Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fairway Market in Paramus, NJ

When I first received word that my favorite city grocery chain was opening a new store mere minutes from my front door, my heart skipped a beat; could it be? Visions of avocados, artichokes and mangosteens piled to the ceiling danced in my head. I could almost taste the flakiness of the baked goods, the saltiness of the house-made pickles. Its arrival, I reasoned, just might make the rest of this year of relative post-college solitude bearable.

I first became familiar with the store while attending a private high school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—otherwise known as Fairway country. Leaving the city by car every evening via the West 125th Street entrance to the West Side Highway, I marveled at the size of the flagship store and at the hoards of people swarming its parking lot. Few grocery stores in Manhattan can boast their own private parking lot, but as they say, Fairway isn’t like any other market. It draws people from all over the metropolitan area, from the Westchester to Connecticut. And I can understand why. As a college student residing in Morningside Heights, my pilgrimages to the 74th street store became an almost-weekly ritual. Even when my tiny uptown kitchen was fully-stocked, I couldn’t resist entering the Fairway wonderland to admire the exotic dried fruits, the international selection of olive oils and bins of organic granola.

And now Fairway has followed me to New Jersey. Once again, it has become my source of unparalleled satisfaction and frustration. The Paramus Fairway is, in a word, enormous. It offers anything and everything you can imagine, served up with a decidedly New York attitude. The produce is copious, the bakery stocked. The cheese selection is the best I’ve seen, even after working in a gourmet cheese shop. The deli counter is a sight to behold, and the nova is sliced beautifully thin right before the customer’s eyes. Mozzarella-making is on display, as is sushi-rolling. For the hot beverage-seeker, the coffee and tea selection is a dream.

My one significant beef with the New York stores is that they tend to be crowded, somewhat confusing to navigate and, needless to say, overwhelming in the variety of items they offer. The newly-opened Paramus, New Jersey store is the same, with the addition of awestruck mall-walker types (some carrying cameras around their necks, tourist-style, no joke) clogging the already-crowded aisles. In order to get to the conventional grocery section, one must make her way through, well, all the good stuff, clearly a strategic (and ingenious) decision on the part of the Fairway management. This mission is never undertaken with as much rapidity or frugality as one anticipates. Then again, for better or worse, isn’t that the quintessential Fairway experience? Come see for yourself.

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