Good vs Evil: First Trips to the Salad Cafe and the Gourmet Grocery Store

Im not on a diet; I don’t believe in them any more. I’m not vegetarian but I do try to subsist on salads anymore. I’m what I call an “Asparagus and Sawdustian”. A good friend, aware of this lifestyle change, suggested I try a new local cafe, called Verde. I made my first visit today. This was Good. In an Aristotelian ethical, greater good kind of way, it was heaven for salad eaters. It’s a build your own salad, wraps, kind of place. Imagine if crackheads had somewhere like Starbucks they could go just to buy a rock, or 2, twelve hours a day. Build your own salad with every kind of green, and ingredient and dressing imaginable, then sliced, tossed or chopped. I got my salad, proposed marriage to one of the owners, got my frequent flyer card (buy 9 salads, get one free) and took another gleeful step towards cleaner arteries and enlightenment.

In the same shopping center is a “Gourmet Grocery” store that opened last year, called “southern Seasons”. You’ve never heard of it, because there are only three of them. The motherships are in Chapel Hill NC and Richmond Virginia. I had not been since they opened. I thought since I was there, why not see what this store was all about. I think a similar market is how Dante got the idea for the Inferno with the Gates of Hell, into which you enter various circles of Hell. This was Evil. I guess intellectually I new what a gourmet grocery store WAS by definition, but now, two hours, post-traumatic shopping disorder experience later, I realize I really had no idea. In case you’re not a “gourmet grocery store shopper” let me give you some idea.

You may have never heard of “Southern Seasons”, but it was selected as one of the top 50 Gourmet Retailers in the country. I give you this link, because I think you’ll see there’s a similar Gate of Hell near you, or at least you’ll recognize Dean and DeLuca and these store descriptions will give you the corporate spin on what they sell. http://m.gourmetretailer.com/article-top_50_retailers-1274.html

What they sell is Oscar Wilde’s quote, “I can resist anything but temptation”. In Dante’s inferno, there were nine circles of hell, and each roughly corresponds to a station in a gourmet grocery store. I walked through the door right into the coffee and tea section, took a look at the teas, glanced around the store and saw: “bakery”, “”cheeses”, “candy”, “tasting bar”, “English foods”……….oh crap, I gotta get a cart, (the first circle of hell- limbo) this is going to be bad, I thought. No it’s not I thought, I can do this, like the 30 day alcoholic who’s just signed up for the 3 day Sonoma Wine Tasting Tour thinking, “I’m just gonna sample the olive oils”. First hit- one box of Moroccan mint tea.

Next station is the bakery. (Shopping the “perimeter in this store, in terms of eating healthy and I’m sure this is true of any gourmet grocery, would be like sending someone to a Brothel and saying, “shop the perimeter, you’ll be fine. There is no produce here- nary a beet nor a leaf of kale has given its life for the gourmet grocery. Each station is manned by an employee, who I swear came straight from the roast beef carving station at Ritz Carlton Ball Room. “Can I help you, what would you like” you are asked every 8.9 feet. I think they have sensors for that distance. I started saying, “no, thank you, I’m just fantasizing and eating vicariously”.

The bakery has an entire display case of single serve items because the sugar dealers learned from the drug dealers you sell more crack if you sell it one rock at a time. For the latter, its economic restraints, but for the former, they’re hoping you succumb to the fallacy that the calories are not so bad in just one piece. Second hit: “bad day” brownie. Pause a moment and let the full emotional tug of that sink in as you picture yourself looking at this brownie in the clear plastic case which also has chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, peanut butter and Rice Krispies. $4.99. (Third circle- gluttony) I’m sinkin fast.

The cheese counter is next. Imported cheese from every European country. The Stilton is tempting but at $25 a lb, I realize pricing here is at a percentage of the federal deficit, but going to a private entity. I’m impressed. (Fourth circle-Greed)

Next is the Candy Counter- which is pretty pedestrian – not counting the handmade artisan chocolates, the high end, high percentage cocoa bars, or the entire wall of jelly bellies. Pedestrian until the imported candy. The sugar dealer in the candy dept had a french accent. T guess they think you won’t feel so much like a crack head, if the cute woman, says syrupily, “oh, mon cher, what of theese shuck-o-latt can I help yoo weeth?” Not finding dark chocolate almonds, but noticing the mayan cayenne almonds were dark she gave me one to try. spoiler alert, the “cayenne” is not is there to rhyme with “Mayan”- Holy shit was that hot!!!!!!! (fifth circle of hell-anger, seventh circle – violence).

I was just doing reconnaissance after that till I saw they had imported Italian Torrone. They don’t sell Torrone in South Carolina. I think it’s because the top and bottom look like catholic communion wafers. But this Torrone was chocolate covered. That’s when I discovered that the Spanish also make a Torrone which they call, Turron. Third hit. El Almendro $7.89.

I wound my way around to what I would call “housewares”- or cooking utensils, dishes, accessories sold at jewelry prices. I needed one of the screen things, you know, that goes over your frying pan, so when you cook bacon you don’t have to call in the company with the haz mat suits to get grease off the entire side of your kitchen wall where your stove sits? They had one, so I though I’d save a trip to Bread, Bath and Beyond (this is my interchangeable name for Atlanta Bread Company and Bed bath and beyond. I know- such a strange malapropism you ask, but try it sometime. Just merge two businesses names and use the one Name to refer to both. Have fun with it) it was $25.99. Eighth circle of hell- fraud. I did however, get a salad chopper- don’t even ask.

I walked by the tasting bar, they had TWO people and gave them the same “fantasizing/vicariously”. Hold up the cross, garlic and holy water; hope-you -don’t -get bit gambit until the little brunette hawking the coffee wanted to hold my brownie. The other lady asked, “is that a BAD DAY BROWNIE?” “Yes it is”, I replied. The toffee brunette red the ingredients and let out a 50 shades of grey kind of gasp. She explained tasting the food was a way to help small business owners and the toffee company was her toffee company. I tried it- “holy shit!”, I said. “Holy shit good or Holy shot bad?”, she asked, plaintively batting her eyes. I bought a box. “You don’t have to do that, she cooed”. Second circle- lust

I’ve been in here an hour and a half by now. I look in my cart and I have: a bottle of blk alkaline bottled water (not even gonna try to explain that), the Moroccan tea, the BAD DAY brownie, the Spanish Turron, and the salad chopper. I take a swirl through the spices, marinades, English foods and pasta and sauces. Sicilian marinara in a jar?!?!? Sixth circle of hell heresy.

I manage to check out with my FIVE (items) which fit in a large plain brown McDonald’s meal bag and get out for $44. I see that friend who sent me to the salad cafe place Monday morning. The ninth circle of hell? Treachery.

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