My trip to the Fairway in Red Hook
I finally made it to the new Fairway in Red Hook last Friday afternoon. Getting there is quite a trick. As the ominous directions on their site say the new store is "at the end at the water's edge." I was hoping I could get there by boat, but I found out the water taxi only runs on the weekends, though they have just announced a special $5 fare for Fairway shoppers.
A sign just inside the door explained that first-time visitors to their "big, dumb" store could follow the yellow arrows on the floor of the store to be sure not to miss anything. Grocery store dork that I am, I followed the yellow arrows all through the store.
The first part of Fairway, built in a former coffee warehouse, is not laid out in a standard aisle format. It winds around, from produce, through the prepared foods, the deli, meat and seafood departments and then the organic and specialty departments, with a layout similar to Stew Leonards, but much less corny. All of the meats, vegetables and produce seemed to be very high quality.
Continuing to wheel my big green car along the yellow arrow marked trip, I stopped to play with this Willy Wonka style organic peanut butter machine, in the middle of their organic store within-the-store. I wanted to buy some peanut butter just for the chance to play with the machine, but I quickly reminded myself that I still had plenty of organic peanut butter left from the huge shopping I did on my first visit to our new Trader Joe's. The organic section seemed to have many of the same bulk and specialty items I bought at the Park Slope Food Co Op. It even smelled like the food co op. This could be a good source for Brooklynites looking for organic and natural items, without so much drama.
I am a big Ina Garten fan and was interested to check out her her new line of products for the first time. A few of the Barefoot Contessa's pretty striped packages tip-toed into my cart, but the good old-fashioned price tags on the top of the boxes kept reminding me that these items were very overpriced: $8.99 for coconut cupcake mix and $11.99 for coffee cake mix, forget it.
Fairway also has a good selection of groceries from England, including Lucozade, a sort of more aggressively flavored carbonated Gatorade, which R* introduced me to on our last trip to the UK.
There were spirited signs hanging through the store. One sign convinced me to buy imported artichoke and garlic cream, which, according to the sign, could be slathered on chicken or served on bread. The information on a few of the signs was so helpful that I wished they had copies of them to hand out. These signs read like they were written by people who really cared about food and about Fairway shoppers. Too bad I can't say the same for many of the employee's who were working the floor the afternoon I was there.
I asked for help finding the preserved lemons. The first person I asked through I was looking for lemon preserves and took me to the jelly aisle, then he asked a co-worker for help and then a manager. After about 5 minutes of awkward waiting in the olive oil aisle, it turned out that they were all sold out of preserved lemons. I realize that preserved lemons are an obscure item. I've never bought them before and I know they are not in stock at most grocery stores in the city, even Fresh Direct.
The only reason I was looking for preserved lemons was because they are featured on Fairway's blog as one of the "ten things I must have on hand at all times" so I figured I would give them a try. The manager cursed when he got the word that the lemons were out. The Fairway blog is excellent and I hope they keep updating it.
The last part of the store on the yellow arrow tour is the more traditional part, with the standard aisles of paper goods, canned vegetables, snacks, milk and yogurt, etc. Next to the bakery aisle, there's a cafe with sandwiches and cakes and cookies. I had a decent apricot tart and an excellent iced tea.
Rather than buying food from the cafe, I suggest picking out a snack from the prepared food section which has more selection. The woman working at the cafe said you can buy anything in the store -- except beer -- and eat it on the outside deck.
While relaxing and soaking in the sun on the cafe patio, which doubles as a dock for the water taxi, I saw the Queen Mary 2 pulling out of its dock. You can see the Statue of Liberty just behind the boat in the picture above.
I left at about 5:30 p.m., just as the store was getting a bit more crowded. I asked the check out workers about crowding. They said the weeknights were pretty empty, but the weekends were "crazy."
The Fairway is by far the best grocery store in Brooklyn. I will be very interested to see how business at the store plays out. Will such a large store so far from public transportation be able to survive? With Ikea on the way, maybe Red Hook will grow up around the store.
Gowanus Lounge: Red Hook Transportation Problems
Brownstoner: Park Slope types whining about bike parking at Fairway
B61 Productions: What's up in Red Hook