Sunday, January 24, 2010

The joys of specialty food shops

I studied French in grade school, and in these classes, we learned all about the patisseries, boulangeries, etc that line the streets of Paris. I always thought these shops had a romantic charm to them - I loved the idea of a knowledgeable butcher or baker (or candlestick maker) would sell his wares to me, offering gentle guidance and advice free of charge.

Alas, my shopping experience has almost exclusively been at traditional groceries over the years. Fortunately with the advent of Whole Foods, that experience got a bit more compelling, but still my shopping trips are nearly always to one-stop shops, where aisle after aisle of everything from dog food to make up to produce to steak are there for the choosing, but nary a helpful employee is in site. Seriously, have you ever tried to get someone's attention for help at Kroger? Nearly impossible. I digress, but I must share...I once asked at the Edgewood Kroger where the chorizo was. The Kroger employee's response? Oh Chorizo? He's not working tonight. I kid you not.

So on my trip to London earlier this week, I was so enchanted to pass an entire street of specialty shops. First a butcher, where the employees even wore old timey butcher charming! Then a fromagerie, followed by a patisserie. So incredibly charming and European. I can certainly appreciate the ease of shopping for your groceries in one place, but I'd give anything for some specialty shops to offer real advice and breadth and depth of specialized product. It's like pulling teeth to find something like ground lamb or duck breast sometimes. I bet those old timey butchers would have ground the lamb by hand as I waited! Sigh...

As I walked through Holland Park admiring all of these shops, I also searched for an incredibly belated lunch (no thanks to you SAS Airlines). I stumbled upon Paul, which I've learned is actually a fairly large chain of French style bakery, founded in France over a hundred years ago. Despite being a chain, it felt anything but. Small, cozy, with friendly French accented salesgirls. Their display case was filled with delectable baguette sandwiches and mouthwatering pastries. I chose a baguette with ham, pickles and butter. Thin layers of ham didn't overwhelm, and the cheese flecked bread was salty, crispy perfection. Now I can appreciate Subway now and then, but an overstuffed sub sandwich this wasn't. It was fresh and light and oh so satisfying. You could actual taste each ingredient in all it's divine simplicity. It was so good in fact, I returned the following day for lunch again. This time ham with pears and boursin. I am in love with Paul. Can you believe this place is a chain? Why can't we have more profoundly quaint, adorable chains over here?

Now I know that specialty shops are rather trendy these days, but they don't seem to have taken hold in Atlanta just yet. I like to think that with the right location we could sustain some charming little shops like I saw in London. From what I hear people drive from all over town to Patak's to fill their coolers with sausages and cold cuts, so surely a well placed Atlanta butcher could succeed? And oh to be able to find affordable, slim little baguettes with delectable fillings. Yes Star Provisions is close, but it costs and arm and a leg. Surely it needn't?

For now I'll think fondly back to those little shops and imaging a day when I took can carry my own little basket to precious specialty shops...

A quick google search also turns up Sawicki's in Decatur. I've never heard of it, and it's not in my 'hood, but sounds like it could be worth a shot! Come on, surely Virginia Highlands is a perfect spot for a little butcher?



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