Kelowna Foodies, Rejoice! Urban Fare, a regional gourmet food chain with several stores in fashionable locations in Vancouver, has opened a beautiful new market at 3155 Lakeshore Road, Kelowna (in the space formerly occupied by Coopers). Last Friday evening I enjoyed a sneak peek inside, along with fellow food writer and friend, Val from More Than Burnt Toast, where we were dazzled with an amazing display of gourmet and speciality food items.
Urban Fare is an upscale grocery store with a coffee bar, restaurant, catering service, gourmet gift baskets and flowers, and even an in-store concierge. They also have a fun, interactive website, where you can browse the current specials and add items directly from the flyer to a printable shopping list.
Urban Fare eschews the standard layout of the traditional big-box warehouse stores. It’s not the kind of place where you pay a loonie to rent a shopping cart the size of a Paris apartment, then push it up and down endless aisles laid out in perfectly parallel rows. The shopping experience at Urban Fare is more like meandering around a village market where similar foods are grouped together in little boroughs that flow into each other; areas where tables are sometimes round, display cases may be curved, and counters might be tucked into corners. (If you’ve ever been to Le Bon Marché’s food hall in Paris, La Grand Épicerie, then you’ll know exactly the type of blissful shopping I’m talking about.)
The entire space has an “upscale orchard” aesthetic with feature walls constructed from stacked apple crates, fresh fruit and veggies piled high in tin buckets and wicker baskets, and display tables that look like they’ve been made from recycled barn wood. On the evening before the official grand opening, the outdoorsy feel was even more pronounced by the late afternoon sun as it came streaming through the store windows to cast deep shadows on the cool, concrete floor.
At the coffee roasting station, you can select your favourite variety of coffee beans then watch as an employee roasts them for you while you wait.
The meat counter has a superb choice of beautifully trimmed meat, poultry and seafood. They also have a surprising selection of exotic meats including bison, ostrich, duck, rabbit, kangaroo, and crocodile. Val and I were offered samples of crocodile sausage to try, and since I’m on a mission to educate my palate, I had to say yes – even though a little voice inside my head was saying “No. Don’t do it Laura”. I swallowed my angst, then I swallowed the crocodile. I decided it tasted almost like chicken sausage, but not quite, and there was something squishy about the texture that was mildly disturbing.
I also had my first taste of caviar at the restaurant’s sushi station – tiny bright red BBs that were pleasantly cool on my tongue, firm and slightly salty, until they popped open and released a little burst of fish essence (for lack of a better word).
The market stocks an ample array of Canadian and Made-in-BC epicurean delights.
They also sell fine artisan foods made right here in the Okanagan, like handmade chocolates, cakes and pastries from Sandrine French Pastry and Chocolate.
The local products are offset by a wide assortment of imported specialty items like round discs of cinnamon-scented Mexican chocolate and silky smooth olive pâtés from Italy.
I don’t usually take my camera grocery shopping. Honestly, I don’t! And I hereby promise to never again subject you to posts about grocery stores (at least not domestic ones – if I’m out of the country, all deals are off), but since Urban Fare has announced plans to introduce cooking classes in the near future, you can be sure this won’t be the last time I write about them.