Best Health-food Store (2002)

Central Market

OK, so it's more than "health food," but then that just shouldn't count against it. Our weekend ritual now consists of: Wake up at 8:30 (a.m., that is), throw on some shorts (our own, someone else's, whatever), get into the car and get to Central Market before the doors part at 9, thus allowing in the millions (OK, dozens) who line up to take control of the 50,000-square-foot store before it's overrun with the heathens. We'll admit it: We're foodies, though we so loathe the term (don't even know what it means, actually); we're addicts, freaks, junkies for what the H-E-B folks are pushing. We'll spend an hour that turns into two, an afternoon that turns into a weekend in this place, and still we'll never uncover all it has to offer; we return for what we need, never stopping to ponder there are millions of items we don't need but merely crave (say, the tub of roasted garlic cloves for sale in the to-go area; man, our breath stinks this weekend). Some suggestions: the fresh Southwestern tortillas just off the grill, the black-pepper-marinated olives, the smoked cheddar cheeses, the French hams in the deli area, the Russian rye breads, the prosciutto-and-pepper baguette, the Australian beer, the star fruit, the dried peppers that sell for $50 a pound (all you need is but a few cents' worth), the champagne grapes, the live oysters and clams, the breakfast sausage, the...mmmmmmm, sausage. For once, an ad campaign lives up to its claims: Tom Thumb and Whole Foods are grocery stores; this is heaven, paradise, nirvana. And did we mention the cooking classes, the guest chefs (Naked and otherwise), the tours, the private meeting rooms, the On the Run fun that makes Eatzi's look like, well, Marty's? No? We meant to, but our mouths were stuffed with blue crab claws and tapenade; sorry 'bout that.

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