did Reay's Ranch Market, a Tucson outfit featuring exceptional organic produce and natural foods.
Now, the upscale-market invasion is really building up steam. Although Reay's has left town, in its place has come Wild Oats.
This expanding national chain has branches throughout the West, Midwest and Florida. It features a staggering, and often pricey, selection of goods.
I checked out the unit at 7129 East Shea in Scottsdale, which used to house a forlorn ABCO. What a change. (Other stores are at 3933 East Camelback, and 4730 East Warner in Ahwatukee.)
The produce section is beautiful, about half organic produce, half conventionally farmed. One nice touch: signs that tell you where the fruit and vegetables come from.
An in-store bakery puts out crusty, European-style breads. And Wild Oats also carries breads from some of the town's foremost bakeries, like Wildflower Bread Company. The aisles, meanwhile, are lined with what seems to be every vitamin, mineral and nutritional supplement known to mankind.
But my favorite part of the store is the cheese shop. It's probably the best in town, manned by a knowledgeable staff and stocked with outstanding cheeses from around the world. You may recall I wrote about mozzarella di bufala a few weeks ago, fresh mozzarella fashioned in Italy from the milk of water buffalo. Wild Oats imports it. There's also parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, taleggio, raclette, comte, chaumes, morbier, cabrales, fourme d'Ambert, myzithra, English Cheddar, Roquefort and manchego, just to name a few. If you really want to give yourself a treat, pick up some Explorateur, a triple cream that's unbelievably rich and flavorful. One cheese connoisseur writes that "Explorateur is to cheese as Champagne is to wine." One taste should convince anybody.
Wild Oats also tries to lure you into eating dinner right on the premises (or packing dinner up and taking it home). There's a sandwich shop, a salad bar, a pizza section, a coffee and juice bar, a pastry counter (try the yummy chocolate chip pecan brownie) and the Tuscan Grill, offering a variety of hot entrees.
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In this highly competitive environment, Wild Oats apparently feels it needs to go a step further. Maybe that's why it provides an in-store clairvoyant. This way, I guess, you can not only pick up your groceries, you can find out whether they'll be prepared to your satisfaction.
I hope the clairvoyant has told management about Whole Foods. It's another national, high-end market that's targeting the Valley. The first store has just opened in Tempe, at 5120 South Rural.
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