My friend Moshe Aelyon is a creative genius. A master of fashion, design and entertainment, there’s always something cool going on in his life.
One of his many sidelines is blogging about food. “A-la-mo” is filled with musings on memorable meals in Moshe’s native Turkey; hidden-gem restaurants in Dubai and Lebanon; stylized salmon croquettes — the blog subjects I fantasize about, if only I had grown up in the Middle East and knew everything there is to know about cooking and wine and entertaining, with culinary skills up the wazoo.
But I don’t.
So I was more than intimidated when Moshe asked me to contribute something to his blog.
I was petrified.
Yet Moshe is persistent. When he told me I could write about “anything” — so long as it had to do with food — I remembered what I always tell my writing students: Write about what you know best.
Here’s my post. It ran a few weeks ago. Bon appétit!
Moshe’s wonderful blog is filled with orgasmic descriptions of delectable dishes. There are stories of appetizers, entrees, desserts. I read about bok choy that “weeps a bit of water.” Emotions flow freely, for sure.
Everyone adds his or her favorite recipe.
Moshe asked me to do the same.
I have many talents. I write, I coach soccer, I walk to the planet Zork with my eyes closed.
But cooking is not one of my talents.
Still, in an effort to engage in this great conversation – and, perhaps, be asked to dine by people who can actually cook – I’ll share my favorite food story.
It’s a list of the top five places in and around Westport to score free samples.
Whole Foods’ food looks too good to eat. That’s why they have free samples.
First – that is, in fifth place – is Whole Foods. The selection is natural and organic, which of course makes me feel all kinds of virtuous about wandering around eating, but it’s skimpy. It’s like a highly regarded New York restaurant that brings you two sprigs of parsley, with some exotic sauce, and charges 24.95 (without the dollar sign). Everyone goes “oooooh, marvelous,” but you’re thinking “WTF?” You really have to dig to find samples at Whole Foods, but when you do they are good. Just not real filling.
Balducci’s is in fourth place, a drop from years past. In earlier incarnations – Hay Day, and something else that lasted 6 minutes – the place was filled with samples. Fruit slices, cheeses, entrees and sides right out of the oven, plus tons o’ pastries. Now they’ve throttled back, so like at Whole Foods, you’ve got to be a hunter/gatherer rather than a scarfer.
Sure, it’s weird eating mac-and-cheese out of a urine cup. But it’s free!
Fresh Market takes third place. I’ve had some fantastic half-sandwiches there – roast beef, pulled pork, great stuff. Yeah, it’s weird eating it out of a plastic urine specimen cup, but you can’t beat the price. Fresh Market also offers cookies and cheese platters, while every so often – random Saturdays and holidays – they turn the place into a banquet. Carving stations, steam tables, all manned by very friendly staff urging you to eat. One more Fresh Market note: There are samples at the checkout counter, but they’re hidden in little cardboard boxes you have to open. Don’t be shy!
In second place is Garelick & Herbs. Specializing in chips and dips, brownies and cookies – and lots of them — this upscale gourmet store gets bonus points for compactness. No need to wander aimlessly looking for free food; it’s all right there, between the counter and the register.
In first place – no surprise – is Stew Leonard’s. The sign calls it the “Worlds Largest Dairy Store” (no apostrophe), but it could also be the Worlds Largest Free Food Emporium. From the entrance (cookies, other pastries, and for some reason, usually spinach pie), through the winding aisles past rice cakes, pomegranate juice, and on and on and on, Stew’s is sample heaven. More often than not, there’s even something like jelly beans at the customer service counter after checkout.
What’s wrong with this picture? There are no other customers pushing the guy aside to get their free samples.
But that’s your normal, weekday, early morning and evening free fare at Stew’s. Saturday and Sunday afternoons make those offerings look like Oliver’s gruel. Weekends are when vendors pour in, handing out their wares in a free Norwalk version of an Arab souk. The latest yogurt bars, salsa dips and ice cream flavors – they’re all there. And more.
Saturdays and Sundays are also the days Stew’s sets out cheeses, salads – even shrimp – as samples. You can eat an entire meal at Stew’s.
And I often have.