The Fresh Market, 2617 Holcombe Blvd.;12516 Memorial Dr.; 3745 Westheimer; 5016 San Felipe St.; thefreshmarket.com
If you haven’t noticed, Houston has a new grocer in town: The Fresh Market. This North Carolina-based, three-decade-old market (with 129 stores in 25 states and counting) took up residence in four of the former Rice Epicurean Markets spaces (the Fountainview Rice Epicurean remains open and bustling). The Fresh Market is a smaller, more intimate footprint than its closest competitors, Central Market and Whole Foods, and stocks organic, local growers’ produce (within 100 miles of each store’s locale) and regional suppliers’ wares (no farther than 300 miles away). Fluorescent lighting is banned, and classical music is piped inside and out, where polished produce is stacked on wooden-crate displays and glass cases showcase meat and seafood that isn’t suffocated behind plastic shrink-wrap, but prepared, cut and packaged by butchers who can help you pick out bone-in pork chops or bourbon-glazed salmon filets for dinner. The bakery department boasts delicious breads, cookies, cakes and pies, freshly baked and displayed in quaint baskets. I love that while you won’t find paper goods or trash bags here, you can uncover the best frozen puff pastry ever made (DuFour); frozen buckwheat blinis; Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a Midwest creamery known for alluring flavors such as roasted strawberry buttermilk ($11 a pint); and wonderful retro Charlie’s Chips, which were delivered to your door in big tins when I was a kid up East. And for those who can’t imagine a trip to the grocery store without visiting the bulk aisle, you’ll find coffee beans, candies in glass jars and oodles of dried fruits and nuts.