Friday, September 23, 2011

Almost Paradise: Harford County is Knocking on Wegman's Door

The Flower Shop: 2 words - holy shit

The conventional wisdom around Harford County is that the opening of a New York-based Wegman's Market out here was long blocked by the Klein family, founders of what was once the largest local chain of grocery stores in the area. There is no supporting evidence that this blogger is privy to, but as the Internet has shown us over the last decade, just because it is unsubstantiated gossip doesn't necessarily mean it is not true. And, adding fuel to this suburban legend is the coincidental fact that shortly after the Kleins went into partnership with Pennsylvania discount grocer Shop Rite and re-branded their grocery empire, ground was broken on a Wegman's in Abingdon.

Pre-cut veggies
One tour through the store will let you know why the Klein family may have been concerned, but will also reveal that Klein's, even in the hay day of its previous generation of owners, is not in the same category as Wegman's - not even close.

I had previously visited the Wegman's in nearby Hunt Valley and had some idea of what we were all in for when the store opened. But nothing prepared me for the sheer pandemonium that has been unfolding over the course of this week. One of my friends was there on Sunday, September 18, when the store first opened and almost lost her mother in the roiling crowd. I arrived on Tuesday and was impressed by the police presence in the parking lot, there to enforce the common sense laws of right-of-way, obeying traffic signs and only parking where indicated that the more excited shoppers had clearly forgotten. Once inside the store, I joined the mob and threw all caution to the wind.

A nice selection of bread
This will be tested at a later date
I stopped in to pick up a couple of things to do a little price checking against Wal-Mart and also get the lay of the land. Which I did accomplish. However, there was just so much stuff, and good stuff that I actually want, and without my counterpart there to anchor me, I honestly got a little silly. In addition to the couple of items we actually needed, I came out of there with things I never find anywhere - red bean ice cream, shumai, Earl Grey tea with bergemont (the oil, not the flavoring) - you get the picture. While in my gut I was sure I had saved a ton of money (and my heart went along with this), a receipt-to-receipt bottom-line comparison was out of the question.

Of the regular items I bought, some where more expensive (Simply Lemonade - $0.50 more), some were less expensive (Barbara's Organic Peanut Butter Puffins - $2.00 cheaper with the shopper card) and some were about the same (Wegman's coffee - $0.25 more but also a larger bag). Plus they have all my favorite things - coconut water, Red Zinger tea,  and a very nice bakery to say the least. I picked up a Red Velvet cake roll that was a little roll of heaven and will naturally be going back for the carrot cake.

The iPhone takes a tumble
I returned on Thursday night after my workout to pick up a little dinner from their highly reputable cafe section. Located directly across the street from the Y I frequent, this could easily spell disaster for my recalcitrant waistline if only they were a little more impressive in this area. I hit the sushi and the dim sum with fairly mediocre results. The selection was amazing, as was the presentation (pictured below). But the actual flavor was lacking - it really did taste like Chinese buffet food sitting under heat lamps on a steam table. Which is exactly what it is. If that's what you're looking for - great. But at $8.49/lb there are certainly better deals in town. And with Wok To Go just a few miles away, there is much better quality.

While I can see myself going down this path fairly often while Gareth is in his certification class on Thursdays, it will be out of a mixture of convenience and laziness and not out of any real desire for their food. In all fairness, I will try it a few more times as they also have Indian, American comfort, and soup. I'll write back if these are any better.

Overall, I am very happy to have a Wegman's in the neighborhood. With recipe planners and cooking technique videos on their website, plus the amazing variety of their grocery offerings, I am a convert and a true fan. There are also deals to be found and an awesome selection of grocery items and produce. I'll leave the hot bars for the harried hoi polloi. With so much fresh food in the offerings, why bother with anything else?

Sushi bar
Dim Sum Go-Go

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