The much anticipated Fresh Market opened today in Westport (despite the picket lines) not with the ceremonial ribbon cutting, but a Parmigian cheese cutting as is customary for Fresh Market store openings. The arrival of this North Carolina based grocery chain promises to do much to revitalize both the old Shaw's shopping center and our daily shopping routine. The physical space and the products they carry feel like a breath of fresh air, and I haven’t encountered such friendly executives and staff since I lived on the West Coast. Granted it was opening day, but employees stood ready in each aisle anticipating your every need and every question--often offering you something delicious to eat. The atmosphere is comfortable and warm, almost like a European general store, but the best part (even better than the fact that they walk you to your car) is the quality and diversity of the product lines.
I have spent my life driving between Whole Foods for my higher end specialty items, and then high-tailing it, often in traffic, to Stop & Shop for my basics (maximizing my carbon footprint). The Fresh Market fees like a higher end shopping experience, but it also carries standard grocery store items. For example, they sell Seventh Generation laundry detergent, but that trusty Tide is right below. They offer Beecher's artisan mac & cheese from Seattle in the freezer aisle, but around the corner you can find a box of Kraft. Additionally, while The Fresh Market has many specialty and higher end items (like the Plugra butter I could only get at Balducchi's previously), it is not over-priced. In fact, when comparing prices with Whole Foods, many products at The Fresh Market were noticeably lower if not on par. All in all, this is a beautiful store with a personable well hired staff with everything you need to cook dinner and stock your pantry. They even have an in-store brand with great retro packaging. Sure…you may need to make a trip to Stop & Shop or Trader Joe's now and then, but my days of racing back and forth along the Post Road are over. Yes, it's only day one, but The Fresh Market is looking like a great solution for one-stop shopping.
Here's the 411 The Fresh Market shopping experience:
Produce: As I entered the store, I found myself naturally veering into the produce area, a good place to start. The fruit looked excellent, almost sparkling--no dings on these pears--and there there were some nice surprises like coconuts and gigantic pomegranates. I appreciated that fact that there were several types of local apples labeled according to their origin with detailed information about the individual farms. There is a decent selection of organic items (although not as comprehensive a selection as Whole Foods boasts), and they are mixed in amidst their conventionally sourced relatives. I find this makes it easier to compare quality and prices in making an educated purchase decision vs. having a separate Organic section. I am also a fan of the large number of pre-chopped and diced veggies gleaming healthfully under tightly wrapped plastic. Oh, how could you not want to throw one in you cart? It's just so easy. As a nod to simpler days, all pricing and signage is done on small chalkboards which gives the produce area a very "general store" feel. Everything was looking good here.
Fish & Shellfish: As you walk back to the seafood counter, you'll note some lovely looking oysters nestled in ice. One of the many employees informed us these were locally sourced. The fish fillets were moist and glistening (as they should be), and included selections like Wild Chilean Sea bass, Wild Yellowfin Tuna and gorgeous fillets of Wild Salmon. There were also prepared fillets which were either pre-marinated or breaded, like a Panko Crusted Cod, just ready to be wrapped up and thrown on your stove-top. Also available was were great looking cooked shrimp, coconut shrimp (a bargain at $.69 each), escargot, and crab cakes. I am generally dubious of seafood purchased outside of a traditional fish market, but I would be happy to eat anything in these display cases.
Meat & Poultry: Dare I say it? Sometimes I don't feel like cooking, and I want a pre-made kitchen shortcut. Well, The Fresh Market has a meal for you. They have prepared kabobs, simple pre-marinated chicken breasts in variety of flavors, as well as more involved creations like Chicken Oscar stuffed with crab & asparagus, or Chicken Portobello stuffed with mushrooms & mozzarella. I could go on and on. Of course, there is also an extensive selection of standard poultry options. This abundance of prepared options is mirrored in the meat department which also has all the usual cuts you would find at Stew Leonard's, Whole Foods etc. I did miss the grass-fed beef, and I had my fingers crossed in the hopes of fresh Bison, but alas, no such luck. I did however notice some packaged ground Bison across the way, plus, they had fresh, not packaged turkey bacon in the meat case which you almost never see. So far..so good.
Bakery: The Bakery has some nicely priced baked goods both of the creamy and cakey variety, as well as fresh muffins still residing in their muffin trays. Most notable were some excellent looking cannoli. They do all their own baking, so we will have to send our taste-testers in for some reconnaissance work to get you more information. There is a selection of freshly baked cookies, croissant etc. I don't think you'd choose The Fresh Market over Isabel & Vincent (Fairfield) for a croissant, but their elaborately decorated Halloween cupcakes were a steal at $1.49 a piece, and would be a real kid-pleaser.
Prepared Foods & Deli: The Fresh Market serves a standard sampling of prepared foods like grilled salmon, meatballs, lasagna, grilled chicken breasts, salads, etc. They also have fresh soups made daily, as well as sandwiches. There is definitely a conscious effort to cater both to home cook and the busy parent who simply needs a meal to grab and go. The Deli and Cheese Department offerings cover all the basics without getting too fancy. The Fresh Market has their own line of signature deli meats, which promise no MSG, filler, or by-products. I still prefer nitrate-free myself, but I guess you have to make that trip to Whole Foods for something right?
Rotisserie: Nothing says quick and easy meal like a rotisserie chicken, and theirs are fresh off the spit. Rotisserie choices include chicken, pork, and salmon, and they looked good.
Fridge & Frozen: This was my most joyful moment at The Fresh Market. Not only did they have hard to find items like frozen chives and shallots, but they had tons of organic products, my children's beloved Belle & Evans chicken nuggets, and an array of interesting brands I had never even seen before. The Fresh Market branded milk comes in glass bottles which speaks to their desired European market feel, and you can find things like truffle butter and my favorite Plugra. Bottom line--You'll find everything you need here, plus some wonderful specialty items, and many lines I was excited to sample.
The Pantry: This is perhaps the place where you can best see the remarkable job The Fresh Market has done to own the intersection between Whole Foods and Stop & Shop. The cereal aisle has a small but nice selection of both organic & healthy brands like Barbara's and Kashi but down below you can find Fruit Loops. The crackers include both the artisanal Stonewall and Nabisco. You'll have to look down low for those Nilla Wafers however. They tend to put the mainstream brands on the bottom shelves. I should note that they also have an excellent selection of dried herbs and spices which are beautifully presented.
Note: You won't find your toilet paper here, so don't throw away your CVS card, but you will find a small selection of beauty products.
Bulk Bin- Nuts, Dried Fruit & Candy: This is NOT a good place to drag your kids shopping. Or if you do, steer clear of the outrageous candy-shop-like rainbow of sugar that resides by the checkout lines. Danger! The bulk bin candy looks great and includes sugar free options next to their gigantic lollipops. It's going to be tough getting out of there without multiple tantrums. The bulk bin nuts and dried fruits are copious, including items like chocolate covered dried bananas, and although I only sampled a few items, everything was very fresh, and tasty.
Lastly, I should point out that they have a large selection of coffee beans, including some VERY hard to find brands like Intelligentsia and Counter Culture. My coffee snob husband was beside himself…literally. They do not sell coffee by the cup but have samples available right by the door, so you can taste various beans or just grab a little pick-me-up before you grab your cart.
Checkout was fast and friendly. They will offer you an escort if you look like you need it, and I walked away overjoyed by having this lovely market around the corner from my house. Congratulations Fresh Market. We are happy to have you and your Southern hospitality.
The Fresh Market 605 Post Road East