Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wild, Wonderful Wegmans

I had the pleasure of visiting yet another Wegmans store just last week, and boy, do I love that place! For those of you who don't yet know of my obsession with the grocery store, let me fill you in.

Wegmans is a grocery store chain located in the North East (their headquarters is in NY state). They have an amazing prepared foods sections, rockin' bakery, and their cheese and produce is really unbeatable. I have visited stores in State College, PA (that one was a bus trip; I kid you not); Wilkes Barre, PA; Dulles, VA; and most recently in Hunt Valley, MD. What makes the Dulles store stand out of course is their amazing wine selection (I LOVE shopping in Virginia), but each store is consistent not only with great food (and the prices are pretty reasonable), but great customer service as well.

One of my favorite things to do is attack the cheese counter full force. Now any good cheese monger will allow you a taste of any cheese that you are interested in purchasing. The pleasure here is that I did this with 9 cheeses. Don't think I was trying to get a free lunch here, I purchased each cheese, but it was so cool to be able to taste each and speak with someone knowledgeable about the products. Here's where Wegmans stands out; after tasting each cheese, the cheese monger re-packaged and then re-priced each hunk. I didn't pay a thing for my samples. It's a little thing, but in these days of nickel & diming, it was a nice touch I appreciated.

When I was in the Hunt Valley store last week, my mom, daughter and I had a fantastic lunch in their upper balcony area (really, upper balcony in a grocery store!). The only problem is that it usually costs me a fortune because we see so many things we want to try. We probably all had the equivalent of 2 lunches each because of the fresh fruit, fresh sushi (it's good too!), Chinese food bar, salads, and the bakery. Wow! As we were taking the elevator up, there was an older gentleman nice enough to hold the doors for us. After a quick conversation that lasted beyond our elevator trip, I found out that he and his wife come to Wegmans every Sunday. She shops and he brings a portable tv, gets a snack, and watches football. Every Sunday since the second week that store opened 2 years ago. He was happy as a clam and almost evangelical about the whole thing.

So Why do I bring all of this up? Well, rumor has it (as does the Wegmans website http://www.wegmans.com/) that Frederick is getting a store of our very own. I heard a lot of buzz a year of so ago and have heard nothing since. As far as I know, they're planning to go into what is now some vacant land between Rt. 15 & Rt. 26. I've done a little research and found out that the store is being held up because there were water problems in the county and all commercial building was halted until they could get a handle on it. The good news is that the water issues are resolved and they're ready to go. There's only one problem: This store will be on a list with a bunch of other potential projects.

Here's what I propose: Let's get a letter writing campaign (or even email if that works best for you!) going and start sending letters to our aldermen asking that they give this project priority. If I understand correctly, the site needs to be annexed into the city and once that's done they can get rolling. It will take about 2 years until the store is finally open, and I'm getting tired of driving to Dulles.


If you've been to a Wegmans, write me a comment so that I can see what you think!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Middletown's The Main Cup



Woo hoo baby -- I just got back from another fantastic lunch at my new favorite restaurant, The Main Cup, located on Main St. in Middletown.

For those of you who have never heard of this little gem, I strongly recommend that you give it a try. I've been for lunch (twice) and have shared and had tastes of my lunch date's meal both times. So far, the rockfish and chips (so good plus they actually had malt vinegar on hand), the eggplant parm sandwich, & the steak sandwich, were really great and totally worth the drive from downtown Frederick. The chicken salad was good, but I can easily make that myself, so I didn't beg my friend too hard for hers. Besides, those fish and chips were cooked just right and I wanted to clean the plate without too much distraction (I did :). I even had the opportunity to speak to their new chef, Jordan. What a cutie! He's young and earnest and headed to the CIA (the good one, Culinary Institute of America) sometime in the next year. I even got a little sneak peak at his yummy new Sweet Tomato Dressing. I'll have to give that one a try next time I'm there.

My cappuccino was perfect with a nice foamy topper and served in a mug. It wasn't quite as hot as I like, but that didn't bother me too much because otherwise, it was great. I'd love to see a bigger selection of desserts to go with the coffee, because you know I've got to satisfy my sweet tooth. Kim (one of the owners) assures me that's coming soon.

The Main Cup is located right on Main St., but you'll do best to park behind the building. There are several additional businesses located back there and you may find something else you like (yoga anyone?). The building has been lovingly renovated and is cut up into many nooks and crannies. There's a small private room where I'm dying to take my investment club, a comfy coffeehouse-style gathering room in front, and then a little nook leading back to the bar area. With exposed brick and warm colors, this is the perfect place to hang out on a cold, rainy day.

The Main Cup serves dinners as well, though I haven't had the opportunity to give those a try yet. You can check out their full menu at http://www.themaincup.com/. They're open Monday through Saturday, and therein lies my only real complaint. As a small business owner, I recognize that you've got to have a day off, and even those days off are really just days you're not open to the public, not so much days you aren't working. But, in making the drive (ok, it's not too long, but when do I ever get over to Middletown?), often the only time I've got some time is Sunday. Hopefully someday soon Kim & Bob will be able to open regularly on Sunday.

The Main Cup is now featuring live music on some weekends. The next group to perform will be the Howard Burns Trio next Friday night (11/16) from 7-10pm. You may even see me there. Give The Main Cup a try and tell them Christine sent you.

One quick note: When I review a restaurant, I pay my own way. I don't accept food for free from the owners or staff so that I can be as unbiased as possible. It's a little thing, but it's important to me.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Go Go Metro! (Cooking Show That Is!)


The Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show was in full swing this weekend, and I decided to take the staff at The Kitchen Studio down for a fun day of tasting and perusing new food products.

For those of you who have never heard of this event, held at the Washington Convention Center in DC, it is billed as a food extravaganza. It's held over the weekend (Sat. & Sun.) and this year featured Food Network's Queen of all things Southern, Ms. Paula Deen making 3 special appearances (tickets were $55 per person). Last year, the show's inaugural, Ms. Deen's sons were featured speakers (and for no additional charge). Now as charming as those Deen boys seem on tv, I have no problem with the ticket price for their mom and not so much for them. After all, she's a bonafide **STAR** and has worked hard to pave the road for them.

I should have known that this might cause a little problem when I checked the web site before we left Frederick and saw that all of the tickets for Ms. Deen's appearances were sold out. Hmmm. They probably sold a lot of tickets, but I was sure that everything would run as smoothly as it had the previous year. After all, now they had some experience and most likely a crew ready to handle anything.

Unfortunately, that wasn't so much the case. Don't get me wrong. We didn't run across a jerk the entire time, but what we did run across were were folks who didn't know what anyone was doing. The line to get in was atrocious -- many hundreds of people long. I had purchased tickets online in advance just for general admission ($20 each plus a weird $2 fee -- just tell me the tickets are $22, don't tack on some "processing fee" when I'm buying them directly from you please!). Once we came down the elevator, we were pushed toward folks with scanners then told to get in line.

This was a bit of a bummer because I wanted the TKS staff to feel relaxed and have a good time. Waiting in line for 45 minutes doesn't really help that feeling too much, especially since we were there for general admission. The clock ticked on and more than a few women in line were starting to get frustrated. Most of the people in line were there to see Ms. Deen; scheduled to go on at 11. At 5 'til, several hundred were still in line. One of my employees even heard a member of the convention center staff tell one poor woman that she wouldn't make it in time and there was nothing he could do. I felt really sorry for her, having spent $75 just to get into the show. Luckily, Ms. Deen held off until 11:30 so that everyone could be seated.

You should have heard the roar of the crowd when she made her entrance. They were thrilled!

After speaking to a few folks from the sponsor (The Tiny Kitchen - http://www.thetinykitchen.com/) , they tried to shift blame to the convention center folks, which I suppose I could understand. There was no clear signage, though the gentleman I spoke with said that NO ONE ever reads signs (sounds just like a guy -- girls read signs!!). I'm hoping that next year, they'll be better prepared, as there must have been 750-1,000 people there just to see Ms. Deen.


Onto bigger and better things -- we had a GREAT time. The group split off and everyone had more than her fair share of tastes and treats. Blue Moon Chocolates (available at Bones & Cones in Hagerstown) are AMAZING! I also picked up this delicious red curry sauce - sooo yummy. I'm thinking sauteed shrimp with some un-offensive veggie and some basmati rice. Woo hoo! While I was going hog-wild, I also picked up some Red Rocker almond toffee with dark chocolate. You can tell there's real butter in there ba-by!
There were workshops (small, personal, & no additional charge!) and "interactive cooking demonstrations". I attended one of these last year and had the BEST time. This year the price was raised quite a bit (from $80 to $125), but the layout looked much better and less crowded. Aprons were draped across each chair and I'm sure everyone took home lots of goodies, just like in 2006 (I still have my Spode turkey tureen).
Bottom line: This is a fun show and there were tons of vendors & presenters. Despite the initial difficulties, the show staff was kind and professional. I'm excited to see where this goes in the next few years. I'd love to see something major with cookbooks and I'm guessing that there will be more big stars. As for me, I'd really love to try to present there next year and give DC a little Frederick flavor. :)