Great Architecture, New Architecture and Good Food

Thrack and I went to the new Whole Foods store at Trolley Square finally.  I was very impressed, but I’ll get to that part later, because now that I’ve actually been inside the building, I want to talk about the redevelopment too.  If you do not care about buildings because architecture/old stuff is boring and stupid and I’m a crazy person (very possible), just skip down to where I’ve bolded a heading about the food itself.

When I first heard about the decision to put in a really large Whole Foods at the historic Trolley Square, I was a little concerned about the impact on the mall, but I was more confused about how the company would manage the difficulty of having two stores much too close together.  To be fair, it wasn’t on purpose, but they signed on to put in the new building at Trolley just before they acquired the Wild Oats company, which operated a store just North of the location.  Everything I had heard was that the smaller store lease was a long-term ground lease that the landlord was opposed to buying out early.  But as it turned out, they were finally able to terminate the lease on the smaller store as they opened the new location (wondering how much the lease buyout was).

For those who don’t live here in Salt Lake, the little mall at Trolley Square is a charming local redevelopment of the beautiful old trolley barns in downtown.  It’s one of the redevelopments of older buildings in Salt Lake that I’m very grateful for, because it makes for a quirky shopping center with a great sense of history; malls so often feel generic and impersonal and Trolley Square is anything but that.  One thing I had always loved was how some tenants of the mall really embraced the whole concept of the property.  It’s closed now, but there was a little tavern that operated within a trolley car parked outside; and the Old Spaghetti Factory has an old trolley car in the restaurant for themed seating as well.  The Simon Malls Property Group picked the property up ages ago and has put funds into the infrastructure in recent years, most importantly the parking, which had always been a bit tricky.

I was concerned that building the new structures would clash too terribly with the old brick barns, and feared that those over the redevelopment plan wouldn’t be respectful enough to the old character of the place.  I’ve always loved old buildings, and the thought of putting a big box on the corner of the shopping center was distressing; I was partially worried that it would block the view of the building exteriors and the old water tower (which it does a bit, honestly) and partially worried that it simply wouldn’t fit with the rest of the structures.  And while I do think that some of the great curb appeal from the street was lost in adding such a large new structure, the damage was greatly mitigated by the design choices made.  I forgive the change to the landmark…mostly.  I do wish they’d tried a little harder to find brick that more carefully matched the color of the old buildings so that the bricked exterior of the Whole Foods fit in just that much more effectively.  Plus while there are a few odd lines to the way they designed the building on the corner, they did attempt to echo the same curves and lines of the barns.  The lines are somewhat more modernized and simplified, but they were at least respectful of the integrity of the place.

The main entrance has close the right sort of feel, for example, but the view along the interior side feels a little too square and modern to quite fit.

I also wish that they had put in a few more nods to the shapes and materials of the older construction.  It would have been a nice touch to arch the tops of the upper windows of the parking garage and make the glass outer section pictured above have a bit more old wrought-iron and glass look than super-modern square glass box styling.  But I have to say I’m not as upset by the overall fit with the property as I feared and I give them props for the areas where they did make an effort to integrate into the older buildings.

The interior is understandably more modern, although I don’t think that’s a detriment at all.  It’s fresh and well put-together, and is fairly well laid out.  The parking structure is necessarily awkward, constrained as it is by the relatively small size and area within which it must fit.  But for that, it works well; the ramps feel a little steep, sharp and low, but it really isn’t their fault.  The parking flow works fairly well and the structure is quite brightly lit.  They’ve not made some of the truly bad layout mistakes I’ve seen other people in Salt Lake make when constructing their parking levels, so I applaud them for that.  Maybe they hired the people who design parking structures in Vegas; those people know how to get people in quickly.

Okay, I think I have effectively rambled on about the buildings for probably way too long.

Verdict on the Actual Food/Grocery Content

Simply: I liked it.

In more detail, though, I felt that the greater footprint (compared the older store a couple blocks away) allowed them to go from a simple health-food grocery store to a more well stocked grocery with a sort of shocking pre-made/specialty dining section.  Our first venture into the store was to grab lunch, something that Thrack’s boss had told him it was a great place to grab a bite.  He was right.  Their prepared foods section was a bit insane; the word to describe it is options.  Lots and lots of them.

There are food-court styled stations where you can get wholesome & delicious pizza, Thai grill entrées, sushi, street-style tacos, sandwiches, etc.  Then there’s a more traditional deli-style counter of chef prepared pasta salads and the like.  There are also free-standing islands with yet more food options if you just want to serve yourself dishes instead of talking to humans behind a counter: salad options that cover pretty much everything ever, lots of pre-made dishes on steam trays, soups opposite rotisserie chickens.  It’s basically bananas.  (Oh, and a bonus, if I’m ever eating with vegetarian friends, there are lots of tasty options for them, too.)

When we had more time to wander around, Thrack and I took the time to wander through the store to see how their overall selection had changed.  We were again impressed.  Not only are they able to have a much greater variety in produce, but the meat, fish and cured meats counters are vastly improved from the tiny meat department they had at the old location.  Thrack has been itching to make some tasty fish, and as we walked around, he kept saying that every area of the store we came to gave him another meal-planning idea.

I sort of fell in love with their tea section, as well.  While I was disappointed that the pre-packaged Republic of Tea canisters were all bags, not loose, they more than made up for it with shelves full of glass jars filled with absolutely delicious smelling loose-leaf teas.  I wanted to buy half of their loose stock, but managed, through great willpower, not to buy any.  Now, most of you will look at this as the only sane move, given that I own more tea than any normal person should.  You are probably right.

I suspect we’ll be using this as a fast way to get better fresh ingredients for a specific meal, like when we’re doing a nice pancetta and sage wrapped fish, for example.  I’m willing to pay more for good, fresh and ripe ingredients when I’m buying them for a specific reason.  (It’s probably the only reason I go to Liberty Heights Fresh anymore.)

From what we could tell as we browsed through the store, it certainly seemed like they had expanded their selection in almost every department, although I’m not certain about the supplement/fake-not-medicine-holistic crap section, because, well, I like reality and things that are supported by science and evidence.  I do have one quibble, assuming that the shelf stocking was normal and didn’t reflect a short-term thing.  Toothpicks.  The old store used to stock the very best brand of flavored chewing sticks, made by Tuesday Plantation.  When we looked, the two lesser brands of tea-tree flavored toothpicks were on the shelf, with the best nowhere in evidence.  I have no use for anything produced by Big Placebo.  Thrack is something of a connoisseur of toothpicks (I should have him post pictures of his collection of holders sometime), and he assures me that the brands they carry simply don’t measure up.  I hope they start carrying them again.  I may not like them as much as Thrack, who has a serious oral fixation, but they’re quite nice.

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