Market values

On two visits to Zaccaro's Market last month, I ran into two friends who live, as I do, within three or four miles of the store. One started hallucinating from the sensory overload — or was it the cognitive dissonance? — and left, seeking a pizza. The other stocked up on baked goods and more.

These are the reactions to Zaccaro's, open since April 10: amazed disbelief that a high-end grocery exists in midtown, and delight that those who want bottled tapenades or Dalmatia orange fig spread no longer have to trek to the suburbs.

To be fair, many of the types of foods that Zaccaro's stocks have long been available in the city, at Avalon Bakery, R. Hirt Jr. and other Eastern Market locations. But owner Cindy Warner, who owns another Zaccaro's in Charlevoix, is combining her 56 imported cheeses and 12 brands of olive oil with café tables and a sit-down espresso bar, an in-house bakery and, not least important, prepared meals and green packaging.

It was the latter that won me over. I was buying samples of the prepared foods, and therefore taking home lots of what looked like plastic. It's all corn-based and biodegradable, though, from Michigan Green Safe Products in Detroit, Although "compostable" is stamped on the bottom, that see-through sure looks strange in my compost heap.

What made Warner think that Zaccaro's would work in Detroit, a city awash in foreclosures? She says a survey done by the city last year looked at services available and disposable income fleeing to the suburbs, and found specialty foods "a real gaping hole for developers." Despite our shrinking population overall, Warner says there is a "good base of professional people making good incomes who are not at a loss for work and who are looking for healthy food alternatives."

Not everything at Zaccaro's is healthy. What bakery fits that description? The market is a mix of the green (toilet paper to toothpaste), the healthy (gluten-free brownie mix, for example) and, mostly, the gourmet. Prices are in accord.

The range of goods is large enough that you could do your weekly shopping there, if saving money isn't a prime concern. (Do figure in the cost of gas, though. And there's free parking on the street.) Thus far, the average shopper is dropping about $35.

Stocks include everything from grains, nuts and flour through canned tomatoes to pet food. Baby arugula and turnip greens, nine kinds of sea salt and a dozen olive oils, teas, juices, ice cream (Alinosi's is one), deli meats including Serrano and coppa (Italian dry cured pork), exotica such as Sable & Rosenfeld's Tipsy Onions, all sorts of dried beans and fruits (blueberries $15.95 a pound), an olive bar where you can mix half a dozen varieties for $7.99 a pound, a frozen roast half duck — this list just scratches the surface. As you wander the airy layout, which is more islands than aisles, you'll continually come upon something your taste buds cry out for.

You can treat Zaccaro's like a restaurant, and have a sit-down meal. If you order, for example, panko-encrusted whitefish and roasted vegetables and German potato salad and tomato basil soup from the prepared foods counter, you can grab potato-based flatware, nuke what you want and relax with it at one of the seven little tables alongside Woodward at the floor-to-ceiling windows. Or get a blueberry scone (more blueberries than dough) and a flavored coffee and take them to the easy chairs in the lounge.

I found Zaccaro's ready-to-eat foods mostly good and sometimes outstanding. All feel nonindustrial — there are big chunks of chicken in the lemon-ginger chicken salad, for example. A thin slice of eggplant Parmesan ($4.08) was little else but eggplant, but divine. Cherry barbecued ribs were less successful — a little tough, and I should have remembered not to nuke them. My whitefish undoubtedly would have been better earlier in the day; as it was, the fish tasted old and its shredded carrot and zucchini accompaniment had turned fairly tasteless. Perhaps it's superstition, but in future I'd order just from the deli counter itself rather than grab from the prepackaged items.

Two panini (there are nine, all $7.95) were fabulous. The Bear, with a tall stack of real roast beef, wild mushrooms, Cambozola and caramelized onions, is moist and juicy, a far cry from most delis' beef. The C-Money, with smoked turkey, cherry-honey mustard and havarti, is quite sweet, nicely grilled.

Flavors tend to be intense. Curried chicken salad with dried cherries and apples; rosemary roasted vegetables; German potato salad — no one had spared the spices here.

The in-house baker makes scones, muffins and cookies. Some breads come from Avalon, including what's used in the panini. And more breads and the primary desserts are from Give Thanks Bakery in Rochester: cakes, European-style tortes, tarts.

I tried the Rustic Walnut Tart and the Apricot Walnut Tart, each very generously sized at $4.50. Both were so rich, so crumbly, so solid, so scrumptious that it would take discipline to try something different next time. Give Thanks' man on the premises said the recipes were from Tuscany. Whole fruit tarts, Warner says, are selling as fast as they're put on the shelves.

Clearly some Detroiters were tired of driving to Royal Oak or farther for swanky provisions. Soon, they can even say they're buying from a local person; Warner and her three dogs are looking for a place downtown.

Zaccaro's is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. By the time you read this, a couple dozen Michigan-made beers will be on the shelves, along with wines from all over averaging $12.75. Coming up: online ordering.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

Jane Slaughter

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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