From the throngs gathered at the new Giant Eagle Market District, in Robinson, you'd think these folks had never seen a supermarket before.
In fairness, this enormous grocery store does offer some pretty unique attractions, the first of which was evident in just about everybody's cart: beer! Patrons can buy up to two six-packs, from the big-name standbys to exotic West Coast microbrews.
The beer cooler abuts an expansive food court, where in-store chefs stand by to freshly prepare pizza, salads, tandoori chicken, crepes, rotisserie beef, sandwiches, sushi and stir-frys.
Never shop hungry, they warn, so I queued up for a rosti, a new-to-me Swiss potato pancake. Topped with sour cream, capers, red onions, chives and stewed apples, and served on a real plate with a side of dressed mesclun, it was a surprisingly sophisticated nosh. (Less so was the confusing trek upstairs to the seating area. Already a food-person collision was being mopped up.)
Fortified, I set sail, cruising slowly through the seas of lookee-loos, past the cookbook nook, the rarefied meats (Jamison Farm lamb, whole goose), the cheese hall, the bulk olive-oil station, the toy store, the juice bar, the popcorn stand and the charcuterie with its salami tarturo ($32.99/lb.).
Slightly dazed -- I heard two other patrons admit they were "overwhelmed" -- I came ashore in the produce arena. The fruit and veg are on display in a marvelous, high-ceilinged room, whose many windows let in lots of natural light. While the space is clearly inspired by markethouses of yore, only the most modern shoppers will be snapping up cherimoya from Chile, Kumato tomatoes, Indian eggplants and such specialized gadgets as onion goggles.
I found the produce area's showpiece -- the floating bed of hydroponic lettuce -- to be vaguely disturbing. The heads of lettuce strung out on rods beneath bright lights reminded me of Coma. And even if the extravagant use of floor space can be afforded, it still smacks of in-store smugness. It's just lettuce.
Which reminds me of the best aspect of this and the other two Market Districts: They're simply a high-end grocer grafted onto a regular supermarket. That means shoppers can still buy generic corn flakes or a can of Spaghetti-Os. Sure, the fancy stuff is forefronted, but if you know where to look for it, you can bypass the French rack of elk and head straight for the scrapple. It's near the Lunchables.