Lazy Acres Market opened this week in Long Beach. Some of you might shrug your shoulders and move on to the story of the Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez break-up (do not ask me how I know this; it is not because I have two teenage daughters under my roof, but despite of the fact). And I understand and forgive the ambivalence of the un-initiated. But the mere thought of a grocery store based completely on natural, organic, mostly local products was enough to set me driving on south-bound Pacific Coast Highway, navigating the dreaded round-about and roaming the unknown, and therefore hostile territory without a GPS (horrors, I know!)
By the time I arrived, the parking lot looked like a mosh pit at a Scandinavian death metal band concert, with cars weaving around the aisles in a desperate attempt to find an empty space. I silently invoked my inner Buddha and parked in front of a T. J. Maxx, as my eyes followed a seemingly interminable line of people snaking around the corner, patiently waiting for the doors of Lazy Acres to open.
I was inside the store minutes before the grand opening, snapping pictures of employees and perfectly arranged produce with enthusiasm of an E! reporter at a Versace fashion show. I tell you, people, I could set up a tiny tent and live in this store. As a matter of fact, I don’t even need a tent, as they sell yoga mats in the fitness section. Which is right next to the organic teas and natural supplements.
The coffee station is better than Starbucks and you can pick a variety of flavors for your smoothie right from the refrigerated bins filled with produce. As tempted as Kale Smoothie sounded (not! I know I am bad, but I have not jumped on the green wagon yet; I love to eat green food, but drinking it is an alien concept), and as satisfying as a sample of Breakfast Smoothie tasted, I chose Blueberry Splash, thick, vivacious, and splendidly speckled with berry goodness.
Breakfast taken care of, you can move along a few paces and get your lunch order filled as you pick between juicy Santa Maria marinated tri-tip, seasoned grilled chicken breast, peppery roast beef, and pastrami; if your preferences lie in the herbivorous realm, your choices are even better (thin crusted Pizza Margherita with burrata? Pizza sandwich with grilled vegetables? Or with tofu? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) Seriously, this place has a bona fide wood-burning oven on premises! You squint slightly and you are in Tuscany, just like that.
Looking at the cheeses lined up on the shelves made my eyes glaze over as I imagined myself rolling a wheel of raw-milk gouda down the aisle and to my car. This pale yellow baby encased in waxy red skin was so big that my fingers would not have touched if I tried to encircle it. So, carrying it out was definitely out of the question. Then, again, if I manage to get squatter’s rights, all I would need is a small paring knife and a trip or two to the produce section to be in heaven.
A small area of the store is designated solely to sushi and sashimi. And sake, of course. Because it is punishable by law not to imbibe sake while eating raw fish. I think. At least it should be. The workers behind the counters moved so fast that most of my photos ended up blurry. Or they were blurry because I stared at the perfectly aligned rolls on black trays and pressed my shutter randomly. Oh, the choices! I wished my dear friend E. were there with me as I put my face against the glass transfixed by glistening cubes of Hawaiian poke, as welcoming as a soulful sound of ukulele that played in the background. OK, ukulele was all in my head. But it should have been there. Along with pretty girls in hula skirts.
The fish counter was like an art exhibit displaying every hue on the color wheel from pristine white of cold-water fish to almost maroon of wild-caught swordfish (which happened to be on sale). And just in case you lived in a glass bubble for the last decade and have not heard about the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, a warning is taped on the glass guiding you to better choices.
Pete was standing behind his little table grilling New York strip steaks from naturally raised beef and passing out the samples, reciting again and again for the sake of some unbelieving customers (no, no, no, definitely not me!) that the only seasoning on the meat was salt and pepper. I assumed that he was in competition with the sushi people as he was moving with lightning speed trying to refill his tray of quickly disappearing samples. I would have to give him a medal for multitasking as he managed to fulfill his task while explaining in details the air-chilling process of chicken and pork sold at Lazy Acres.
I am a trivia geek, and learning about the proverbial mammoth I bring home to my young ones is of the utmost importance to me. Allow me to paraphrase Pete, and enlighten you. The most important thing in meat industry is chilling the meat once the animal has been killed (I have to apologize to my herbivore friends for this segment) to prevent the bacteria from multiplying. Most big meat producers dunk the chickens in icy water, thousands at a time, and stir them for a while to get them to the right temperature. This makes them water-logged, heavier, and more prone to being infected with salmonella (if one out of 15,000 chickens has salmonella, the rest being plunged in the mix might develop it, too).
A few smaller poultry and pork producers are employing an air-chilling process, where the chickens (and pigs) are suspended on lines or racks and blasted with frigid air which instantly brings the temperature of the meat down and prevents breeding of the harmful bacteria. These chickens are not frozen, nor water-logged, and their chances of containing salmonella are minuscule. “I’ll take ‘Poultry Processing’ for$2000, Alex!”
Produce section offered as many varieties and more than a thriving European Farmers’ Market. Just knowing that every leaf, stalk, and root displayed on the shelves was grown seasonally, organically, naturally, without GMOs and mostly locally was enough to make me feel all cozy and warm.
Lost in the sea of heirloom apples, citrus with stems and leaves still attached, and gnarly, alien-looking bulbous stalks of Brussels sprouts, I felt relieved to find my friends from Melissa’s Produce showing off their sweet young coconuts and pouring samples of coconut water for weary customers (yes, shopping and taking pictures is an extremely demanding and tiring job!).
As I was dragging my feet towards the checkout and exit, I stumbled onto the bulk produce department and mills that grind nuts. You know how you can buy coffee beans and grind them at the store for the freshest experience? Well, Lazy Acres Market has the mills that grind peanuts into peanut butter, cashews into cashew butter, almonds into almond butter, and so on. All you have to do is place your plastic container underneath the wide spout and press the button! No preservatives, no additives, no extra salt or sugar – just the nuts in all their beauty. (Psssst, there is one machine that makes peanut and chocolate chip butter, but this is just a rumor
I left the store feeling like Bugs Bunny in one of the Looney Toon cartoons where he sees colorful bubbles in front of his eyes. I saw various fruits and vegetables and meats dancing inside my eyes as I made my way towards my car, toting a beautiful duck breast and a wedge of that raw-milk gouda that I coveted so much. All the way home, after making one wrong turn after another, I kept on planning my next excursion to this store, thinking of inviting my friends who would be as excited about natural, healthy, locally grown, farm-to-table, organic foods as I am.
Robert, thank you for giving me the chance to explore the Lazy Acres Market. And thanks for that beautiful, soft, flame-kissed pizza Pastrami sandwich:) This was, indeed an enlightening experience, even though I did not end up staking a claim on the store’s real estate.
Lazy Acres Market in Long Beach is the second store to open after the success of Santa Barbara location. I just hope they open another one somewhere in my neighborhood! But even if that does not happen, taking a forty minute road trip down the picturesque albeit treacherous PCH to Long Beach is definitely worth it.