Kroger: Take That, Central Market

I started thinking about ranch dip Sunday night. With no sour cream, Hidden Valley dip mix (the only ranch I trust) or chips immediately available in my home, I was able to fend off the craving for a little while with a healthy not-even-close-to-being-a-substitute snack, Kashi. Yesterday around lunchtime, the craving returned, only to be postponed by a free catered BBQ lunch.

But last night around 9, I had no recourse. I was in the middle of an excellent episode of the BBC's Wire In The Blood when it struck. I needed ranch dip more than I needed to know about the secret society that appeared to be murdering men and women across London. So it was off to the Kroger Signature supermarket on Mockingbird, the lucky winner of this year's Best Grocery Store With Eye Candy award. Yes, excessive consumption of ranch dip would eventually lessen any "eye candy" appeal I might bring to the grocery store, but this girl needed her Hidden Valley.

But things had changed at my dear Kroger Signature store. Smack dab in the front entrance? Starbucks. Just behind that? A wine section to rival Central Market's and beer to match. (BTW, very clever, Kroger. Tempt me with alcohol while my shopping cart is empty.) Last month I freaked out when they installed an olive bar. My worst fears could be coming true: Would Kroger Signature become too classy for a girl who shops for ranch dip at 9 p.m. on a Monday? I called Kroger corporate to find out. "We wanted to...give our customers the very best facility we can produce," Director of Consumer Affairs Gary Huddleston told me. That means, yes, a Starbucks, as well as a bigger, better sushi bar and new cases and displays in the produce department.

My liver was happy to hear of big plans for the "upscale" wine section: More than 1,000 varieties will be stocked, said Huddleston. Nothing goes well with a bottle of merlot and a late-night drunk dial like a block o' gourmet cheese, of which Kroger will soon be vending more than 300 varieties. And if the Kroger pharmacy is also your local (legal) drug dealer, they're moving it to the opposite side of the store to accommodate drive-thru customers.

Remodeling should be finished by the first or second week in December, Huddleston told Unfair Park, and additionally thanked Kroger customers' patience with all the moving about. No prob, Kroger. Nothin' a little Yellow Tail won't help me forget. Upscale-schmupscale. --Andrea Grimes

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