Food Issue - Atlanta grocery guide

Where to shop like a foodie and tips for when you get there

As much as I enjoy going out to eat, I get even more pleasure from buying ingredients and cooking at home. Perhaps it's because when I was younger, my father dragged my family from grocery store to grocery store when we traveled with him. He taught us to look for the best ingredients and that you can find culinary treasures almost anywhere, if you know where to look. So far, you've heard some of our city's beloved chefs share their favorite places to buy groceries. Here's my personal list of go-to food stores — and tips on what to buy when you get there.

The Atlanta Fish Market

Being landlocked, Atlanta's options for fresh fish are limited. The Fish Market has a reputation for quality and its retail outlet located in the back of the restaurant. Everything it sells is flown in daily, already cleaned, deboned, and ready to go. You can watch the fish prep cooks breaking down the fish in the large mirror at the market. There aren't many whole fish, but you can call ahead and have something aside before it's broken down for sale or the restaurant.

Shopping list: Let your fishmonger lead the way based on what you are craving. The cod is an especially good deal when the market has it because you get a generous portion for around $8 (price depends on the market) and is a mild fish. If you don't want to move a culinary muscle, the fishmonger will cook your fish on the grill behind the counter while you wait. Side dishes such as the creamy and smooth mashed potatoes are as tasty as they are convenient. Atlanta Fish Market is also flush with lobster, which it will cook and prepare for you to go. 265 Pharr Road. 404-262-3165. www.buckheadrestaurants.com/atlanta-fish-market.

Buford Highway Farmers Market

This is where I take any visiting food tourist. The moment you enter the doors, you're hit in the face with a strong whoosh of sweet, yeasty air from the bakery behind the produce section. If there is anything you seek from any part of the world (India, Japan, Russia, Korea, Mexico, etc.), you can find it here and it is all organized by country. And if they don't have something you want, they're usually happy to order it. Just find a manager and ask.

Shopping list: Hard-to-find ethnic produce such as prepared nopales, El Milagro tortillas, torta rolls, made-to-order lamb kabobs, any of the in-house Russian goodies such as blintzes and borscht, chewy Korean rice cakes, large bags of fancy Japanese rice, 10-plus types of queso fresco, frozen passion fruit pulp, and more. 5600 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-455-0770. www.aofwc.com.

Morningside Farmers Market

Open since 1995, Morningside is one of the few year-round farmers markets in town. The market is notoriously difficult for farmers to get into because of its strict guidelines — produce must be certified organic to be sold here, not to mention limited space given the postage stamp of a venue in the parking lot across from Alon's. Morningside regulars are early risers, so if there's something in particular you want such as eggs or the must-have seasonal item, arrive early at 7:30 a.m. or you might miss out.

Shopping list: Anything from Woodlands Gardens or Crystal Organic Farm. These two farms have the longest lines with good reason. Their produce is pristine and abundant. If something is in season, you can bet they have it. Cimino Farms is also another notable vendor whose shelled English peas are not to be missed come springtime. 1393 N. Highland Ave. www.morningsidemarket.com.

Peachtree Road Farmers Market

Started by Chef Linton Hopkins and his wife, Gina, seven years ago in partnership with the Cathedral of St. Philip, this market filled a much-needed void in the Buckhead market scene. Located in the parking lot of the Cathedral, the market is a good place to find local artisans and produce. While the amount of produce vendors seems outweighed by bread, meat, pasta, and others, there is still a variety of veggies to be found.

Shopping list: Storico Fresco Pasta, Pine Street Market bacon, Batdorf coffee, H&F Bread Co. bread, the Spotted Trotter sausages and crepinettes, Georgia shrimp, Cookie Studio sweets, Souper Jenny soups, Riverview Farm pork chops, Many Fold Farms eggs and cheese. 2744 Peachtree Road. 404-365-1000. www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com.

Your DeKalb Farmers Market

Your DeKalb Farmers Market is like a house of food worship in Atlanta. Every one loves it despite how crazy it gets, especially on the weekends, which is when you should never go. The 140,000-square-foot store is like a massive United Nations where everyone's grocery choices represent their homeland. I like to sneak peeks at other people's carts and ask about how to use a particular ingredient. (It's a great way to learn about new flavors and techniques, even if it is a bit nosy.) The produce here is not my favorite because of the lack of organic choices, but the enormous meat counter, seafood section where fish is cleaned to order, and huge selection of dried goods — especially the spices — transform your shopping trip in to a culinary field trip where the world's flavors are at your fingertips.

Shopping list: Berkshire pork, lamb, duck fat by the pound (when available), bulk spices, deli meats, whole fish, massive shrimp, fresh lasagna noodles, unfiltered olive oil, flowers, and half-sour pickles. 3000 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-6400. www.dekalbfarmersmarket.com.

Whole Foods

This mega "feel-good" grocery store chain is where I buy the bulk of our meats (when not ordering meat from Heritage Foods USA) and supplementary produce. You can get anything you would find at a conventional grocery store here with a health-conscious twist. The bakery still leaves much to be desired although it has slowly been introducing H&F Bread Co. breads and has the occasional find like the soft, baked-in-house snowflake rolls. This place is pricey, but you mostly get what you pay for. Fridays hold specials worth exploring and don't forget to grab a flier at the door for the day's deals.

Shopping list: Produce, meat, seafood, frozen shrimp for a quickie weeknight pasta supper, cheese, fresh cheese pizza from the pizza section, cheap wine ($3.99/bottle) for parties, local milk, eggs, and an increasing number of local products such as Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q sauce and rub, and Emily G's Jams. 650 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-853-1681, and other metro Atlanta locations. www.wholefoods.com.

The Fresh Market

This chain of Greensboro, N.C., grocery stores expanded into Atlanta a few years ago. The market sells many artisan products from around the country and world worth seeking out. It's nice and clean inside and they have many specials like affordable prime rib during the holidays and a decent bakery that has fun holiday treats like a bûche de Noël. The meat, seafood and produce are overpriced, so my advice is to avoid those sections unless you are in a pinch and need something for a recipe.

Shopping list: Fresh Market has a spectacular selection of Cipriani and Garofalo pasta, old-school candies, in-house fried okra chips, bags of crunchy dark pretzels, Counter Culture coffee, affordable potted orchids, Jersey Cow milk, boxes of Italian cookies, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, bake-at-home croissants from the freezer section, expensive chocolate bars, and that Quisp brand cereal you have been searching for since childhood. 2099 Peachtree Road. 404-350-3211; 4405 Roswell Road. 404-250-0852, and other metro Atlanta locations. www.thefreshmarket.com.

Super H Mart

This Korean megachain burst onto the Atlanta ethnic food shopping scene with its first store in Duluth and has opened numerous other locations in Atlanta's suburbs. The plethora of goodies once you enter offsets the madness of the parking lot. The produce here, while not organic, is gorgeous. You'll find basic produce stocked along with Asian specialties such as gingko nuts and shiso leaves. Don't miss the beauty and housewares sections for that tiffin lunch set you didn't know you must have. Most of the locations have excellent food courts where you can grab some lunch after you shop.

Shopping list: Korean white bread from the bakery, silken tofu with chili sauce, prepared Korean foods such as banchan and marinated bulgogi for a barbecue feast at home, Asian snacks, sakes, Chinese chile paste, any type of sauce or condiment you could ever hope for, fresh noodles, bags of frozen oden, and fresh dumplings. 6035 Peachtree Road, Building B, Doraville. 770-986-2300, and other metro Atlanta locations. www.hmart.com.

Pine Street Market

Owner Rusty Bowers' meat-centric mecca in Avondale Estates has garnered well-deserved praise and a loyal fan base. Pine Street Market makes all of its own charcuterie and stocks local meats from all over the Southeast such as Gum Creek Farm's antibiotic-free Berkshire pork, which is used in most of its products. The butchering classes are a fun way to spend a weekend morning complete with demos, hands-on practice, beer, and a pork-filled lunch. Afterward, you can peruse the meat case, sample some cured meats, and direct as many questions as you want to the friendly counter staff.

Shopping list: Pine Street Market's unrivaled Applewood smoked bacon, fennel salami, chorizo, any of the fresh sausages, steaks, pork roasts, holiday specials like hams, and even whole pigs (order in advance) for that backyard cookout you've been dying to undertake. 4 A Pine St. 404-296-9672. www.pinestreetmarket.com.

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