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Golden Pear: Whole Foods Opens in Upper Arlington

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It feels a lot longer for us Upper Arlington residents who care about food, but for over a year we've had to make do with the cramped, temporary mini-Whole Foods that was scrunched uncomfortably into the Lane Ave. Shopping Center like Woody Allen in a chorus line of Rockettes, but finally the new, spacious Whole Foods has opened up where the old Whole Foods once stood and where Wild Oats stood before that, and it’s pretty great.

First among its virtues is its manageable size. Unlike the Dublin location, the new store doesn’t swallow up Disney World-type acreage. To wit: Disney World is bigger than 17 countries while the Dublin Whole Foods is bigger than 5 of those countries; or at least as big as Tuvalu which coincidentally sounds like an expensive, imported cheese.

This new market comes stocked with all of the quality items you’d expect and a few new tricks to make the UA swells feel like they’re getting the cut above they’re entitled to by virtue of the fact that they’re UA swells. For instance, there's a visible dry-aged steak locker, touch-screen order kiosks at the deli and hot bar, and a cute little bistro called The Social where you can order food and have a draft beer or coffee, provided your caffeine needs can't wait until you get to Colin's Coffee...

On a recent visit to the new digs, I was impressed to see a variety of glassy-eyed whole fish (a sign of freshness) on display – flounder, branzino, and snapper. I'll most definitely be grilling these mothers whole through the summer. And the rest of the selections, from the dairy to the deli, are equally impressive.

I should divulge here that I am a fan of Whole Foods. Now, listen, I would much prefer to be single, have no kids or pets, live downtown, ride a Vespa, dress smartly in skinny chinos, shop every day at the North Market, and scoff knowingly at schmucks who still listen to old-timey devices like the radio, but that ain't my reality. And because I appreciate quality, organic and/or sustainably raised or cultivated foodstuffs without a lot of s**t in them, it follows that I appreciate having a Whole Foods nearby.

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Not everyone is as appreciative. One other food reporter was in attendance at the recent media tour of the new store. When I expressed my excitement over a cheese made with beer from Rockmill Brewery in Lancaster, she was quick to point out that the cheese was not made at the brewery, but that the beer was shipped to an Oregon cheesery, added to the product there, then shipped all the way back to Ohio. 

Certainly, I agree that shipping the beer to Oregon and the cheese all the way back probably leaves a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint, but she was leaning on this  imperfection to dismiss the store. 

I think she saw this cross-country beer-and-cheese long haul as some sort of sin. But to offset that misstep, the market works with a number of Ohio beef, pork, and chicken farmers, gives other Ohio products a place on their shelves, diverts 90% of their waste from the landfill, practices composting, and supplies electric car hook-ups in their parking lot. Isn't it enough to deflect that one blow?

In all fairness, the observation itself was rather vague, but the tone of it seemed leveled at the store and not at Rockmill Brewery.  And this is where we are with our food writing these days. There is an unwillingness to embrace anything, um, unhipsterish for lack of a better word; and UA is most definitely a hot bed of unhipsterishness.

I definitely see the value in the city's food writers ignoring restaurant chains so we can devote more space to columns about independent restaurant owners. I even see the value in dismissing crapholes like Kroger and Meijer outright, but Whole Foods? Seems like there are better places at which to aim their culinary vitriol. 

The problem is our very tightly knit food community. Everyone knows everyone else and no real criticism can take place for fear of pissing someone off or hurting a friend’s feelings. Real criticism has taken a backseat to glad-handing the "in" kids. This often leads to mediocre food being overpraised or a great store like the new Whole Foods being casually dismissed because there's no local, in-kid connection.

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None of this will really affect people in Upper Arlington because people in UA wouldn't know good food if it jumped down their gullets and because they're unaware of the larger food conversation taking place in Columbus anyway. About the only engagement with social media in Arlington is the mommy blogging phenomenon wherein women who can’t stop talking about their kids write about them when there are no other women around to talk about their kids with.

The bottom line is that the new Whole Foods turns out to be the latest, greatest hot spot to eat out in Upper Arlington and not just because of UA's food illiteracy and their overall, bland Caucasian-based tastes, but because it's better than 90% of the actual restaurants in the neighborhood. You probably just won't hear the bloggers — food, mommy, or otherwise — talking about it.