Choices in the Park
6855 Station Hill Drive
Okay, I realize this isn’t exactly a post about a restaurant with full service but we’ve gone off the usual path in the past with reports about food counters, retail shops and general ramblings on topical food-related issues, so I’m sure you’re used to it if you’ve followed us along these past two-and-a-half years. Variety is the spice of life don’t they say? I’m certain that those of you who live in the GRVD that you are familiar with the small chain of natural and organic grocery stores known as Choices Markets. Actually, they even have a rice bakery on W 16th Avenue, that is just a block away from the Choices Market that I am most familiar and frequent in Kitsilano. For my daily grocery needs this purveyor of healthy, quality goods and food is my main source, and a big part of it is the satisfaction that I get from supporting the local player, and a 100% Canadian owned enterprise that is thriving despite the flood of the mass market chains such as Superstore and Safeway that dominate the family grocery landscape. Another aspect of their operations that I like is that despite the eight locations, of which I’ve hit several, they all “look” somewhat different from the outside, and don’t confirm to that dreadfully generic commercial building design code of boxy squares that seem to be pumped out of some construction replication machine and are given a distinct “name” for their location to further generate some individuality.
Now normally the Choices Markets are placed along side some more high-traffic roads that are easily seen and accessible by passing cars – which I assume is to entice more store visits and volume. However, the Choices in the Park location was completely different from this pattern, as it was hidden and nestled in a residential neighborhood, albeit not too far from a SkyTrain station. It clearly is intended to service the local populace and even their tiny parking lot that could probably hold eight cars at best would suggest that their main customers are of the walk-up variety. I’m sure there are other such grocery stores out there that fit this model of being primarily for the neighborhood, but I believe most of those are the mom-and-pop single operation type, not major commercial businesses such as this. Another quirky aspect of Choices that makes me like what they’re doing and their strategic decisions for their outlets. But enough about the hard side of things, let’s take a look at what you can get to eat – and not the stuff you have to cook yourself…
At the back of the store is their deli and ready-to-go meal counter. At the lunch hour that I visited, I noticed that there was a mix of office workers from the major utilities company that was nearby, as well as what seemed to be a group of blue collar construction site workers from also the close-by housing starts and building developments. So it was kind of shocking to have to stand in line and wait my turn to order. As a positive though, it gave me ample time to scan the goods behind the glass counters and make up my mind with the sandwich that I intended to have. The best part of all was that these sandwiches would all be had with any of the meats that normal deli shoppers can purchase, with a choice from several breads as well as standard and also more optional toppings. I elected to go with the organic roasted turkey with the basic fillings in the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheddar cheese and sprouts. Slightly on the sweet side but tender texture, the turkey was flavorful and sliced this thin, you get none of that dried/flakiness that sometimes is a turnoff with turkey sandwiches. The bread was fresh and the crispy vegetables made each bite have some nice sound. A pleasant package put together in a decent amount of time for a quick lunch. I much prefer this to say something like Subway.
For additional tastings to be conducted later in the day for some snacks, I scanned the counter again and decided I wanted to try their Mushroom and Parmesan Pie, which was wrapped up in a flaky phyllo pastry. Encapsulated within was an aromatic and definitely earthy tasting mixture of chopped dark mushrooms and some sprinkling of parmesan cheese. The mushroom flavor was the dominant one here though with the phyllo cutting through as well. The baked aspect is another appealing point here. Just feels really homey and healthy.
Lastly, here is a cross-section shot of the Wild Salmon Fillet Roll. In a different pastry casing, the inside was quite airy both in terms of some space left between the smooth salmon paste and the pastry walls, and the salmon mixture itself. Texturally soft with some bits of onion adding some “chunkiness” to it, but overall very delicate and easy to eat (for those who do more swallowing than chewing). On its own given its size, it would make a nice sized snack but far from being an actual meal on its own – unless you ordered two or perhaps even three.
So there you have it. A quickie report on some ready-to-go eats from a local supermarket chain that seems to do things a bit differently in terms of their focus than the larger players. Hope they get your support as well.