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To Market, To Market

Head for Whole Foods.

But I'm not going to make those arguments because, frankly, I don't give a crap. To me, food matters more than consumer morality, more than agri-politics or some nasty big-guy-versus-little-guy dirt fight, so I'll drown my liberal guilt in artisan pinot and stinky cheese and mountains of local Belvedere chocolate. I've never seen meat trimmed quite so beautifully as the steaks, chops and loins laid out on display at Whole Foods, nor seen so many varieties of handcrafted sausage in one place. I've never seen so much beautiful, natural produce -- a lot of it bought from Colorado farmers -- spilling out of faux-rustic baskets. And I've never seen a funnier first-day snafu than the Whole Foods employees all crowded around the machinery in the tortilla-pressing zone, trying to figure out which button turns the thing on.

My first time through, I didn't even buy anything, because I was too busy sucking down the free samples thrust at me from every direction. So on my return visit that same day, I came with a plan. I bought membrillo and date cake, a block of Irish cheddar, smoked summer sausage made in-house, and butternut-squash ravioli in sage-brown-butter sauce from the Front Range Trattoria stuck right in the middle of the floor, close to the registers. I tried the ravioli right there and found the pasta tough and the squash inexpertly cooked. It wasn't inedible, but it wasn't great, either, and it worried me that the girl working the burners described brown butter as "just like regular butter, but brown."

I drifted over to the seafood market, bought, tasted and then immediately threw out a cup of lobster bisque that tasted inexplicably of licorice and cinnamon; followed that with a cup of Key West conch chowder, which was excellent. After a long conversation with one of the butchers about the all-natural meats, I went for a pulled-pork barbecue sandwich from the house-branded Paradise Barbecue that wasn't pulled pork at all (it was chopped) and was served on a soft, buttery kaiser roll that would've been a sin in barbecue country, where pulled-pork sandwiches come on Wonder Bread or Piggly Wiggly hamburger buns and nothing else. But it was still a great sandwich, stuffed with juicy pork that tasted of applewood, hickory, mesquite and time -- the most important ingredient in hardwood smoking. The sauce was a shade too Texas for my tastes, though it worked well with the half-pound of brisket I bought for the drive home.

Back home, I discovered that despite my plan, I'd forgotten to buy the chocolate I wanted, forgotten to buy sauté butter (Whole Foods stocks them by country of origin: Irish, French, Danish, English and so on), forgotten to try the cold udon (though with Oshima Ramenright across the parking lot, there's not much point) or the sushi or even look at anything in the dry-stock aisles except the cookies. (I did buy two boxes of something that tasted like a generic Oreo, minus the flavor.) But that's okay. I know I'll be back.

After all, this was only opening day.

Full burn: More grand-opening festivities last weekend attracted gourmet wannabes. Home and the Range, an all-Viking specialty store at 286 South Logan Street, had hung out its shingle about five weeks ago, but finally got around to celebrating its birth. The shop -- about 2,000 square feet of nothing but Viking ranges, Viking refrigerators, Viking dishwashers, blenders, mixers and small wares -- is the first independently owned Viking-only retailer in the country specializing in the residential market. It's owned by Pete Dines, who already has a lock on the high-end fireplace, hot tub and BBQ grill market with his Home and Hearth Outfitters store at 999 East Evans; Dines has brought on executive chef (and former Viking employee) Jennifer Chick-Gray to do cooking demos at the shop and test-drive some of these monsters for the public.

If you're one of those talented amateurs who thinks what's holding you back is that stock, two-coil electric stovetop in your home kitchen, stop on by. Four grand for the base model six-burner in classic chrome (or eight large for a tricked-out, top-of-the-line burner/flat top/double-oven Cadillac) is a lot of green, but if you've got the money for that, maybe you can handle the sticker shock over fourteen-dollar veal cutlets at Whole Foods.

Leftovers: Granted, I ask a lot from a market or deli. I want it to be everything -- well-stocked, run by grumpy old geniuses who are like scientists gone mad in blood-spattered white jackets, and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just in case I get a 3 a.m. craving for fresh pancetta, bocconcini mozzarella or a nice, fat T-bone. And while no place imaginable could ever live up to all of my dreams, Oliver's Meat and Seafood Market has always come close.

Since 1923, Oliver family members (currently Jim, Chris, Berryand Rich) have been operating their meat market to their own high standards, offering beautiful, dry-aged meats hung in-store for up to three weeks (a far cry from the modern, vacuum-bag, wet-aging process that takes all of a couple days but results in a steak that tastes like tinny salt water rather than, well, meat), real Genoa salami, real Serrano ham and real Parma prosciutto (which, though it clocks in at a killer $22.49 a pound, is worth every penny).

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