Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fresh Market is a fantasy grocery store: lots of candy, no cigarettes

Posted by on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 11:40 AM

At Fresh Market, you can load up as much shrimp salad or Thai lobster salad as you like. After all, youre paying for it.
  • At Fresh Market, you can load up as much shrimp salad or Thai lobster salad as you like. After all, you're paying for it.

I'm not quite sure what kind of "European shopping experience" the Overland Park branch of the North Carolina-based company is going for. It's certainly nothing like, say, Bon Marche, the chic combination grocery store and department store in Paris, which may offer the best selection of baked goods and prepared foods in Europe, all beautifully displayed.

But Fresh Market, which is located in the Prairiefire development at 6261 West 135th Street in Overland Park, does have a kind of distinctive charm of its own, even if it's not the kind of place one goes for the kind of everyday staples - cat litter and bleach, for example - that one finds at Price Chopper, Hen House or Hy-Vee stores.

And yet Fresh Market does sell some of those things. But only one kind of cat litter and one kind of bleach. On the other hand, they sell a half-dozen different flavors of yogurt-dipped pretzels. It's a store that has its priorities in the right place...especially if you're a 10-year-old.

There are bins and bins of candies prominently displayed on the sales floor at the Fresh Market - discreet sampling is permitted - and the refrigerated pastry cases are filled with cupcakes, petit fours, pretty iced cakes and tarts, and creme brulee that can be custom-caramelized right there on the spot by a store associate holding a shaker of brown sugar and a butane torch. I asked one of those brulee burners if all of those dazzling desserts were made right there in the store. She started stuttering.

"We make some of the desserts here, but I couldn't tell you where the others come from," she said nervously. Her fellow bakery associate, in a matching outfit, gave me one of those "Don't ask me, I only work here" shrugs.

Have a free mini-cup of coffee wqhile you browse the store. Organic juice too!
  • Have a free mini-cup of coffee while you browse the store. Organic juice, too!
They're baked in Fairyland, for all anyone at this shiny new store will tell you. And there is a fairy-tale quality to many of the products sold here. The fresh green grapes on sale over the weekend weren't just any ordinary green grapes. They were cotton-candy grapes! I tasted one, and it was very, very sweet. "But they are not genetically modified to make them so sweet," said the kindly fruit-department associate, who was offering slices of fresh apples to patrons. "They're naturally sweet."

On the subject of Oz, there were several diminutive Munchkin-sized baby vegetables in the produce section and the cutest little roasted chickens in the prepared food case - in two sophisticated flavors: white wine and herbs or butter and garlic. These petite birds were about half the size of those bodaciously busty fowls served at, say, Costco or Price Chopper, but only slightly more expensive than those vulgarian supermarket birds. Tasty, too.

There's not a lot of product variety in most of the Fresh Market departments, although the shelves of the coffee department are handsomely stacked with bags of Peet's, Intelligentsia and Roasterie beans, among other brands. There are packages of miniature blini in the freezer case, should you get an itch to host a caviar soiree. And for those occasional callers to KCUR 89.3's Central Standard Friday program wondering where in Kansas City they can still find a beef Wellington, Fresh Market has a bake-it-yourself savory pastry in the meat case and a more compact-sized salmon Wellington over in the seafood case.

"Fresh Market is a cross between Trader Joe's, Dean & DeLuca and Whole Foods," says a friend of mine who is now a regular customer at the suburban store.

There are some similarities with those shopping venues, to be sure, but Fresh Market has more of a boutique sensibility and may have more in common with the long-gone French Market, a snazzy - for the 1970s, anyway - "European shopping experience" that once occupied the space currently leased by the Kmart space at 94th Street and Metcalf. But that particular store, which many Kansas Citians remember fondly, might have been ahead of its time. It was long-gone by the time I moved to town in the 1980s. Some people complained that at 94th and Metcalf, the store was "too far away."


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