I have visted Whole Foods twice since they opened about 2 months ago. Much has been made about Whole Foods both good and bad. The Journal practically dedicated an entire issue to Whole Foods the day before it opened providing way more press than any ad campaign could ever hope for and there have been many positive stories. There are also the Whole Food naysayer hipsters posting messages at OnMilwaukee.com and in the Journal editorial section (thanks to Haverchuk for the heads up on that one). I have pretty much been on the pro-Whole Foods side of things, arguing that any business has the right to locate in the City and if the competition (Outpost and Beans and Barley) goes out of business, so be it. There are far too many positives about Whole Foods to get worked up about the few negatives.
Anyhow the first thing I noticed was the size of this place. I went to the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle in Manhattan and I was amazed at the size and the different elements when compared to the two other Whole Foods I visited in Madison and Evanston, IL. The Milwaukee store is just as big (actually maybe bigger) with just as many features. I wandered through the produce, which was actually priced fairly competitively with not only Outpost but with Pick n’ Save as well. I then wandered to the seafood section, which has always been the main reason that I like Whole Foods. There were a lot of different items and my first thought was “who is going to buy all of this fresh seafood? I have seen places like Metro Market and some upscale Pick n’ Saves open with a wide array of oysters, mussels, and fish only to see it dwindle to easy sellers like catfish, salmon, cod, and a small smattering of shellfish of a questionable age and origin within a month or so. The seafood here looked amazing.
So what did I purchase? Well my pantry, fridge and freezer are jam packed with unused foods, so my visit was at the most inopportune time, so I decided that I would only buy stuff to eat for dinner that evening. Talk about a challenge. There are food stations everywhere, from the shrimp and seafood bar (which features different shrimp preparations, sauces, calamari, and the obligatory fish fry) to the dessert/gelato bar, choosing a meal was going to be quite a chore. I wandered by each bar once, amazed at the wide array of offerings including: an Asian noodle-stir fry station, tacos, sushi, antipasti, olives, a hot food bar, a panini station, a smokehouse (featuring jerky, sausages, smoked meats, and bratwurst), and the aforementioned dessert and gelato bar. I grabbed a 4-segment container and headed to the antipasti bar. I scooped up a bean salad, some different marinated veggies, and some olive salad. I then grabbed some mixed olives from the adjacent olive bar.
Now for the entree selection. I was tempted to try the tacos or some sushi but as I peered over the counter at the Smokehouse, a worker offered me a sample of anything I wanted. I opted for the brisket, which is by far the most difficult bbq meat to prepare correctly. I popped it in my mouth and it was phenomenal. Way better than a lot of bbq places in town, though not as good as Q’s brisket. I was sold. I ordered a brisket sandwich which was only 6 bucks and included a side salad. The sandwich was loaded with meat and you have your choice of hot or mild sauce. I opted for the hot and the sauce was decent enough. Thankfully I ordered it on the side because this meat really didn’t need sauce for flavor. On my second visit I had the carne asada tacos and some more interesting antipasti. The tacos were very good and the frech salsa, cilantro, and lime was a nice accent to the grilled meat. Are they as good as carne asada at Hector’s or LaEstacion (which is I think has some of the best carne asada in the area)? No, but they are way better than the other Mexican options in the area, which includes Jalisco, El Chico Zuma, and Qdoba.
The places I see this hurting are not the Outpost and Beans and Barley, both of whom fill a slightly different niche and have a strong, almost cult-like following, but rather the Pick n’ Save Metro Market and the Milwaukee Public market, whose viability I have been worried about since it was in the planning stages. I think if anything the most damage will be inflicted on Metro Market. When it opened a few years back it was so new and unique to Milwaukee that I thought they would eventually make more of them throughout southeast Wisconsin. Whole Foods offers the same kinds of prepared foods but there are more of them at Whole Foods…a lot more. Plus Metro Market is actually only interesting until you get past the meat aisle. After that its just another drab, boring Pick n’ Save. Honestly, I don’t see myself going back to Metro Market too often with Whole Foods in such close proximity.
This posting may sound like a Journal Sentinel article with my positive review of Whole Foods, but if you are into good food you cannot help but be impressed by this store.