Okay, it’s a Saturday night and neither of you feels like cooking, so your sweetie proposes a big night out at . . . the grocery store?
Not exactly the height of romance. Or perhaps it is, if your idea of romance includes a fondness for a glass of very good wine at a very reasonable price. That’s what we found on a recent Saturday at the wine bar in the Cranbrook Village Whole Foods.
Whole Foods Market Wine and Beer Bar is a glistening U-shaped counter nestled between the cheese and wine sections. The drinks menu is simple: a couple of beers, including a local one from Arbor Brewing Company, and a selection of wines—several midrange as well as high-end reds and whites, and always a few from Michigan. We splurged—it was, after all, Saturday night—and went for the Bogle Phantom Petite Sirah for $5 and the Ken Wright Chardonnay at $9 for a four-ounce pour. I enjoyed that Wright Chard, but what I really liked was that this is the same wine for which I grudgingly paid $18 a glass on Main Street a few months ago. To go with, we chose cheeses from the dairy case, splurging again with a Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen blue cheese that was a superb little bundle of tanginess, and a sliver of creamy Brillat-Savarin, named for the secular saint of French gastronomy, as well as some fancy crackers (the barkeep set us up with plates and utensils). Although I love a bargain, the overall experience was a little flat with nobody but us at the bar.
We went back during the week for a “rush-hour-relief tasting.” These are held Thursdays from five to seven o’clock and often feature a particular varietal or theme as well as a foursome of cheeses. We hit the Sauvignon Blanc trial—$17 for four two-ounce pours and paired with a superb cheese quartet that included goat’s Gouda and Cheddar, chèvre with fennel pollen and lavender, and a creamy soft cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.
For dinner, the Cranbrook Village Whole Foods has multiple hot and cold bars offering eighty-plus dishes and ten hot soups, as well as sushi and cooked-to-order rice and noodle bowls. In general, I find the food fresh, of very high quality, and often too bland. The vast selection requires experimentation, but there are rewards for diligence—in my case, tender, spicy teriyaki chicken and Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut sauce. For dessert, try the gelato bar; every flavor I sampled was very, very good.