I hope everyone enjoyed the hot and humid beginning of the summer holiday weekend. I attended the wedding of my girlfriend Maura and her newly betrothed, Art, in Hershey, Pa., amongst friends and family and copious amounts of chocolate. My favorites were the crostini hors d’oeuvres with Brie, chocolate and strawberry preserves and their gorgeous dark chocolate wedding cake with cream cheese frosting. Congratulations always and forever, Maura and Art!
Now it’s back to the reality of a non-chocolate flavored city. For me, that reality is switching out my winter clothes for the bright colors of summer (finally…), putting some air in my bike tires and riding to the grocery store to replenish the kitchen pantry, fridge and freezer.
Thank goodness Harlem is on the come-up with relatively new grocery stores. I remember my youth and suffering through the limited healthy choices in supermarket chains found mostly in low-income areas. I was resentful that we needed to go downtown to get good tasting produce and specialty items.
Now, I do love me some Fairway. Y’all know that. However, one doesn’t always want to go to the river to shop. Now thanks to some relatively new grocery stores in Harlem, one doesn’t have to.
By now I am sure you have heard of Best Yet Market on Eighth Avenue between 119th and 118th streets. The Long Island-based chain got its humble beginnings in Brooklyn by a man who saw a need for fresh produce in his community. That simple need grew to include organics, freshly prepared food and specialty items. It has also brought Harlem Best Yet’s first Manhattan location, and it seems the community has responded and even asked for more.
That “more” can be found at 10 E. 125th St., between Fifth and Madison avenues, and its name is Wild Olive Market. It is the second location for Greek owner Taso Mastakouris. The first is on 94th Street and Columbus Avenue.
In the year that it has been open, I have passed by a handful of times, never going in. A few weeks ago when returning from the Harlem Metro North station, I decided to see what was hiding behind the fresh flowers and fruit veneer. Glad I did.
Once inside, my first vision was of produce stacked plentifully and neatly. It called me further inside to see what else this space might be offering my neighbors. I rounded the corner to find even more produce with a sign stating their credo: “We support our local farmers!” They get their produce fresh from Long Island and upstate New York, thereby guaranteeing the customer in-season quality and decreasing their carbon footprint.
Fine…so they have produce, but (most) wo/men cannot live on produce alone. What else might they have that I would be looking for at my normal shopping hole? I meandered the aisles, recalling my regular shopping list, and was pleasantly surprised to see most, if not all of my grocery items like humus, nuts and grains, low-sodium canned beans, organic milk and dairy and specialty condiments. There were also plenty of other goods and brands that piqued my interest.
Manager Tenisha Sterling says Wild Olive takes its stocking direction from many sources, including their higher-end distributors that provide items not found at their big-box competitor down the street. However, their best source is their customers, who request items they heard about on “Dr. Oz,” that are recommended to help diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments or simply because they taste good or support a certain lifestyle (e.g., vegan, gluten-free). Wild Olive also works with physicians and nutritionists to teach classes on healthy eating.
As I moved to the other side of the market, passing a nice selection of beers, I found poultry, meat and fish. I really liked that the fish signage included not just the price per pound, but the origins of the fish and whether it is wild or farmed. The meats are purchased in smaller quantities and butchered in house to maintain quality and keep prices low.
There is also an open kitchen where Taso and his staff cook up daily meals of salads and sandwiches, roasted meats and vegetables and other side dishes. Lines of area regulars come in for lunch and dinner every day to eat what’s on the menu.
And if you think all of this comes at a premium, think again. Wild Olive has everyday deals and competitive price points that will keep you coming back. Sterling tells me customers that normally shop downtown are enjoying having the market right in their own neighborhood.
Let’s keep asking for these types of markets in Harlem or at least ask our existing markets to stock better quality products for us and our families and friends to buy. I do see some changes at those staple supermarkets I mentioned, but we can continue to ask for more.
Hope to see you in the produce aisle soon…
Enjoy, get eating and thanks for reading!
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Kysha Harris is owner of SCHOP! which is available for weekly service or for home entertaining. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Email kysha@iSCHOP.com.