I often daydream that the empty liquor store in the strip mall at the entrance to my suburban neighborhood might someday turn into an upscale mom-and-pop gourmet shop where I can pick up a gallon of organic milk, some locally made bread and maybe some fresh pasta for a quick supper.
A great gourmet market is Mecca to a foodie, and for those of us who don’t live near an independent shop, Whole Foods Market is often our best bet. OK, so they’re bigger and more corporate than the mom-and-pop of my dreams, but it’s still an exceptional foodie experience.
Now, Whole Foods Market on Pearl Street in Boulder is taking that experience to an entirely different level with its recent expansion into the vacated Barnes & Noble space next door. The renovation has nearly doubled its floor space to 66,000 square feet of foodie bliss, turning the prepared foods section into a high-end food court.
“We were going for street food meets health food,” Whole Foods’ regional executive chef Nick Davis said as he led me around the prepared foods area—from the Allegro coffee bar and 5430 juice bar, past the Greens and Beans healthy fast-casual station and the sushi to the East End Asian, barbecue and taqueria stands. The recipes were created with this store and this market in mind, catering to the unique tastes of Boulder in particular. And so you can get everything from a pork belly slider to a vegan greens and beans bowl brimming with kale, adzuki beans and quinoa.
The store employs upward of 130 chefs and servers in a state-of-the-art kitchen. The hot/cold food bars in the center serve more than 8,000 pounds of food a week.
All that food is presented with what has become Whole Foods’ signature flare.
“You have to just call these sexy food cases,” Davis said. The designers paid particular attention to ensuring customers see the food first, not the pans and serving dishes. It’s the same aesthetic that makes the gleaming pyramids of produce call out to you, and the fresh pasta case (yeah, there’s one of those) brim with possibility.
So much detail has gone into this renovation, it’s hard to cover it all; so much of it will go pleasantly unnoticed by customers until they realize they can purchase a selection of exotic dried mushrooms or gourmet salts by the ounce, order a ready-to-smoke quail from the butcher or enjoy a hand-brewed cup of joe at the coffee shop.
And the changes are only about half complete. The grocery side of the store is still undergoing a major face-lift, which will bring wider aisles, an expanded meat counter and a new bulk culinary center complete with a staff member who can tell you what to do with all those heirloom grains. Outside, the store will have a patio and seating area that will also possibly host live music.
So, no, this newest and shiniest of Whole Foods Markets may not have the indie hipster cred of a mom-and-pop, but it does offer an incredible selection, a true dedication to local, organic food practices and an all-around dreamy shopping experience.
5 Cool Foods To Taste
1. Fresh challah made in-house in their gigantic bread oven in the bakery. Light, eggy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
2. Create-your-own pho at the East End Asian food station, with all the fixings at the finishing station including house-made pickles.
3. The Kitchen’s tomato soup served almost daily at the hot soup bar. Chef Davis hopes to continue to work with other local chefs to bring their recipes to the prepared foods section.
4. The cashew “cream” sauce —totally vegan and made to the company’s Health Starts Here health standards—on a Greens and Beans bowl. It really will rock your world, whether you’re vegan or a dedicated omnivore.
5. Street tacos for $1.99 at the Table Mesa Taqueria station, with meat or the locally made Harmony Valley meat substitute.