MONTREAL — New York City’s food culture isn’t everything, despite what New Yorkers will try to tell you — or anyone who will listen.
I say this despite my growing food snobbery as a New Yorker the past five years. Florida was my home until then.
I’m continually surprised by how sophisticated and on-trend the offerings are at restaurants and grocery stores in other cities, and especially suburbs, throughout North America and beyond.
While visiting produce leaders in Montreal and the surrounding Quebec region, I stopped at one of the fanciest supermarkets I’ve ever experienced. This location of Avril Supermarché Santé, or Avril Health Supermarket, wasn’t even in the metropolitan heart of Montreal. It was in the suburb of Laval.
The shopping and dining experience felt so high-end and edgy, I was giddy. Five years in the Big Apple has not yet jaded my excitement for food innovations. I hope it never will.
Walking into this Avril location a month ago, I was greeted by fresh, local strawberries on sale and behind that, the produce section to the left.
No. Straight ahead was a glass-encased, purple LED-powered produce farm suspended from the ceiling, hovering over the patisserie and stretching around back to the bakery and deli cases. I saw rainbow chard way up there, among other vegetables.
The only time I’ve seen anything close to this was at a Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn. A glass-encased, blue-lit, miniature mushroom farm by Small Hold sprouted up from the floor behind the deli.
And never have I seen substrate blocks of oyster mushrooms sharing shelf space with fresh-cut and whole portabella, king and enoki mushrooms in the produce aisle. These mushroom-growing kits offer consumers a chance to try growing their own blue, pink or elm oyster mushrooms in the comfort of their home. Talk about local.
Then I encountered another surprise in the produce department that pretty much dropped my jaw: an entire organic living greens section of sprouted baby kale, broccoli, and so much more, with the roots growing in water — but in clear plastic clamshells. Next to the shelves, there was a digital screen that looked interactive, but I couldn’t read it. They speak French there, you know. My two years of high school Latin takes me only so far.
The sleek Avril Bistro offered a huge, separate vegan section for those wanting to dine in or carry out ready-to-eat meals and snacks. The fantastic gelato station with flavors such as charcoal dark chocolate and truffle chocolate didn’t hurt either.
I’ve never seen anything this good in New York, and believe me, I’ve done my due diligence and explored aplenty, although of course I could’ve missed it.
Regardless, call me humbled. This Avril set a new bar.
Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected]