The upper-mid-range residential development known as the North End has sprouted a decidedly mid-range grocery offering known as Fresh Thyme, which opened on Wednesday after some capering over the weekend with a stilt walker and band. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you reach the end of an escalator ride, up from underground parking, and you’re not staring at the flower section in Whole Foods.
Claire Hanan: This is technically the fourth Just Desserts investigation of a grocery. Do you consider yourself a grocery expert at this point?
Matt Hrodey: Seeing as I go to a grocery store at least once a day, I consider myself more than an expert. We’ve certainly seen a range, from the new Whole Foods in Tosa to an enormous Metro Market in Shorewood to this intriguing little number. Where do you think it falls?
CH: Much closer to an Aldi or Trader Joe’s (which are owned by two brothers, I believe) in terms of prices, and more like Whole Foods when it comes to a health-conscious selection. We were lucky to get there while there were still plenty of sample tables.
MH: Some prices were quite good. There were some aggressive meat sales for the opening, but I looked past those. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts were listed at $3.99/lb. Roma tomatoes at $1.49/lb. Containers of kale and greens for $2.79. Naval oranges 2 for $1. I’m starting to sound like a commercial.
CH: Organic bananas were .69/lb! I couldn’t believe my eyes. That price for chicken has to be a record low.
MH: It’s like they knew we were coming.
CH: I was pretty impressed by the gluten-free offerings. Even more impressive was the one I decided to ingest: A Meyer Lemon Miracle Tart that was dairy-free, paleo friendly, and gluten free. And certified vegan. It was an absolute delight. I would eat one every day if I could. How did the ready-made and hot-food areas compare to Metro Market and Whole Foods?
MH: Smaller selection but a bit lower prices. A big prepared salad went for $4.99. The pizza section was build your own, well, at your behest, with toppings laid out Subway style. Then they bake it for you. Speaking of you, you noticed no standing bakery counter, just tables and such.
CH: Yes, but I might have missed it. There were different cases of cookies, muffins, gluten-free treats, and breads, but I didn’t see an actual bakery. It might have been tucked in near the coffee and growler bar. I ended up ordering a build-your-own sandwich for a whopping total of $3.99.
MH: The salad bar strikes a nice balance between plain and arcane. It’s not like Whole Foods where I feel like I’m drizzling greens with seeds and oils that cost more, per pound, than my primary means of transportation. The chicken, always important to me, is the best I’ve ever gotten on a salad bar. Really fine stuff, like leftovers, in a good way.
CH: Wow! Did you try any of the samples?
MH: They were ok. I’m not a big samples person. I don’t like to get my hopes up.
CH: Well then let me tell you something, Matt. The juice samples were fantastic. The one I tried had carrot, orange juice, ginger, and some other stuff that made for a delicious and refreshing treat. And it was only $3.99 for a bottle. And I don’t even drink juice! I also had about four different Boar’s Head meat and cheese samples and all were wonderful, especially a peppery turkey.
MH: Juice is expensive, multicolored, liquid candy.
CH: That’s why I don’t typically drink it. But I did today in the name of Just Desserts and really enjoyed it. It felt like a double win. The smoothie sample was far too sweet, though. Good texture but cloying, flavor-wise.
MH: Oh yeah I forgot what we call this. How about the dry goods? The vitamin/supplement area was well appointed and, not to keep hating on Whole Foods, easier to navigate than theirs, which is like a Waldenbooks from the wrong side of the Looking Glass. Did you know Waldenbooks is no more? The price of going to the grocery store: You never know what you might learn.
CH: Yes, I knew that. I didn’t venture into too many aisles, but the bulk coffee wall was pretty great. If you’re OK with buying the Fresh Thyme-brand, you’ll only have to fork out $6 or $7 bucks. That’s the cost of one elaborate latte at some of our ritzier coffee joints.
CH: Vitamins are a tricky business. I remember reading this story about bad store brand vitamins. The NY State attorney general investigated supplements from GNC, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Target because a lot of their vitamins didn’t contain much at all of what their labels promised.
MH: There’s underground parking. We had a hard time getting out. Maybe we should warn people not to follow the pedestrian EXIT signs when trying to find the vehicular EXIT.
CH: I was following the vehicular EXIT. I just missed a turn or two. No thanks to the co-pilot.
MH: Not placing blame here, but the signs are different, and I don’t get on the highway when I’m trying to walk to the store.
CH: Speaking up now did us absolutely no good in the very nice underground parking lot. I was so hungry, I had a hard time concentrating, OK?
MH: Again, not placing blame, especially not now that the circulation has re-centered in my brain after turning and turning and turning in a very nice underground parking lot. Until next time?
CH: You can drive.
MH: The danger in that is I’ll be driving.