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Photo: B.A. Nilsson

When Healthy Met Tasty

By B.A. Nilsson


Honest Weight Food Co-op

484 Central Ave., Albany, 482-2667. Open 7 AM-8 PM Mon-Sat, 9 AM-7 PM Sun. AE, D, MC, V

Cuisine: healthy

Dinner price: many sandwiches in the $5 range

Ambiance: old-fashioned market

No matter what I take to eat from the Honest Weight Food Co-op, the picture I always take away is that of Gustav Ericson, factotum of the cheese department, beguiling me—and everyone else who happens to be standing nearby—with a taste of something I’ve never before sampled, something pleasingly aromatic and exciting to the palate.

“Now try it with some of this chutney,” he says, and suddenly I’m in a spicy, more- complicated flavor arena. He knows I’m hooked, and so cheese and chutney both enter my shopping basket.

Thus it was on a recent visit. I cruised the produce aisles, admired the bulk staples, looked longingly upon the hair- and skin-care products, then made my way past the deli case into the next room. “Have you had a sample yet?” asked Gustav. Who was I to say no?

Ericson has been a protean presence in the region, a pastry chef who spent time in a variety of shops and kitchens before settling in at Honest Weight. “I joined the co-op well before I started working here,” he explains. “I came in as an assistant manager, and seven years ago I became manager of the cheese department. But I have some customers who’ve been following me for about 15 years, buying their bucheron from me every week. I love the co-op, and I love the way of doing business here.”

Honest Weight Food Co-op has been an Albany stalwart since 1976, member-owned and -operated, offering the general public an ever-growing array of food and health-care products. Yes, it has that crunchy granola ambiance of your typical health-food store, but you never get the uncomfortable feeling of having wandered into a forbidding aisle of asafoetida and ipecacuana.

Think more in terms of an old-fashioned grocery store. (Check out Charlie Hall’s emporium in the 1935 Laurel and Hardy short Tit for Tat for a look at such a place.) Then you can get used to seeing items free of the usual packaging and begin to comprehend the startling notion that so much of what you enjoy can originate at farms not very far from here.

Some items originate right in the store itself. Alongside the loaves of Rock Hill and Heidelberg bread are homemade loaves.

“We have a nice selection of baked goods,” says Cheng-Hua Lee, pointing out a display of outsized muffins. “They’re made with whole grains and sweetened with maple syrup and honey.”

A selection of fair-trade coffee awaits nearby, with mulled cider as a warm alternative. Consider homemade soup for your lunch. Brown rice and vegetable was one of the day’s selections; curried split pea was the other. Better still, combine soup or a salad with a deli sandwich for a bargain $5.75.

“The sandwiches are all grab-and-go,” says Lee, who works in the cheese and specialty product areas, “and they’re all vegetarian. Some of them are also gluten free.” Veggies and hummus, veggies and cheese, grilled portobello and even an imitation BLT populate the case at $5 apiece. The putative bacon is actually smoked tempeh, tricked out with bean sprouts for extra crunch, proving to make a surprisingly delicious sandwich.

My approach is not to pretend I’m eating bacon but to anticipate a flavor unique unto itself. And that works. The slice of quiche I sampled was suitably eggy and generously appointed with roasted peppers, and crustless, thus gluten free. Oh, and it set me back but a buck and a half.

Avoiding the sandwich paradigm? Try a spelt, berry and rice compote, or Mediterranean pasta made with whole wheat noodles. Quinoa is another favorite ingredient.

In addition to store-made products, the deli case boasts items from My Linh, the Vietnamese restaurant, including crunchy vegetable rolls with seitan called bì cuõn chay.

The trio of hot items on the day of my visit comprised a veggie medley (broccoli, cauliflower, red peppers, zucchini and more), a “tempeh toss” with mushrooms, scallions, parsley, capers, tahini and lemon juice, and a tray of organic wild rice with chopped spinach. Help yourself: It’s $6.50 a pound.

If you’re shopping for prepare-at-home meals, you’ll find a generous selection of meat from free-range and grass-fed animals, including beef from Sweet Tree Farm and Grazin’ Angus Acres, lamb from Eichybush Farm in Stuyvesant, turkey from Misty Knoll Farm in Vermont and a good deal more. I should note that, once you begin enjoying grass-fed beef, there’s no going back. I’ve heard restaurateurs justify their purchase of grain-fed beef with the notion that it’s just a matter of taste, but they’re only partially right: It’s a matter of what tastes better.

I’m only scratching the surface here. Near the olive bar is a refrigerator case of eggs, complete with a map of origin for the many contributing eggeries. A fantastic array of desserts includes cookies, pastries, chocolate and more.

And, of course, cheese. Almost 400 different types are offered, with an impressive amount of it coming from farms in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. These share with the imported cheeses an emphasis on products that are GMO- and rBGH-free. Producers include Nettle Meadow in Warrensburg, Old Chatham Sheepherding Co., Coach Farm in Pine Plains, Grafton Valley Cheese, Hillman Farm in Massachusetts and many more. Even Cabot, the big Vermont cheesemaker, is represented with an artisan cheddar that’s cave-aged.

Last fall, HWFC bought property on Watervliet Avenue in Albany to house a new site for the store. Not surprisingly, the goal is to construct an energy-efficient building that will also better serve members and customers. You can view a model near the front of the current store and on the website. I look forward to following the progress of this venture.

Meanwhile, I have to report that the staff at Honest Weight—many of them working members—is bar-none the friendliest, most helpful I’ve ever encountered in any retail shop. I’m suspecting it’s something in the food.

Honest Weight Food Co-op, 484 Central Ave., Albany, 482-2667. A large selection of grab-and-go items, including vegetarian sandwiches, gluten-free quiche, salads, soup and more, as well as a healthy variety of healthy groceries. Open 7 AM-8 PM Mon-Sat, 9 AM-7 PM Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


Grab a taste of historic food, historic drama and a freshly crafted (but historically inspired) beer when the New Old American Company previews The Poor Soldier (George Washington’s favorite operetta) with food from Troy’s The Irish Mist and Poor Soldier Porter created by C.H. Evans brewmaster George de Piro. Wet your whistle as you whet your appetite for vintage musical comedy at 7 PM, Jan. 15, at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. Tickets are $30 and seating is limited, so call 377-3623 for more info and reservations. . . . Book now for a final dinner at JT Bakers “New Cuisine” (27 Main St., Greenwich). Chef Jason Baker ruefully announced that the place will close on Feb. 21, when he starts a new position in the kitchen of The Inn at Erlowest on Lake George. “We would like to thank everyone who has supported us and our business,” writes Baker, “and hope we can look forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces in the next month and then to follow us to the Inn.” Call 531-2000 for that last reservation. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.

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