Earth Fare is no mere grocery

by Brian Clarey

We sometimes joke around in the journalism business about grocery store openings, usually something along the lines of: “When I get finished with you you’ll be covering grocery store openings!”

But I’ll take an assignment like this any day – an entire early evening wandering the aisles of Earth Fare and sampling the wares.

For starters, Earth Fare is no mere grocery. When the Greensboro branch opened in November 2002 it immediately began spreading its message about organic foods, sustainable agriculture, local produce and natural living. The aisles teemed with artfully prepared dry goods and hard to find ingredients. Trays of artisan breads and cheeses tempted customers to sample and under the butcher’s glass were free-range and grass-fed meats.

Also, tonight is no mere opening, but rather a reopening of the successful organic grocery after some redesign and moderate tweaking. They’ve beefed up the salad bar, which now tops out at more than 60 items. They’ve doubled the size of the produce section and increased their capacity to stock beer and wine. The hot buffet line has been moved along a side wall and fortified with a made-to-order pizza station and a panini sandwich grill.

“It was a three-month process,” says regional marketing coordinator Debbie Fuchs, and when she spreads her arms and looks around the packed house, she seems to believe it was worth the effort.

I, for one, am floored by the event, put on in collaboration with Greensboro Beautiful, the private non profit that works to keep our city nice and pretty.

As Blues World Order begins a set by the front door I move around the tables packed with free food and sample what I can. I count 13 different food stations, each with delicacies proffered by the supermarket. Here are some highlights.

A grape tomato and fresh mozzarella salad with crostini. Quartered crab cakes. Smoked salmon dip (also with crostini). Chicken Caesar wraps made with locally grown air-chilled chicken breast. A carving station with prime rib (!) and pulled pork barbecue. Turkey BLT wraps. Cocoa and espresso-rubbed tri-tip steak. Cedar plank salmon. Chicken satay with teriyaki sauce. Panini and pizzas. A savory spread made from brie, fig chutney and candied walnuts. An expansive olive tray. A cheese plate with stilton bleu, cave-aged emmental and herbed brie. A dessert tower that makes me lightheaded.

A few of my favorites: the citrus shrimp and artichoke salad, with big shrimp, a light touch of lemon and perfectly marinated artichoke hearts; the seven-layer roasted vegetable torte which includes eggplant, parmesan, zucchini, carmelized onions and two kinds of roasted peppers; and the chocolate walnut brownie, which I am thinking about fondly as I write this.

Also in the house are perhaps a dozen wine and beer merchants with free samples of their wares. But more interesting to me is Jonathan Banchak, a bearded dude giving demonstrations of Larry’s Beans coffee in a back corner.

“We’re a hundred percent organic, fair trade, shade grown, all on small family farms,” he says in a loop while dishing out cups of product.

Seriously, it was more lavish than some weddings I’ve been to. And I’m going back for more of those brownies soon.

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