Conversely, I am a big supporter of the smaller, privately-owned dining establishments whose entire survival is based upon presenting me the most unique and continuously positive dining experience possible. The big chain boys can survive a few mistakes by inattentive employees or an off-night. Their smaller counterparts often cannot.
Yes, I consider it important to support the "little guy", but in doing so, I tend to put even more emphasis on the necessity to do so on a local level as frequently as possible. If for no other reason that I enjoy my neighborhood to be chock full of vibrant, flourishing restaurants.
Sure, I know all the arguments many give of their preference for larger chains over privately-owned establishments:
- They're more expensive.
- They're always out of menu choices.
- The service is not as fast.
- It's too small.
- At chain restaurants, I often feel I'm being handed my bill, followed by a cattle prod to get moving. I'm paying for a my dining experience; not paying a fee to enter (or exit) a cattle shoot.
- The smaller establishments often run out of menu items because they carry less stock. To me, that equates to a fresher product.
- Perhaps what is viewed by many as a lack of speed, is really the by-product of a heightened level of attentiveness, often not found at chains.
- Well, I prefer intimate and cozy.
Tucked within a little strip mall shopping center that looks like thousands of others across Anywhere, USA, there lies a nondescript little storefront with a sign above it that reads: "Mary Ann's Gourmet Market".
I'm always on the lookout for markets which can provide me unique ingredients to fuel my foodie passion, and a mere three blocks from my home, it took little convincing to go in and take a look around.
I saw that the market portion of the business was modest, but to its credit, it did have an extremely fresh array of veggies such as onions, bell peppers, broccoli, etc - nothing you'd drive miles out of your way to get - but if you needed something in a pinch, you could purchase it and at a very fair price. They did however, have a small selection of Italian specialty sauces and specialty pastas that I would make a special trip to purchase - particularly a delicious Tomato Artichoke Sauce that I put to good use in a recent meal.
But it didn't take long to realize in regards to the name "Mary Ann's Gourmet Market", "Gourmet" was the keyword and "Market" paled in comparison.
However, although the market portion was nothing elaborate, it did have a few specialty items that fulfilled a specific need.
And yes, it may have contained a wonderfully fresh salad bar with a large array of ingredients, but in skimming through the menu, it was readily apparent that what drew such a large lunch crowd had nothing to do with veggies.
For example just a few of the meat choices are: First Cut Pastrami Brisket, Mortadella, Pancetta, Cappocollo, Parma Prosciutto, and Fresh Roast Beef. Their salads were just as impressive with Buffalo Bleu Cheese Chicken and Apple Walnut Chicken topping the list.
The list of cheese options were even more striking and included: Smoked Gruyere, Fontina and Brie.
The available spreads such as Jalapeno Mayonnaise, Fig Spread, Roasted Garlic Aioli, Guacamole, Spinach & Artichoke spread made my mouth water and their toppings included everything from Pepperocino to Sauteed Onions.
The bread list was no less inviting: Tomato square, Onion Brioche, Ciabatta, Pretzel, 7-grain, Parker House, Rye, Pumpernickel, Black bean and on and on.
Mary Ann's also offers Specialty Sandwiches which are well-conceived to create new taste sensations - items like:
The Ridge: Roasted pineapple, maple-glazed ham, fontina cheese, Dijon mustard on cranberry walnut bread. Or the Thunderbird Panini: Thinly sliced fresh roast beef, sauteed onions, gruyere, roasted garlic aioli on a pretzel roll. There are over a dozen of these gems.
And then I discovered, the Bakery.
Owner, Maria Flynn, is apparently quite the baker, and her creations are on display each and every day.
Fresh bagels of every variety compliment the sweet delectables like freshly-made canollis and whoopie pies which line the bakery's shelves, tucked neatly between all forms of chocolatey goodness of Flynn's creation.
I also noticed that in addition to the market, the sandwich counter and the bakery, Maria had a colorful, coffeeshop-esque area with tables, comfy chairs and sofas where she invited patrons to eat, chat and relax. Of course, after memorizing the menu, I intended to do just that in the very near future while enjoying breakfast. And since, I've done that on more than one occasion.
The breakfasts at Mary Ann's are something special. During several visits, I've tried numerous menu items, but always stray back towards the Mushroom, Black Forest Ham and Brie Omelet.
I did a few brief calculations comparing the cost for a family of four to breakfast at Mary Ann's Gourmet Market as opposed to visiting a well-known breakfast chain on nearby Route 17 South. The cost at Mary Ann's would be around $35 for four; the chain closer to $60. And in my estimation, the quality of food and friendliness is far superior at the former. I can hardly wait to go back to review their dinners.
Mary Ann's Gourmet Market is exactly the type of establishment I want in my neighborhood - a gourmet-style eatery run by hard-working, talented and appreciative people. They provide great sandwiches, delicious baked items and an outstanding breakfast, all at a reasonable price. It is an environment that is warm and inviting and a place that makes me feel welcomed, and certainly almost guaranteed to run into someone I know. And that, is exactly an experience I don't mind paying for.