Healthy Met Tasty
Weight Food Co-op
Central Ave., Albany, 482-2667. Open 7 AM-8 PM Mon-Sat, 9
AM-7 PM Sun. AE, D, MC, V
price: many sandwiches in the $5 range
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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. hwfc.com. AE, D, MC, V.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
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.