I know, you’re like, “Seriously? Really? The opening of a grocery store is worthy of a blog post?” My response is, “You betcha!” Living in New York has its culinary benefits, no doubt, especially when it comes to being able to eat at the top, most innovative restaurants or find the latest hot whatever cuisine. The most recent food fad either starts here or makes its way here very soon. Turn the conversation to where folks actually go to by the food that they keep at home, however, and you’ve opened a whole other can of worms.
There isn’t anywhere else I’ve ever lived where I’ve been at a party or random gathering and folks can spend hours talking about where they buy groceries. I’ve witnessed people engaging in the most coherent, cohesive, arguments for why to shop at X rather than Y, except if you are looking for Z, down to the most obsessive level of detail. In some ways, it can be a more heated and vibrant discussion than say, oh, raising the debt ceiling or whatever the news item of the day is. Fairway Market is one of those places that inspires this kind of fandom.
So, when they announced last year that they would be opening up a store about ten blocks from me, I was giddy with excitement. As readers will know, I try to pick up as much as I can in the Greenmarkets, but there’s items that I like to use in cooking that aren’t sold there or produced locally. Olive oil is one of these. Citrus fruits are another and so is coconut milk. So I top up my farmers market shopping by visiting the grocery store. When I first moved to the city, I was introduced to Fairway on the Upper West Side and have been a big fan of theirs ever since.
The same things that are great about the west side location have traveled to the east of town. The cheese counter is amazing and carries New York State varieties as well as those from elsewhere, including uncommon ones like burrata. The guys who hand-slice smoked salmon are always very nice and seem to really enjoy their work. Navigating from the front of the store to the meat and fish counter can sometimes be a bit of a challenge at 74th Street as you hug the tomato sauce and pasta aisle. This is much easier on 86th Street, due to it being a larger store in general. What is also really nice is that when you walk into their stores, you enter to rows of fresh, colorful produce that just begs for you to buy it and make some thing wonderful in your own kitchen.
The Upper East Side location will have some living up to do to match the experience of the Upper West Side. I’ve had a few celebrity and minor celebrity sitings there and on occasion run into people whom I know in the neighborhood. Ask anyone about the extra bonus of seeing some of the NYFD guys shopping for provisions. Once, I saw someone almost literally run over an older woman while trying to get a spot on the one elevator that moves between the floors of that store. Everyone has a story about shopping there and about their strategy for maneuvering around the tight spaces. It’s actually kind of a New Yorker Rite of Passage to have some tale about the drama of visiting Fairway, but in a good way.
I’ve always thought that the prices for the quality of the merchandise was quite competitive at Fairway in general, especially when compared to the limited selection at the stores in my own part of town. When I was toting my bags back home from my trip to the Upper East Side location today, that was the one thing I was asked. Rumor had it that the people handing out flyers today to boycott the store were from some of the competing groceries. As someone else said, having Fairway open up in the neighborhood has made a few of them concerned about having to step up their game. I don’t necessarily know about that, but I’m really glad that I could get so many great items that I need to cook with this week by taking a ten-block bus ride rather than a two-bus, twenty-plus block trip. Welcome to the Upper East Side, Fairway!