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Two other popular items that seemed priced out of proportion were the scones. At $2.49 each, none of the options, including blueberry, cranberry, orange or chocolate raspberry, seemed worth it, especially since they were all on the dry side and not very sweet; it's scary to think that breakfast for a family of four could cost $10 before juice, eggs or meat. And the muffins were smaller than the ones at comparable bakeries, but at $1.69, similarly priced. On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there who don't even bat an eye at those prices. "I can remember a day when we'd go to the grocery store and there would be only one kind of white bread you could get," said one seventy-something woman who seemed happy to chat with me about her Whole Foods Experience. "I'm so happy to have so much to choose from, I don't care what it costs."
Whole Foods also dishes up an extensive repertoire of prepared foods, and the choices there are simply staggering. From the ready-to-go section of dishes already portioned out and priced -- the quickest way to get a meal, since there's always a line at the sandwich and bento-box stations -- there was a ham-packed, thick-crusted individual-sized quiche Lorraine that reheated beautifully in the microwave; some creamy chicken tarragon salad with a lot of red onions in it; fat, well-priced empanadas filled with spinach and mozzarella that were big enough for a meal on their own; and egg rolls that sadly did not reheat well in either a microwave (they became soggy) or a toaster oven (the wrappers were too greasy to crisp up). The sushi-to-go was a total bust: Both the vegetarian and tuna rolls were filled with squishy, too-moist rice, and the result was sort of like eating pudding flavored with cucumbers or fish.
Across the aisle from the ready-to-go wall is the deli, which is where Whole Foods labors hardest at being innovative. Not everything works -- the lobster cakes, for instance, contained way too much breading and no lobster flavor at all, and an order of overcooked teriyaki sweet potatoes turned into shoe leather in the microwave -- but when it does, what a revelation. A Himalayan salad of japonica rice was sparked with curry powder and ginger, while Brazilian barbecued turkey proved that lemon juice goes just as well with that kind of fowl as it does with chicken. And if anyone else in town is offering sesame-studded kale, I'd like to taste it: Healthy and sharply flavored, it was the ideal accompaniment to a few thick slices of succulent leg of lamb, which had been undercooked slightly so that they didn't toughen up during reheating. Each time I visited, there were at least a dozen meat dishes and two dozen salads and sides; the selection seemed to rotate every two to three days.
6853 S. York St.
Centennial, CO 80122
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
The assortment is even more overwhelming in the rest of the store; luckily, the staff proved to be knowledgeable at every turn. In the cheese department, which hosts mold-enhanced visitors from all cheese-producing parts of the world, my wedge of Italian mountain gorgonzola was cheerfully replaced when I brought it back the next day full of the kinds of mold that aren't supposed to be in cheese -- a side-effect, unfortunately, of not being able to cut many cheeses to order because of sheer volume -- and my inquiry into whether they carried Boursault received a reply to the negative, but was immediately followed up with "I have a few other French triple-cream cheeses on hand, though." Now that's informed.
The seafood and produce departments have the most attractive displays, and with the exception of some salmon that looked like it had been deboned with a hacksaw and some tragically limp baby spinach, both take good care of their charges. The fish guys swear that they can special-order anything from the sea, as long as it's in season. I'd dare say there can't be any kind of bean, though, that Whole Foods doesn't have in its extensive -- yes, it's bigger than those of any other gourmet grocers -- bulk aisle, unless you're sick of flageolets, rattlesnake beans, black soys and appaloosas already.
The Whole Foods section that's the most fun, though, might be the vitamins and herbal supplements area, where the average shopper wandering through will be stymied by the number of ailments that can be cured the natural way. "Look, honey. They have vitamins that improve sex," one guy said to his significant other. "And right next to it, vitamins that improve your memory, so we'll remember to have it."
Oh, my God, I'll see you there.