New Jersey Dispatch: The New Fairway Market in Paramus

"This is food for food's sake, not entertainment. Items like American-sourced ginger and six kinds of organic apples set the tone."

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Not long ago, the state of New Jersey was looking for a new slogan. Of course, and per usual, nobody asked me. That's a shame because I had a unique, honest, and positive statement: "New Jersey: Megastores Done Right." This is important because one of Manhattan's most famous food megastores, Fairway Market, has opened a shop on Route 17 in Paramus, New Jersey.

Like anybody else with an interest in food, I've been to the iconic Upper West Side Fairway many times. It's the spirit of New York City food crammed into a tiny space. When I say that excellence is everywhere, I mean stacked up to the ceiling, right down to the floor, spilling out onto the sidewalk, and in tiny nooks and crannies that take a dozen visits to locate. Yet, this is exactly what I wanted to leave behind when I shop for food in New Jersey.

Compared to C-Town, Fairway is paradise, but that's not the choice that shoppers in Paramus will face. Will it be worth a trip if your local supermarket is a Wegmans or Kings? I had to head up to Route 17 and find out.

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Located in the Fashion Center Mall and across from Valley Hospital in what must be one of New Jersey's most trafficked locations, this Fairway is a far cry from the cramped space on Broadway. You enter through the produce section and get right down to business—nothing is being shown off and everything is being shown. This is food for food's sake, not entertainment. Items like American-sourced ginger and six kinds of organic apples set the tone. What you need is here, just better and cheaper than you normally expect.

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The large dried fruit, bean and nut section is one of the best in the state and sanely, the packages are small. There's no need to buy five pounds of anything if you only need a cup. As for selection, it exceeds any of the supermarkets and almost approaches specialty stores. The neighboring prepared food section struck me the same way—lots of things that looked worth eating: salads, soups and hot dishes, with nothing over the top or past its prime.

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A sign above the olive bar read "We Invented the Olive" and after checking out their selection, I was ready to believe them. Try their Sicilian cracked, Gaeta, Picholine, and garlic stuffed for starters, and if those don't impress you, the dozen others might.

20090417-fairway4.jpgOn-site coffee roasting isn't as unique in New Jersey as it is in New York City (where there's a tangle of regulations to deal with) but it's always fun to watch. Once you're past coffee and olive oils—a section so snazzy that I first mistook it for a wine department—you're in what appears to be the ultimate supermarket. Nine-dollar cans of sardines are sold here, but so are paper towels. The meat section has what you want but also beef marrow bones and fresh quail.

Fairway doesn't limit itself to either the high or low. You can pick up a bottle of truffle oil and some Pine-Sol. The range is stupendous.

So, the question that started it all. Is Fairway worth the drive? By a wide margin Fairway does the best job of bringing high quality foods together in one place in the Garden State. If you're in or near Paramus, the answer is a resounding "yes," you have to check it out.

Fairway Market

34 East Ridgewood Avenue (at Route 17 in the Fashion Center Mall), Paramus NJ 07652 (map); 201 444-3038
fairwaymarket.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week