It Takes a Village

Inside the new Whole Foods

It Takes a Village
Photo By John Anderson

Produce

At the dawn of the fancy-pants health-food-store industry, the stores were defined by their bins of bulk items (bulgar! oats! spelt!) and produce organically (or on their way) grown and free from pesticides. The days of barrels of barley and bins of spotted apples are long gone, but the emphasis on natural foods hasn't diminished. It's just been sexed up with artfully displayed bulk and items that are as much about gourmet cuisine (French lentils! Couscous! Fava beans! Heirloom tomatoes! Mâche! Morels!) as they are health. Whole Foods Market continues to up the ante of the fabulous produce trend at the new landmark store.

What's new and what's not? The selection at the old location was nothing to sneer at, but by sheer volume alone, the new store is in an entirely new league: It's three times the size of the old produce section. What's not new is the appealing, hand-stacked displays of the stackable produce (broccoli, lettuces, etc.). More space means more stuff, and the specialty stuff is highlighted in rustic bushel baskets, giving the produce an air of just-off-the-truck freshness. And in a theatrical center ring of the produce circus, extra special morsels, delicate delights at their peak of season and apex of flavor, are hand-packed in full view as you shop at a central end cap. On a recent visit, strawberries were the featured attraction here, juicy and flavorful as promised and even on sale.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves; before we even cross the threshold, we're greeted by a new outdoor Market Hall of produce and food items from area farmers and beyond. The extreme temperatures of Austin's summers dictate that the food displayed outdoors will be of the heartier variety. On the day we visited, cabbages, citrus, and apples were stacked alongside eggs from local farmers and selected condiments.

As indulged Austin shoppers have come to expect in their produce experiences, there are plenty of precut, packaged items that take all the hassle out of veggie preparation. Stir fry selections, precut and packaged, are ready for pick-up and go. The sheer volume of choices in this area has expanded, allowing for many more options at home with a minimum of fuss on your end. And if even opening a package and dumping the contents into a hot skillet sounds like too much effort, sit yourself down at the centrally located Lamar Street Greens restaurant and dine on swanky salad creations using the bounty of produce in the store. One of the store's five in-house restaurants, Lamar Street Greens is a kiosk-type dining destination (other dining options include a seafood place, a trattoria, a sushi bar, and a raw food and juice bar). Wine is available by the glass, which can transform a lunch or dinner on the run into a tranquil respite from a bustling day. We've speculated on how its location smack dab in the middle of the store could raise the stakes on the notorious single scene of produce sections.

The patchouli-scented hippie in the tiny health-food store of 35 years ago would have probably imagined owning a flying car before he imagined sipping on a glass of Bordeaux while munching a fully prepared salad of beautiful organic greens inside an 80,000-square-foot temple to natural foods. But CEO John Mackey and his team did dream it, and now they've built it, counting on you to come.

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