The Incredible Bulk
At first glance, Wild Oats looks just like the Hyde Park Kroger: packed with people filling up their carts with fruits and veggies, cereal and the like. The produce department, although smaller, is nothing out of the ordinary, and prices seem about the same as elsewhere. But like the majority of products carried here, these organically grown fruits and veggies follow Wild Oats' standards of having "the least amount of preservatives -- the most unadulterated version" available. That's the appeal that's been packing 'em in at more than 110 stores across the country.
I must admit, I expected to only find products like soy-based dessert treats and eggless egg salad. And, yes, I did find those, but along with the vegan-friendly selections were products for omnivores, too. In fact, the seafood and meat counters at Wild Oats actually put other grocers to shame. Free-range poultry, beef, pork -- all raised "cruelty-free" and free from additives and artificial fillers -- looked fresh and hearty, better than most of the thawed selections at other stores.
But what I loved was the selection of bulk foods. I'm not talking Sam's Club jumbo bulk sizes, but natural products, displayed in bulk and packaged by the shopper in whatever desired amount you choose. The selection is extensive and includes grains and beans, pastas, rice, flour, nuts, seeds, granola, trail mixes, even honey, soy sauce and peanut butter. The benefits of buying bulk are twofold. First, the price is economical because you purchase only what you need and don't pay for packaging.
Second, the products are fresh. Wild Oats' bulk foods are set out in small quantities, so the bins are replenished often.
While I was scanning the store, I pulled out my week-old grocery list to determine if I could shop without making a trip elsewhere. Short of my need for contact lens solution, every other item could be found. Sure, most of the brands I typically buy aren't found here, (so should I be buying them anyway?), but a "more natural" version of just about everything lined the shelves: laundry detergent, toilet paper, hair care products, soap, chips, cereal, toothpaste and even pet food.
And let's not forget the alcohol. The place has a nice selection of beer and wine, including several organic varieties.
What's For Dinner?
Like many modern grocery stores, Wild Oats features a variety of pre-made dishes to go, as well as an in-house deli offering hot and cold selections, and a coffee and juice bar.
We sampled from the made-to-order and the pre-made selections for dinner one recent evening and discovered several things. First, uncooked tofu tastes OK as long as it's prepared in some kind of sauce. Second, pesto makes my husband gag.
The deli counter was packed, even at dinnertime on a school night, with folks ogling the choices under the glass. Items can be ladled or scooped right onto your plate, weighed at the counter and devoured in the cozy seating area, or packed up to carry out. We perused Spiced Pumpkin Wedges ($4.99/lb.) and Mashed Sweet Potatoes ($6.99/lb.), but thought they wouldn't travel well, and we were taking ours to go.
Instead, we opted for fresh sandwiches. I chose the Sonoma Roasted Chicken Wrap ($4.99), a huge flour tortilla full of chunks of cold cooked chicken, provolone, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and red-leaf lettuce. It was definitely a handful, with chicken chunks so large it was tough to eat. I enjoyed it, but didn't care for the handful of stale kettle chips that accompanied it.
My husband was disappointed with his Smoked Turkey and Provolone Panini ($4.99). Since they were out of foccacia, the deli guy suggested sourdough bread for this sandwich of smoked turkey, provolone, onion, Roma tomatoes, lettuce, and a double dose of pesto (we're talking on both pieces of bread, top and bottom). Come to think of it, it was enough to make even a basil lover gag. I think my husband would have been happier with a slice of the hot pizza ($2.99/slice).
The pre-made, refrigerated Calzone Stuffed with Black Bean Chili and Organic Rice ($3.49) also was a disappointment. Even after reheating, it was too dry and fell apart immediately.
I enjoyed my sampling of the Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad ($6.99/lb.), a cold mix of noodles, tofu chunks, peanuts and scallions in a peanut sauce. The leftovers were a satisfying breakfast, too.
Although we didn't sample from the coffee and juice bar, the choices were endless, from smoothies to lattes, and the scones and muffins looked delicious.
Wild Oats is not just for the socially conscious or vegetarians. It's truly for anyone who wants to eat healthfully. Even carnivores will be impressed with the meat counter selections. This surprisingly mainstream health food market seems like a perfect fit in a healthy lifestyle. ©
Go: Rookwood Commons Norwood
Hours: Daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Payment:Credit cards accepted
Vegetarian Friendliness: Come on! More than you can ask for. It's tofu frenzy.
Other: Carryout and pre-made meals available. Some outdoor tables available.