Four-Star Food Favorites

We invited readers to tell us about their most beloved food institutions. Neighborhood co-ops, farmers’ markets and one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants topped their lists. Below, a flavorful sample.   –The Editors

New York City/Le Sueur, Minn.

Paul Wellstone is gone from Minnesota, his loss still felt acutely, but the St. Peter Food Co-op, south of the Twin Cities, continues on strong. Old hippies and new hipsters meet there, the ethos progressive, though an occasional Republican can be found sampling the fare. More than a cooperative grocery store, it offers a self-serve deli and regularly sponsors health and food seminars.

With the food tasty, healthy and often vegan, the St. Peter Food Co-op habit is hard to break. But who’s trying? This establishment, begun in the ’70s, is an influential activist community built around sensible eating.


Stanford, Calif.

JJ&F’s grocery store in Palo Alto is surely one of the last old-fashioned family-owned food stores in California, and it’s an integral part of our neighborhood. The prices are reasonable, the produce is fresh and the meat is first-rate, but the same is true of Trader Joe’s. What’s different about JJ&F is the welcoming atmosphere. The owners and longtime clerks greet you by name when you walk in and are glad to exchange news and maybe a little gossip. With a coffee urn near the entrance, it’s as much a social club as a grocery store.

Unfortunately, like most good things today, JJ&F is in danger of closing. The owners of the land want to expand the one-story store to 13,000 square feet and build a high-end office building above it, along with apartments. The city planning commission has balked, saying the project is too big and would clog already limited parking in the area. But at this point no one can be sure what will happen. I do know that for me and many of my neighbors, JJ&F is indispensable–not only as a place to shop but as an expression of community in our increasingly fragmented society.


San Francisco

My vote for the best of our food culture goes to Mission Pie here in San Francisco. Organic, sustainable, local… delicious. These people truly walk the walk. They grow their own wheat for the pie crust (a used combine was shipped in from Indiana) as well as their own fruits, vegetables and other ingredients (chickens, eggs, etc.) for the fillings. And they mentor at-risk inner-city kids in the process of planting, growing and harvesting on the farm and ultimately serving in the shop. The pies, by the way, are always fabulous.


New York City

In June my 7-year-old daughter attended a cooking class at the Sylvia Center in Manhattan. They used fresh farm ingredients to make pizza, pasta, stuffed zucchini boats and barbecue sauce, not to mention some amazing fruit desserts. My daughter had a blast. Most important, she became aware of all the effort, on many people’s parts, that it takes to prepare great, healthy food. She decided for herself that the rewards made it worth it.


Oakland, Calif.

Lucky to be a denizen of foodie heaven–the East Bay area in California, home of Chez Panisse–I find the hard part of writing about my favorite food place is selecting just one in the midst of plenty. But it has to be the Sunday Temescal farmers’ market, where one can have it all: local, in-season, largely organic food.

Not only is there the Blue Bottle espresso stand for a latte or Gibraltar (espresso with a touch of steamed milk in a shot glass) but there is, often, Bakesale Betty with the blue wig, who brings ginger/pear scones and other goodies. Then there’s Donna’s tamales; the Cowgirl Creamery, especially its sinfully rich Red Hawk washed-rind, triple-cream cheese; rotating crops of berries and stone fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines; Andy & Cindy Thai Cuisine’s red snapper served in a banana-leaf cup; and, for the eye’s pleasure, beautiful flowers (the biggest, most intensely purple freesias I’ve ever seen). The list is endless and wonderful.


Milford, Conn.

In the summer one of our favorite things to do is to head to Wooster Square in New Haven on Saturday mornings. The City Seed Farmers’ Market is everything you have come to expect from such a market–plus the farmers are nice, the shoppers are happy and my kids can snack.

Around 11:15, I make my way over to Frank Pepe’s pizza. The crowd is beginning to wind down the block. When the doors open at 11:30, I make my way to the counter, where I usually order two pies to go. They’re cooked in a brick oven over a flame and are, hands down, the finest examples of New Haven-style pies around.

With a week’s supply of fresh vegetables and fruit, we grab the pizzas and have a picnic in Wooster Square. Surrounded by beautiful old buildings and with a glint in our eye, we feast on Pepe’s, throw the ball around and revel in living in New England.


Los Angeles

A trip to the Tudor House in Santa Monica forces you to think of how you’d feel at your Granny’s if she were English and enlisted a Scottish lassie to serve you a “proper cup of tea.” You’d have your choice of savory pies, and quiches laced with astonishing cheeses, the likes of which you can’t find anywhere else but in England. On Fridays, catch the “Stimulus Dinner”–two entrees for the price of one.


Corvallis, Ore.

In my town of 50,000, we are very lucky to have a food cooperative, First Alternative, which has two full stores. The fresh food is organic and labeled according to where it comes from, and many of the canned goods are organic (not faux organic). The co-op gives 1 percent of Wednesday’s sales to charity. Also, you are given one dried bean for every cloth bag you use; the beans can then be deposited into one of four bins representing four charities. At the end of the year, those charities receive contributions based on the number of beans.


San Francisco

Quirky and wonderful Uglesich’s restaurant in New Orleans, sad to say, closed in 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina. But I’m grateful for the many meals was able to enjoy there. A model mom-and-pop endeavor, Uglesich’s featured Louisiana seafood and unique recipes along with traditional New Orleans dishes. The combination of sublime food, down-home dining (crates of potatoes could be piled along the wall next to your seat) and friendly banter always sent this pescetarian into gustatory heaven. Barbecued oysters, fried green tomatoes, shrimp Uggie and anything else that emerged from the kitchen was consumed with gusto by loyal customers and newcomers alike. Uggie’s was a paragon of slow food and localism before they were popular.