Thursday, February 27, 2014

Market Bistro by Price Chopper

For reasons that aren’t quite clear, I was invited to take a tour of the new Market Bistro by Price Chopper this week. I seriously doubt what goes on at the Jon In Albany Blog has any influence on anything anyone ever does and it shouldn’t. However, I try not to turn down invitations if I can make an event. I missed what looked like a good one at The Cheese Traveler last week. Anyhow, I arrived at the Latham Market Bistro just before 1:00 where I was met by Mona Golub and brought back to what will be a teaching kitchen where the only face I recognized was Steve Barnes of the Times Union. Steve and I toured a Shop Rite together. We must be on the same super market mailing list.

The visit started out with some quick presentations about the concept. Mona Golub introduced Neil Golub who talked quite passionately about the concept and how development began almost immediately after the Bon Ton left the mall. The goal was to have most of America’s favorite foods made to order in one place. He called it a “Microcosm of America’s food industry.” He talked about the three deli’s the store has: Ben & Bill’s is a New York City style deli, an Italian deli with cured meats and fresh pasta made daily, traditional supermarket deli with cold cuts. The cheese section was influenced by Zabaar’s. The store has a wellness program and “Quickcare” center with a nurse practitioner. Neil also talked about new “Local” signage that was out on the shelves in the store. He was clearly hands on with the stores concept and design.

Next to speak was Jerry Golub. He talked about market research that showed people went out to eat and then went grocery shopping. This goal was to combine the two experiences in one Shop & Dine experience. He touched on a few more things like the Chef’s Grill which will be a full service restaurant in the store which also serves wine and beer. The restaurant will feature items from other parts of the store like fresh pasta and sausages from the Italian deli or corned beef for hash from Ben & Bill’s. He called the store a “living, breathing lab” where new things could be tried. Some will succeed, some will fail but the successes could be exported to the other stores.

The final speaker before the tour began was Lewis Shaye, the Vice President of Culinary Concepts for Price Chopper. He’s been working on this project for almost 5 years. He said the theme they tried to carry out through the Bistro was “Remarkable.” They wanted to do things that hadn’t been done in a grocery store before. The other concept that carries though the eateries is menu related. Each section has some specialties that are always on the menu, some limited time offerings that will change as well as made to order options. With that, the tour began. With that said, we left the cooking classroom (which is pretty nice space) and headed out to the Bistro.

First on the tour was a Starbucks near the main entrance to the store. Just adjacent to the Starbucks will be a few shelves of pastries  and and ice cream station. But the Ice cream station was the last stop, so we to a quick step to the side to see a soup area.

Adjacent to the soup area is a Subtown, an East coast style sub shop. I sampled the Italian mix and it was pretty good. Bread can make or break a sub and this was pretty good. Half subs (about 7 inches) were in the $5 to $7 range, full 14 inch subs were about $9 to $10.

Next door to Subtown is a salad station. Salads ran from about $6.50 to $9. One touch that was pointed out is that they are freezing the salad serving plates so they are chilled when you get your salad.

I liked that the salads are tossed so everything is dressed. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’d put $6 to $9 worth of salad in a bowl at a traditional salad bar. These prices are in line with a shop like Panera, but at Panera you have the option to get a smaller salad and half a sandwich. I’m sure the salad sales will be watched and any issues will be addressed, but I think some fine tuning might be needed.

Next up is Burritos. Like a Moe’s or Chipotle, you can get a burrito bowl or quesadilla. Unlike Moe’s or Chipotle, they are offering some different flavors like Buffalo chicken, BBQ, Italian and a Mediterranean. There’s a kids meal option and they had tofu also. Most everything at this station was just under $7 but could be upgraded to a meal package. We sampled a Buffalo chicken quesadilla. It had the right Frank’s Red Hot flavor and some fresh scallion added a little crunch but it wasn’t anything special. My daughter Allison would love this station and want to come shopping if she knew about it.

Next up was the smokehouse. The actual smoker is over by the meat counter. There’s brisket, ribs, chicken and pulled pork. There’s a bigger spread of prices ($5 to $15) depending on what you order and how much you want. There are also family meal options. We tried some brisket, a rib and the pulled pork. I thought the brisket was a little over smoked, the rib was fall off the bone tender and pretty tasty and this style of pulled pork isn’t for me. I go for an Eastern North Carolina style with a vinegar sauce. This was more of a barbecue sauce. People like that style. I’d probably like it more if that’s what I had eaten first. The smokehouse chef gave Steve a taste of smoky caramelized onions and it looked like Steve really liked them. I didn’t taste them.

Moving along…the burger stand. We sampled a pastrami hot dog. A Hembold’s hot dog with mustard, onion and pastrami bits. The pastrami bits reminded of the crumbled bacon found on southern Connecticut dogs with the works. Personally, I think there are better hot dogs out there then Hembold’s. If you wanted to keep it local-ish, I’d pick Hoffman’s out of Syracuse. Just my two cents. The burger we tasted was well done but still good. It had store cured and smoked bacon on it. I give bonus points for making their own bacon. Burgers were around $6.50 but could be turned into a meal for around $10. I think hot dogs were around $3 and there were kid’s meal options.

On to seafood. My picture of the menu board came out blurry. It’s tough to eat, take notes like you are playing reporter and take pictures on a phone. I know, tough problems. The seafood shop looked pretty standard offering fried everything. We were given samples of the lobster roll. A full order of the lobster roll will set you back almost $17. I thought it was OK, but lobster rolls aren’t my thing. It was lightly dressed with mayo, but I have mayo issues.


Switching sides of the aisle, there is sushi. They have a new partner running the sushi stand and apparently business has doubled since the change. If you are looking for advice on where to get sushi, I could probably refer you to someone. For example, I’m not exactly sure what I tried, but I tried two pieces. The first, I think was the crunchy dragon roll. I’d never had any sushi with something crunchy on it. I thought it was pretty good. Now that I’m looking at the menu, I see that has imitation crab in it and I doubt I’d get it again. But they have a crunchy tempura shrimp roll and I’d give that a try. I thought the crunchy topping was quite good. No idea if crunchy sushi is blasphemy, but I liked it. I’m pretty sure my other bite was a smoked salmon cream cheese wrap. It was good, but I didn’t like it as much as the crunchy one. See, not exactly a connoisseur. 


Behind the sushi section is the cheese shop. It looked like they had some interesting choices and they are also interested in offering local cheeses. The samples offered to us were a Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue cheese (not my thing, didn’t like the smoke), a Cabot cloth bound cheddar (pretty good) and a Nettle Meadow honey lavender fromage blanc goat cheese (this was delicious). Just off to the side of the cheese shop was a growler station. It looked cool. Can’t help but wish it was a bourbon station.

 Alright, we’re turning the corner and starting to head back towards the front of the store. The Italian deli offers up many kinds of sausage. Pork, lamb, duck, turkey in various styles ranging in price from $2.79 to $5.99 a pound. They also have many kinds of fresh pasta ranging in price from $5.99 to $6.99 a pound. They also have a lot of salami and cured meats you would expect in an Italian deli too. We tried a two pasta dishes that were just so-so. I believe they would have been much better prepared and served right away. It has to be tough to prepare fresh pasta for a walking tour that will just suddenly show up.

Still reading? They got an olive oil station where you can try a bunch of oils – some straight, others are infused – and balsamic vinegar too. Twelve ounce bottles go between $7 and $15 depending on your choice. There was a good looking olive bar too.

 Then you have a regular deli with lunch meats and some prepared items. The regular deli is offering Chef’s meals for $6 which are a main and two sides.

Ben and Bill’s is the next deli. The deli which is heavily influence by the legendary Joe’s (I never got the chance to eat there, but I have heard many people miss it) still features meats from Old World Provisions. Prepared properly, an Old World Provisions pastrami sandwich is heaven.  Most deli sandwiches are $6.50 for a half and $9.50 for a whole. Your cardiologist probably would recommend the half, especially if you are going to try the potato pancake. That’s no low fat pancake.Lots of smoke fish too.

This side of the aisle ends with the Stone Fired Pizza shop. I’d argue this is an area that requires immediate attention, but I’m probably not their typical pizza customer. First, I have no idea what Stone Fired is. I looked it up online and found a few restaurants with a similar name. It looks like pizza is cooked in a regular oven. Maybe the oven has a stone floor. From what I could see of the oven, it looked like it was set to 550 degrees which in my opinion is too cold. You’ve got a brand spanking new hot rod pizza oven and it is being used by a few kids that are running it like a home oven. Not the kids fault though, they need training.

And look at this pizza.

Where’s the rim? I'm going to stop beating it up. The picture says enough. If they are looking to make a quality pizza, a consultant is needed.

Coming down off my high horse, we go to the Chef’s grill back at the entrance to the Bistro section. This will be the full service, 50 seat restaurant that will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The idea is to sample from all of the stands. For example, showcasing the fresh pasta and sausage from the Italian market. It’s ambitious and I’m curious to see how it does. They plan to open it by the 1st of the month. 

The last stop was back to the ice cream shop which features Perry’s and Hagen Das ice creams. They make their own hot fudge and whipped cream and both are pretty good. A sundae is $569. We also tried a strawberry shake, which was also good. A 16 oz. shake is $4.60.

A few of us strangled behind and were shown the smoker back in the meat section. It’s not out on display because there isn’t much to see. If you’re interested, it’s the largest smoke Southern Pride makes. Just to the side of the smoker, I noticed a dry aging chamber. I’ve seen dry aged beef for sale, but don’t recall ever seeing a market like Price Chopper doing the dry aging themselves. I thought that was impressive.

There’s a really big natural and organic section – a little more than one entire aisle, both sides. And in that section, there is a pretty large Gluten Free area with some gluten free breads made in Saratoga.

There’s a smaller version of the Westgate Price Chopper’s international aisle and local tags on the shelves next to the products. They are currently at 520 “Local” products with local being taken to mean within 400 miles of the store. Turns out that we make a lot of tomato sauce within 400 miles of Latham.

I don’t know if this store will change my shopping habits. I tend to hit a few grocery stores a week. Sometimes for price, but mostly because the stores carry different things. I enjoyed the tour and in the spirit of Festivus, I took some time to air my two biggest Price Chopper grievances.

The first is because I’m cheap. On sale, a bottle of Polar seltzer is $1 at Price Chopper. The regular price at Hannaford is $0.85 and it goes on sale for $0.79. I have a major Ruby Red Grapefuit flavored seltzer problem.

Grievance #2: All of the shrimp for sale in Price Chopper have more ingredients than just “shrimp.” The all have sodium-phos-nitra-blah-blah-blah in them. If you sold just shrimp, maybe I’d try some. Preferably from the US.

After I aired my grievances, we went back to the cooking school room for the feats of strength.

Well, really we just shook hands and I left. But I left with this bag of goodies. Food blogger swag.

So if you made it all the way to the end of this, or at least scrolled down to the end, leave a comment letting me know if you plan to check out the new Bistro Market. I’ll number the comments, that will pick a number and then I’ll make arrangements to get you the bag of goodies less the bread (it would be green by the time you get it). Up for grabs is a reusable tote, a bottle of sparkling cranberry/raspberry water, a jar of Thai chili roasted garlic, some cheese with espresso in it, a lemon infused olive oil, tortilla chips and a gift card of an unknown amount. There's also a series of coupons for $2 off growlers every week, but you'll miss the first week. I’ll close the contest on Saturday, March 1st at midnight. Please be in or willing to travel to the Albany area to get the bag o' swag. Hopefully, I'll get at least one comment...not sure though. If you made it this far, your odds are pretty good.

Monday, February 24, 2014

DeFazio's Pizza Class

This Sunday, I got to take a peek behind the scenes at DeFazio's in Troy. Since the first pizza class was already full when I tried to register, I had over a month to look forward to this afternoon and I was really looking forward to it. Surprise, surprise...I was the first student to show up.

DeFazio's is normally closed on Sunday. Which makes sense because you can't run a pizza shop with 12 people wondering around the kitchen taking notes, sampling food, and snapping pictures. These classes (there is also a pasta class in addition to the pizza course) happen on their day off. And as a pizza nerd, I am extremely glad Rocco and Elizabeth DeFazio are willing to do this in their spare time. Besides being extremely welcoming and gracious hosts, Rocco and Elizabeth were very open about sharing recipes and techniques. So I wrote down as much as I could and then spent a good hour transcribing my notes into a yellow notebook I have. Apparently, I am evolving from pizza nerd to pizza obsessive. Look, there's a bald guy up front doing his impression of a court stenographer while dough gets made in a massive Hobart mixer that would look great in my basement:

(photo courtesy of Mark Bauman)

The class starts off with dough. All the ingredients go in the big Hobart mixer and they go for a whirl. Check out the hanger that keep the gear that lowers the mixing bowl in place. Such a simple, elegant solution.

While the dough rests, Rocco mixes up a very large bowl of no-cook pizza sauce.

Once the sauce is made, Rocco prepares a focaccia followed by two deep dish pizzas.

And when the deep dish pies, one sausage and one mushroom/spinach, come out of the the oven (not the wood fired oven) a little while later, they look like this:

Before today, my only deep dish pizza experiences were at Uno's...and I didn't like deep dish [side note: everything at Uno's sucks]. I totally agreed with the recent Jon Stewart pizza rant when he said "Deep Dish Pizza is not only not better than New York pizza, it’s not pizza. It’s a fucking casserole," among several other less than flattering things about deep dish. It's not on the menu, but if Rocco offers you some deep dish pizza, eat it. His version is delicious.

While the deep dish pizzas were off cooking, everyone gets to make two balls of dough. This was perfect for me because I had no idea if I was balling dough correctly at home. I was pretty close, but I'll be better next time. The dough balls get a quick brushing of oil before getting wrapped in plastic wrap and put in everyone's take home pizza box (besides the two dough balls, everyone takes home some sauce, Pecorino Romano and a pizza cutter that says "make pizza not war"). After the dough was wrapped up to go, Rocco prepped some Stromboli while explaining the proper amount of fillings and his Stromboli folding technique. He made two Stromboli, one with cheese/broccoli/spinach/artichoke and an Italian mix.

And then as if on a cooking show, two already cooked Stromboli are pulled out and sliced up. I took a little bit of the leftovers home and my kids loved it.

Then the class went onto pizza. When you walk in, the All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza trophy is on display.

As a follower of the Tournament (I set the over/under and the spread for this year's finals), I was very interested to hear Rocco's take on the Tournament. He said the probably always came in the last round when they say, "You should make whatever you like. The judges don't like what I like." So this year, he submitted a pizza that he knew the judges already liked. And I've got to believe they will be hard to dethrone if they just keep pleasing the judges. The first pizza up, was this year's Tournament winning Buffalo chicken pizza. I had never had it before. Holy shit, it is good.

The wood fired oven is beautiful. That bad boy is a Mam from Modena, Italy and it eats about a cord of wood a month. Plus it has a great story. On the day it was being driven from Boston back to Troy, there was a Nor'easter and the weight of the oven and pasta machine helped the UHaul make it home through the Berkshires on the Pike. Next up was a white clam and bacon pie. Also delicious.

A classic margarita. Also delicious. Not sure if you are noticing a trend here.

Then there was also a spicy red pepper pesto on a Brown's Brewing beer crust where all of the water in the dough was replaced with local beer. It was really good too. On the way out, we posed for a group picture.

(photo courtesy of Mark Bauman)

Many thanks to Elizabeth and Rocco for making this class available. If I can swing it, I would love to do some graduate studies in their pasta class.

(photo courtesy of Mark Bauman)

 (photo courtesy of Mark Bauman)

Since I have too much pizza on my brain (no clinical diagnosis yet) and Rocco was so forward with information, I think I might be able to clone a DeFazio's pizza. My proportions might be off a bit, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the right neighborhood. But I'm not telling, you'll have to take the class and come up with your own baker's percentages. I'd never do that to my future employer.

I daydream about standing next to an oven like that. If I can't get this backyard oven built this year, I might be bothering Rocco looking for a job.

And thanks to Mark Bauman for sharing his photos with the class.