Wednesday, November 21, 2012

North Shore Farms, a grocery with personality and character

In a Thanksgiving spirit, why not write about food.

North Shore Farms is an independent grocery store located in a nearby town.  Only in the last two years have we embraced this unique and long standing store, since our own town has a top notch Whole Foods and several independent small specialty shops that are especially good, in particular A&F Market, our butcher and after 27 years of doing business with them, our friends.

Recommended to us several times by a down to earth well connected Italian family and further intrigued by older daughter's devotion to the the store during her stay with us in parts of 2010 and 2011, we began going more often and became believers.  It is now a fixture on our foraging list.

The store's major strengths are the fresh seafood department, the prepared foods department that is extensive and all prepared there, the fresh vegetable selection that is huge and reasonably priced, and the just prepared hot food take-out area.  In that hot food area, several days ago we walked away with a tray of beets with dill, garlic, and olive oil, two large slices of tilapia with olives, tomatoes, and zucchini, and some oven roasted asparagus.  It was more than enough for two of us, some leftovers as well, it was really tasty - cost $16, no cooking, no cleaning, good food with character.

I can't forget to mention all of the noshing that can be done in the store.  In two aisles there are samples of cheese alone, cheese with small breadslices, varieties of plain bread, olives, and at times small pieces of tomato slathered foccacio - they must have a big toothpick budget.  Back at the hot food counter, it is ruled over by an energetic older man who acts as if you've walked into his house and seems insulted if you won't take a sample of his roasted salmon, or pasta of the day, or some vegetable that he decides you should try.  You should.

The inside of North Shore Farms is one of crowded narrow aisles.  They don't carry all brands that would be found at a chain supermarket.  They carry some that could never be found in one.  Some store personnel seem to have been there forever as they greet what seem like long term regulars as if they are family.  Prices always seem fair.  The fish is in line with Whole Foods but there is a broader selection much of the time.  With Whole Foods two miles away on the same road, we can check the two for what is wanted.  Both are good.  One thing that is hardly worth checking on price is vegetables.  This week, broccoli at Whole Foods is something like $3.99 a pound(a pound?) while broccoli at NSF is $0.99 a bunch.  Red peppers $1.69 a pound at NSF, $3.99 at WF, it goes on and on.

Other than the narrow aisles and the long lines at the prepared foods counter(never as long time-wise at it looks at first), the biggest challenge at NSF is parking.  The lot is not that big and it is built on a slope.  It is almost always, somehow, just quite full so there is always the feeling of getting that last place.  I always get one.  The lot is managed by a group of young men running around, looking to help cars find places and guide you in, looking to guide your backing out, watching for carts(especially necessary on the slope) just as you unload your groceries.  Stand for 30 seconds and look around and someone will be with you.  Need help unloading something, same deal.  What looks at first like a problem actually turns into an opportunity for nice encounters.

North Shore Farms is an exceptional place.  May it stay just where it is, even with its obvious on the surface limitations.  If they moved into some modern new store in a shopping center with the flat lot, I would fear for its identity.  That happened to Balducci's in Greenwich Village, famously located at 10th street and 6th avenue for at least two generations, crowded chaotic aisles with low ceilings,  they moved to a brand new space in a restored old bank building two avenues and four blocks away and were bankrupt within two years.  The character was lost.  May that never happen to NSF.

It must be added that we have never had a door or side dented or nicked at NSF, wish that could be said for the flat parking lots at our gym and at Whole Foods.

Our Thanksgiving will be graced by NSF homemade turkey gravy and freshly made cranberry sauce with orange and various spices, even a small touch of cherry brandy they say.  Best for Thanksgiving to all who can enjoy a holiday with no presents or fireworks required. 


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