- I recently made my first trip to Wegmans, a family-owned grocery store chain on the East Coast with one of the most loyal followings in retail.
- I was impressed by everything on my trip, from the produce to the prices, but I was really there to try as much of the fresh food as possible.
- I tried a burger, pizza, salad, soup, sushi, fries, and bottled tea, and everything was consistently fresh and high-quality. However, the clear standout of my meal was, surprisingly, my nine-piece box of sushi, which I had pulled from a cold case.
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I recently visited a Wegmans grocery store for the first time in my life, and to say that it changed my life would be an understatement.
Maybe it was the little toy train with Wegmans-themed boxcars that circled several of the dairy and meat fridges. Maybe it was the spacious aisles and glorious stacks of colourful products, immaculately organised and all fresh. Maybe it was the kind and chatty employees who always seemed more than happy to help. Maybe it was a combination of all those things.
However transformative it was to wander the well-stocked aisles of Wegmans, nothing made me fall in love with the store more than its freshly prepared food. The pizza counter has a real pizza oven. Salads are hand-tossed and made-to-order. The sushi counter has a fridge of prepackaged sushi, but also a real sushi bar with sushi chefs.
And none of it breaks the bank.
So I went on a tour de food court and tried to sample as much of the feast as I could humanly carry. Here’s how it went:
What I ordered: a small four-topping pizza, bottle of Wegmans oolong tea, nine-piece sushi deluxe, spicy Southwest chicken and rice soup, a Nutty Professor salad, and an American classic burger with Tuscan fries. In total, everything cost $US57.79 before tax. Not bad for New York, considering this was basically four full meals.
SMALL FOUR-TOPPING PIZZA, $US9 — You can either buy a slice from a ready-made pie, or you can make your own pizza. I ordered a special-made pizza in the smallest size, which is meant for one person.
For toppings, I ordered Italian sausage, onions, and mushrooms on shredded mozzarella. Other options included fresh mozzarella.
The crust was sturdy and not at all soggy. The cheese was so gooey I had to lift my slice a foot in the air in order to separate it.
It was no New York City-style slice, but it was fresh and the ingredients were of relatively high quality. The onions were sweet, the sausage spicy, and the crust marvelously chewy.
The only thing I didn’t like about the pizza was its sauce, which was light and sweet. It was the only element of this pizza that felt less than restaurant quality.
AMERICAN CLASSIC BURGER, $US9; TUSCAN FRIES, $US4 — I was so excited when I saw that Wegmans had a made-to-order burger bar. I ordered a classic cheeseburger as well as Tuscan fries.
I ordered my burger medium. It was thick, and the cheese was gracefully melted onto the brown patty. However, it felt kind of dry.
Sure enough, the patty was well done to the point of being dry. The only toppings on the burger aside from cheese were pickles, ketchup, and mustard.
To me, it just tasted like a bigger, slightly nicer McDonald’s cheeseburger. I was disappointed.
The fries, too, were underwhelming. The rosemary-heavy seasoning was great, but the potatoes were also dry and not as crispy as I would have liked.
NUTTY PROFESSOR SALAD, $US9 — To keep things simple at the salad bar, I chose a pre-made salad: the Nutty Professor, which has a mix of organic greens, squash, cabbage, carrots, cashews, and ginger turmeric dressing, and many, many more ingredients. However, you can also build your own salad.
I wasn’t sure all the ingredients in the salad were there, but then again, I hadn’t read the description very closely. I was mostly drawn to this one because of the cashews and ginger dressing.
I’m usually a sceptic of tofu in salads, but the tofu in this salad was soft, light, and bursting with flavour.
The dressing was light and a little spicy. Each component was fresh, and all together it tasted wholesome.
Although it was delicious, it was both about the same price and the same quality as salads I had eaten at MOD Pizza or Blaze Pizza.
NINE-PIECE SUSHI DELUXE, $US21 — This is the most I’ve ever paid for grocery store sushi. It’s also the only time I’ve ever seen such a rich fish variety in a grocery store sushi set.
I was stunned to see highly prized uni, or sea urchin, on my plate. Uni is one of the rarest and most raw seafood delicacies available to the general public, and it’s usually hard to find in lower-end sushi restaurants — let alone in grocery stores.
From what I could tell, there were two kinds of salmon on my plate: farm-raised and wild. There was tuna, fatty tuna, salmon roll, and other fish I couldn’t identify.
It was evident from my first bite that all of the fish on my plate were fresh and high-quality.
The rice was perfectly seasoned and shaped tautly into beds for the fish.
Every single bite burst with flavour. And the sea urchin tasted much better than the only other time I’ve splurged on sea urchin — at a Japanese restaurant. It was creamy and light with a hint of seawater.
This was also the first time I’d seen “REAL WASABI” written on a wasabi packet. As sushi aficionados know, sushi is rarely served with real wasabi, or Japanese horseradish, in America. Most restaurants serve cheaper horseradish pastes dyed green to resemble the Japanese condiment.
At this point, I took a break to try the spicy Southwest chicken and rice soup. I was drawn to this soup because of my love for chicken, rice, spicy things, and the American Southwest.
But while this soup was pleasantly spicy, it was otherwise lacklustre, like many grocery store soups tend to be. It’d do in a pinch on a cold day, but it wouldn’t be my first choice of soup.
I was also confused by the very large chunks of chicken, which didn’t seem appropriate in a soup.
So I gave up on the soup and went back to the sushi.
I usually don’t finish the items that I try, but I could not stop eating.
Every single cut of fish was thick, soft, and sinew-free. This wasn’t just good sushi for a grocery store. This was just good sushi.
JUST OOLONG TEA, $US1.79 — I washed it all down with a few gulps of Wegman’s house-brand oolong tea.
All you can ask for from bottled tea is that it isn’t burned or bitter, and this wasn’t. So yep, it’s tea.
Although the burger and the soup were average, everything else about this meal exceeded expectations. Everything was customisable, fresh, and affordable, and some things even managed to be more delicious than a grocery store meal has any right to be.
The highlight of my meal was easily the sushi, which I still can’t believe came from a plastic box in a fridge.
Next time I want to treat myself, I might just hop on a bus to Wegmans.
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