What’s bigger than a farmer’s market, better than a “big box,” but still smaller than a supermarket?
A curious creation called the “curated grocery store.”
No, these aren’t your parents’ grocery stores, with cereal selections a football field long. Nor are they the discount “clubs,” charging membership fees for the privilege of buying yogurt by the gallon. Curated grocery stores offer an eclectic mix instead of an exhaustive inventory.
In the decades before the modern supermarket, putting dinner on the table was hardly one-stop shopping. Your grocery store carried the essentials, but you still had to makes trips to the butcher or baker to round out a meal. Buying eggs and produce from a farm stand or tailgate was the norm, not the exception.
And that’s what curated grocery stores do best — but all under one roof.
While department stores are eating away at supermarket supremacy and well-heeled shoppers flock to highfalutin haute spots, Columbus has attracted the attention of regional and national names eager to bring back that specialty store experience.
If you’re looking beyond the neighborhood market or co-op, here are four curated grocery stores that offer local favorites and impressive selections, despite their small size.
Fresh Thyme Market
6670 Sawmill Rd.
The old bones of Borders bookstore are hardly noticeable at Fresh Thyme Market on Sawmill Road in Dublin, with a new location opening in Worthington later this year.
Any mistaken farmers market mystique is quickly dispelled by the ample olive bar and kombucha case. Bargain bulk foods like quinoa, lentils and granola are best bets. You can also make your own peanut butter—honey-roasted recommended.
You’ll find heirloom tomatoes, broccolini and criminis for your homemade pizza party, as well as wild boar, goat patties and uncured bison hotdogs for that free-range tailgate. Try the deep selection of gluten-free beers for either alt-eats event.
The frozen foods wall offers ready-to-eat ease from Amy’s to Udi’s. Unexpected items fill the aisles, with Cowboy chili and Tibetan Dal sharing the same shelf. There’s also a chemical-free collection of toddler toys made from reclaimed wood with natural dyes.
1440 Gemini Pl.
Just behind Polaris Fashion Place hides Earth Fare, close enough for both Columbus commuters and Delaware denizens to lay equal claim. With the largest private label offering of the bunch, you might even fill that hole in your heart since Wilds Oats went away.
BOGO specials and email-only promotions make fine dining on a dime doable—like gluten-free, Maryland crab cakes at four for $10.
Add some crunch to your lunch with Brad’s Raw “Vampire Killer” kale. If you’re craving carbs instead, how about “blueberry lemon lavender” pancake mix by the bag? (That’s presuming your morning ritual isn’t complicated enough already.)
Discontinued deals are on a rolling bread cart in the back, next to the impressive Le Creuset cookware collection, from fluted flan dishes to colorful kettles.
Don’t miss the preservative-free “scoop your own ravioli” fridge with a dozen varieties for $9.99/pound, or pick up some legit pizza sauce, mozzarella/provolone blend and organic dough for just $6 and make that next pie DIY.
The Fresh Market
1920 W Henderson Rd.
Tucked away on Henderson Road is The Fresh Market, with just the right blend of butchers, bakers, fishmongers and florists. Their own monthly magazine, Inspirations, highlights weekly specials, making meal planning easy.
Some exceptional deals include antibiotic-free ground chuck for $2.99/pound and a whole roasted chicken with a fresh apple pie for less than $10.
How about less traditional combinations like lobster mac and cheese, Jamaican mahi mahi in banana leaf or pistachio-crusted flounder, all ready to take and bake? Impress your guests and skip the mess.
Rick’s Picks brand “Phat Beets” and “Smokra” will add kick to that simple salad, as will the wide selection of kimchis. Don’t forget the sweet and savory breads—or pick up a peach praline pie, peruse the ice creams and gelatos, and go a la mode.
2770 N High St.
Clintonville clamored to welcome Lucky’s Market late last year. The farm stand feel and open-wall entrance might leave newbies initially unsure if they’re walking into a grocery store or garage sale.
But any apprehension quickly cedes to the sight and smell of prepared fare and notable potables.
There are tofu sausages, almond mozzarella and Tetra boxes of soy, nut, hemp and oat milks for the vegans, and weird wedges of intriguing cheese for the die-hard “dairytarians.”
But the real deal is all under glass. Curried chicken salad and Brussels sprout slaw are picnic-perfect, as is the dark chocolate-covered honeycomb. Cranberry-walnut stuffed pork chops and housemade beer brats featuring Elevator Brewing’s Three Frogs IPA are ideal for those who know food needs fire.
An enviable selection of beer by the bottle and Brothers Drake mead may whet the appetite, but the house bacon beats all—cured 14 days, smoked 24 hours. Stock up before they sell out. •