The malls might provide one-stop convenience around the holidays, but for some of us, they have little appeal. Malls smell, sound, and look essentially the same, and have similar mixes of stores selling the same old mall stuff.
Our idea of a holiday treat is to visit lots of the unique, family-run, often ethnic, specialty markets, looking for gift advice from the owners. You'll find things you can't read or pronounce, but you'll experience some of the best Rochester has to offer. What follows is a whirlwind tour of some of Rochester's food-related specialty stores. It's certainly not a complete list, so email us your ideas for future expeditions (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).
Any Rochester specialty shopping has to start at the Public Market, and we always stop to see Barry Kucker at Fare Game Food Co. (473-4210). Order your Eberly certified-organic, free-range turkey before November 22, then pick it up on Wednesday, November 26. You can also order one for Christmas. If you're feeling saucy, try a fresh capon, duckling, or goose.
Next door, you'll find V.M. Giordano European Cheese Shop, where Vince and family make holiday baskets centered on their spectacular Lucania Estates olive oil (Vince is in Italy now, pressing the olives). For $35 or so, they'll surround that with balsamic vinegar, imported pasta, and your choice of cheese. The recipient will be your slave for life. Call 234-0333 to place your order.
Not far away, Barry Fischer carries on the German traditions started by Gunter Schwahn at The Swan Market (231 Parsells Avenue). Give Barry a couple weeks of lead time and you can have a fresh smoked ham or turkey. Fresh Polish sausage and bockwurst are available year-round, but are popular around the holidays. And leg of lamb, crown roast, and prime rib can also be special ordered.
Just around the corner are two unique shops on Culver Road. Dimitri at The Greek House (1103 Culver Road) has meringue shells from Bosnia, plain and cocoa Halva from Macedonia, and Papadopoulos praline-crème-filled wafers rolled up like cigars. A few storefronts down is Sweets of the World (1041 Culver Road), with boxed chocolates from Russia, Israel, Germany, France, Poland, Ukraine, and Italy. There is something deliciously tempting about a pretty box covered in writing you can't read.
The Ravioli Shop will be bowing to demand and offering lobster raviolis (260 North Winton Road). Owner Bill Kenny also now has FreshLink hydroponic greens, which don't need to be washed and stay fresh for over a week in the refrigerator.
A few short blocks will take you to Captain Jim's Fish Market (2329 East Main Street), where Bill Seremetis can handle your holiday seafood needs from shrimp to smelt, clams, and massive king crab legs. Save a few clams by going for the red caviar, or go whole hog with the beluga. This year, he also has coldwater lobster tails from Western Australia, prized as some of the best in the world. And of course, there will be plenty of baccalà (salt cod for the Italians). For something local, try the South-Wedge-raised escargot.
The Wedge has lots of ethnic options, including the India House Store (999 South Clinton Ave). Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, came in October, but you can partake in the Diwali tradition of giving sweets anytime. Try cashew or fig finger rolls, carrot halwa, pistachio fudge, or syrup-soaked gulab jamun.
The next big Chinese holiday is the New Year, which comes on January 22. Ocean Garden on South Clinton Avenue has roast duck for the occasion. The folks there are Cambodian-Chinese, and wanted to point out that Cambodian New Year isn't until mid-April.
During Ramadan, Muslims often break their daily fasts with dates. Ramadan is just ending, but that's no reason not to check out the dates and Turkish specialties at the Halal Market (315 East Ridge Road).
On Park Avenue, make a stop at Stever's Chocolates (623 Park) with its myriad of chocolate designs. Then head over to the Dutch Market (257 Park). Betty French is swamped before St. Nicholas Day (December 6) by requests for chocolate initials as St. Nicholas Eve gifts. There are also marzipan fruit, pigs, and snowmen, as well as pepernoten (gingerbread nuts with anise). Instead of coal in a stocking, consider one of her 39 types of licorice.
For another taste of Eastern Europe, visit the Europa Deli (1694 Penfield Road). How about some pomegranate or rose hip juice instead of OJ? Or, impress your guests with a chocolate tort made with tort waffles. As you sample Polish cheese, you can debate the merits of cold- and hot-smoked whole mackerel.
Even if kosher meat isn't part of your religious practice, stop in Lipman's Market (1482 Monroe Avenue), another place you can order a fresh, farm-raised turkey. About 50 cases of frozen latkes go out the door during the holidays, along with pure olive oil for frying them. Small butchers like Lipman's are rare these days, and walking in is like stepping into history.
Practically next door is The Nut House (1520 Monroe Avenue), where you can warm your holidays with wasabi in sauces, on peanuts, and on peas. There are the old-time milk chocolate and parve (non-meat, non-dairy) coins, Chanukah cordials and mint lentils, and handmade, chocolate-dipped candy canes.
Cook's World (2179 Monroe Avenue) will face stiff competition from Williams & Sonoma, but it's no contest for us. The friendly staff at Cook's World will make you look like a gourmet with easy mixes for crème brûlée, scones, apple crisp, and pumpkin cobbler. Don't forget a culinary torch to caramelize the top of that crème brûlée. Chestnut puree is a holiday necessity, and wouldn't chocolate fondue be a great tradition to start?
Further east, Brambleberry Barn is new to Schoen Place (State Street, Pittsford Village). To accompany your gift of a good kit to make Irish Stout, consider a clotted cream fudge and toffee selection by Sherriffs of Kingsbridge (England). While in Pittsford, also try the new Oliver's Chocolates outpost across from the Public Library. They make "the thinnest ribbon candy you will ever see" at their Batavia location, and also carry their own cashew glaze.
What good Irishman could go without rashers and puddin' (bacon & sausage)? The Irish & Celtic Imports store in Pittsford Plaza (Monroe Avenue) carries some Irish specialty foods in addition to gifts. Keep in mind their Christmas pudding (with a "g") is actually beloved/despised fruitcake. They also carry Roses chocolates, a brand of Irish chocolate in high demand.
Olindo's Cash & Carry is another place you can pick up salt cod (1510 Lyell Avenue). They also carry several kinds of panettone and pandoro, or "golden bread." According to manager Chuck Formosa, these dessert breads also make great breakfast toast. Almond paste is a hot item for macaroon bakers.
The persimmons at Lee's Oriental Food & Gifts (900 Jefferson Road) will get your attention. For an interesting culinary chemistry experiment, try a bit of persimmon and good, tart grapefruit together. Have something to drink nearby. Lee's also roasts duck and pork using a secret sauce recipe. The store's variety of products should keep you busy cooking through the holiday season and beyond.
So skip the malls and check out the 'hoods this year. It'll be much more interesting, and you'll definitely eat better.