Gourmet must be the most overused word in New York. The corner shops selling everything claim to be gourmet, the pizza joints do the same. But there really is a hierarchy of food here. It starts with the independent deli, ubiquitous and fairly generic, selling sandwiches, bagels etc. Then there are the supermarkets, starting with Gristedes, which has been around since 1888 and here is open 24 hours, great for a quick in and out to get odds and sods. D’Agostino around since 1932 is ok, but a bit over priced. Morton Williams, founded in 1946, is similar but so tightly packed with goods it is a real challenge with a buggy, especially on Tuesdays when seniors get their ten per cent discount. My regular haunt is Fairways, huge, with great fresh produce and big on organic. The Food Emporium is similar, but I rarely go in as it is hidden by the horror of the Second Avenue subway construction works. I did go to Trader Joe’s once, out of my way, but as so many people had raved about it I went and had a look. I didn’t think it was anything special, especially the queues, so long they have someone specifically to indicate the end of the queue with a white paddle saying ‘end of the line’.
Then you change to the fancy specialist supermarkets cum deli shops. This is where the true meaning of gourmet comes to life. There’s Eli’s and its West Side relation, Zabar’s. Wonderful cheese counters, great on Jewish food but hefty on price – definitely treat territory. Agata and Valentina is a real favourite: mouth watering cakes and the best liquorice all sorts. There is also Citarella with its famous fish counter – don’t count on much change here.
And top of the hierarchy? It has to be Dean and Deluca. It is incredible. Located on Madison Avenue and very close to Central Park and the Met, its clientele don’t need to look at the prices. It has amazing cakes, bread and the best sushi I have had so far. Its white understated bags undersell quite how expensive and upmarket this place is. When you see the local private school girls buying their lunch here, you know you are in Gossip Girl territory. Best not go in with a credit card and a post run appetite, that’s for sure. Now that really is gourmet.