The other day I was yearning for an experience food writer Ruth Reichl describes in her book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. The way Reichl writes about about shopping in New York's neighborhood markets made me want to move there. And that's saying a lot considering the last time I was in New York City during the late Eighties, the subway terrified me and the city streets were so unkempt and creepy that I vowed never to go back. But the New York City Reichl describes sounds downright homey. The shopkeepers know their customers by name. They offer fresh produce and local specialties. They suggest recipes to go with the goods. Reichl's shopkeepers care about the quality of their products and their customer service, not just the bottom line. It reminded me of shopping in Europe at small corner shops and roadside stands, all within walking distance, and all locally owned.
I finished Reichl's book depressed that I live in a big-box-store city bereft of any unique qualities. I have gone to Wal-mart and Target in many cities and in every instance completely forgot where I was, which I guess is the point. Same merchandise, same store layout, same design. A Target in San Diego is just like the Target in Sandy, which is just like the Target in Orem.
Then I happened upon All Seasons Market on 700 East and 8800 South here in my own little corner of Sandy. And suddenly, I found what I was looking for.
Maybe it's because owner Vito Lema lived in New York City, but somehow stepping into this tiny grocery store made me feel like I live Reichl's world, in a place where the shopkeeper knows my name (he did by the time I left) and even walked my groceries to the car. The fruits and vegetables were fresh and bright, beautiful to look at and even better to eat. And the prices! After years of shopping Wal-mart and other grocery chains, I've been duped into thinking they always have the best deals. Not so. Lema proves that smaller stores can offer quality foods at comparable--and even better--prices. Take the organic broccoli I bought for 99¢ a pound, an unheard of price for organic, especially in the middle of winter. Gorgeous red peppers sell for 50¢ (delicious roasted and added to spaghetti sauce or homemade pizza), and lush spinach goes for 99¢ a bunch. And if you like salad, you'll swoon over crisp romaine, red and green leaf lettuces at less than a dollar a head, long lovely stalks of celery and avocados packaged in their own plastic boxes for only 50¢ each. I'm not the most consistent cook in the world, but for some reason beautiful vegetables make me want to spend an entire day cooking. That's why when I shop at All Seasons I get in the mood to whip up salads, roast vegetables and juice some big, sweet carrots. During my most recent visit I developed a craving for borscht, which I haven't made for years. So into my basket went a deep purple head of cabbage, two big sturdy beets and a few onions. Then I spied some asparagus, which reminded me of spring, so I tossed those in my basket. Then collards that made me think of a green smoothie recipe from my sister. Oh, and some kale to make a soup from my vegetarian cookbook, and an eggplant because I love eggplant Parmesan. And two ruby red tomatoes that brought back a memory of when my mother visited from California and ordered a sandwich at Subway. When asked if she wanted tomatoes she stared at the pale slices still firm and green on the inside and said, "Ewww. Those won't taste good at all. Don't you know you're supposed to let those things ripen on your windowsill until they get a nice deep red?"
And the list goes on. It just goes to show you that Vito Lema's store can inspire even the most reluctant of cooks, reminding us of how delightful it is to work with good ingredients. And just as a home cooked meal can nourish our spirit as well as our body, shopping at a charming local market like All Seasons can do the same.
Have you ever bought a zucchini one day only to have it go moldy on you the next? That doesn't happen when you shop at All Seasons. "Customers say that my produce lasts longer," Lema tells me as he carries my groceries to the car. As a former produce manager, he knows that bigger stores keep their produce in storage for days before they put it out for the customer. "I don't keep my produce in the back for a week before I put it out," Lema says. "I don't order too much and I put it out right when I get it." You may not find a mountain of lettuce, half of which is wilted or slimy or rusty at the edges. But you will find a small display, carefully chosen and cared for that is guaranteed to taste as good as it looks.
Though Lema orders from other suppliers in the winter, in the summer he grows his own produce organically on land behind the store.
All Seasons Market also carries a large selection of locally produced bread, milk, cheese, apple cider, and Colosimo's sausage.
Vito's All Seasons Market also makes soups and sandwiches to order. Call ahead and they'll have it ready by the time you get there.
All photos and text by Susan Hayward. Originally posted on SusanHaywardPhotography.typepad.com.
Used with permission.