I love grocery stores. The Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket" isn't describing some stoner nightmare to me; I could be quite content spending an evening or two wandering around, examining the sheer visual spectacle: the modern orderliness of the shelves packed with items in symmetry; the visual brilliance of the display of products, the people-watching. That's before we get into the free samples. If the store has nice decor and is a pleasant place to shop, so much the better, but I can even make do with linoleum and artificial lighting.
The new Whole Foods on Post Oak certainly doesn't have that latter problem. I was able to take a tour of the store Monday, as well as attend a preview party on Tuesday. It opens Thursday morning, and as far as grocery stores go, it's pretty cool, in terms of both the structure itself and the options offered.
I really liked the decor inside-- a mix of wood, brick, metal, and tile, depending on which section of the store you were in. Each area had a distinctive look; the brick in the seafood section felt like a throwback to an old warehouse, while the tile at the Souvlaki grill was vivid and distinctive. (You can look at some of the photos I took and make up your own mind as to how you feel about it.)
The store will be the largest Whole Foods in Houston, more comparable in size to the Central Market on Westheimer or the central Whole Foods in Austin, at Lamar and 5th, than to any of the other ones in town. As such, the store will offer many more features than at other locations (not the least of which was a seriously expanded beer and wine selection, including a few brews I haven't yet seen anywhere else in Houston). The new store will also have both a bar and a second-story lounging area.
In terms of prepared food, besides the Souvlaki grill mentioned earlier (and from which the food at the dinner I attended two weeks ago was prepared), the store will have a sushi station and a taco and sandwich counter. The butchery will also have its own smokehouse, and we were told that customers would actually be able to pick out a piece of meat and have it smoked on site.
Customer service was an emphasis on the tour; the Whole Foods representative who showed us around told us the store would have a concierge service and planned to open an online shopping and delivery feature similar to Instacart. This story continues on the next page.
We finished the tour by taking a look at the brewery inside. It sits right behind the bar, and you'll be able to see it through a window while you drink. WFM offers twenty taps-- twelve at the bar and eight at the upstairs lounge-- as well as room for two cask offerings. We caught up with Dave Ohmer, Whole Foods Brewmaster, once again, and he was able to preview a couple of the beers he described to us when we had dinner with him.
Whole Foods Market Brewery's first two beers were ready for tasting, and Ohmer let us sample them, a hefeweizen and a dry-hopped pale ale.
To his credit, Ohmer readily admitted that the dry hopping had not delivered the hop aroma he was hoping. It was hard not to notice this. The beer itself still had a pleasantly crispy mouthfeel and some hop bite on the finish, but the nose really needed to be stronger and more prominent. Still, I'd rather a brewer admit where things went wrong rather than try to BS me with an excuse.
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The hefeweizen was much better; in fact, it may find itself taking a place among my regular beers. While I generally like the flavor of hefeweizens, I find them to feel heavier than beers of similar ABV made without wheat. The WFM Brewery hefeweizen didn't have the same heaviness; it maintained the smooth flavor of the wheat while actually adding a crisp and refreshing finish, very unlike most hefeweizen's I've encountered. This unique finish is the reason it could potentially become my favorite hefeweizen, although I'll need to have more than a sample to know for sure.
At the party, Ohmer was serving the pale ale and a beer from 8th Wonder from the "beer tricycle", which is exactly what it sounds like, a tricycle set up with two taps in the back for mini-kegs. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let me ride it around the store. Well, they might have, but I didn't ask.
In the upcoming days, WFM will have a sweet potato weizenbock that should be ready by Thanksgiving. Ohmer also mentioned he was excited for winter, as he has plans to make some "big stouts," his favorite kind of beer. He also mentioned his excitement for the symbiosis of running a brewery inside of a grocery store: He can get fresh ingredients easily whenever he wants to experiment with flavors, and his work gives the grocery store opportunity to produce things it wouldn't otherwise, such as spent-grain bread and dessert toppings made from a sweet wort reduction.
The store opens Thursday morning with a "breaking the bread" ceremony at 7:30 and the doors opening officially at 8 a.m. Maybe if you ask nicely, they'll let you ride the beer trike.