Restaurant Review - Gourmet and neighborhood markets around town

Cabbagetown Market, Le Petit Marche, Alon's add to mix

I was a little perplexed by the euphoria that surrounded last year's opening of Trader Joe's in Atlanta. Every time I go there, I wander around the store hoping to come across something that excites me and it never happens. Sometimes there's a good deal on a bottle of wine, but apart from that, nada. After a while I realized that the reason I'm not getting it is because I don't really eat packaged food. I go into gourmet markets looking for fresh produce and exciting cheeses, not gourmet versions of frozen pizzas. Many people have told me about Trader Joe's' wonderful assortment of packaged sauces, pastas and various other freezer- and refrigerator-isle goodies.

To me, a far more exciting development in Atlanta is the resurgence of the smaller, locally owned neighborhood market. Cabbagetown lucked out last year when Lisa Hanson and Maria Locke took over the Cabbagetown Market and began selling local produce and organic dairy in the funky old spot. Sawicki's, which opened in Decatur in May of last year, acts as a neighborhood butcher, deli and bakery. Owner Lynn Sawicki worked at Star Provisions previously, and her time there shows, most noticeably in her sandwich and cupcake prowess.

Two new markets have opened recently, one hoping to become a neighborhood staple in Kirkwood, and the other aiming to be a destination in Dunwoody. Kirkwood's Le Petit Marche opened in late February and sells gourmet packaged goods, fancy bodycare products, and a small selection of cheese, eggs and dairy. Glittering displays of high-priced oils, toys, pestos and pastas fill the space. There's also a sandwich counter, which serves decent sandwiches on Highland Bakery bread. The store seems more like a gift shop than a neighborhood market, and I question how long it will survive in Kirkwood selling white chocolate popcorn, French jams and jars of "P.B. Loco Peanut Butter with chocolate chip cookie dough." But the area appears to be embracing the pretty market, and it's certainly a testament to the neighborhood Kirkwood hopes to become.

Alon's in Morningside has long been one of the city's most lauded bakeries, and it now boasts a second shop in Dunwoody across from Perimeter Mall. Located in the old Eatzi's space, the new Alon's is a lot like the original except that it has the space to realize its potential. The cheese and wine selections in particular are far more extensive than at Morningside. Cheesemonger Tim Gaddis, who was formerly responsible for Star Provisions' cheeses, has created an exciting program here, with hard-to-find selections and the knowledge to steer you toward something fantastic.

Counters wind around the space tempting shoppers with pretty packaging and enticing displays. The bakery and dessert items are presented grandly on slabs of marble. Whimsical home wares make you wish you had a wedding gift to buy. There's also a gelato station, a wine bar and coffee counter, cheeses and dairy, wines, a sandwich counter, and a long, sparkling prepared foods counter.

The prepared foods are especially impressive. I sampled tender and garlicky broccoli with almonds; expertly seasoned savory polenta cakes with shitakes; and chopped organic chicken liver softened with duck fat and ramped up with onions. (I've been eating it for breakfast on toast for days.) Prepared foods are so often overpriced and disappointing; it's great to see it done well.

Perhaps Whole Foods isn't the local market killer we all assumed it would be.

Atlanta's current trend embraces smaller stores geared toward their specific neighborhoods. In the upcoming months, look for the Market at Parish, a café and market component of Concentrics' newest restaurant, Parish, in Inman Park. Right now, look at our list of current neighborhood markets.

ALON'S DUNWOODY This new location of the popular bakery has fantastic prepared foods as well as one of Atlanta's best cheese selections. Breads, desserts, gifts, wines, gelato, sandwiches, soups and a wine and coffee bar. Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. 4505 Ashford Dunwoody Road. 678-397-1781. www.alons.com.

ALON'S MORNINGSIDE Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. 1394 N. Highland Ave. 404-872-6000. www.alons.com.

BELLY GENERAL STORE Located in a converted vintage pharmacy, Belly offers fresh produce and baked goods, sandwiches and salads, a cheese selection, and high-end packaged goods. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 772 N. Highland Ave. 404-872-1003. www.bellystore.com.

CABBAGETOWN MARKET Funky and worn old store and sandwich counter. Local veggies and dairy as well as basic corner store goods. Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., noon-6 p.m. 198 Carroll St. 404-221-9186. www.cabbagetownmarket.com.

CANDLER MARKET Surprisingly good and extensive wine selection. Sandwich and lunch counter in back, well-stocked grocery isles. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 1642 McLendon Ave. 404-373-9787.

HAPPY HERMAN'S Open since 1948, this is Atlanta's original gourmet market. Deli counter, gourmet sundries, gift baskets and wine. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 2299 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-321-3012. www.happyhermans.com.

LE PETIT MARCHE Gourmet gifts, small selection of cheeses and salami, fresh baked cookies, and a sandwich counter. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 1963 Hosea L. Williams Drive. 404-371-9888.

STAR PROVISIONS The gold standard for gourmet markets in Atlanta. Everything about this place is designed to create consumer and gastronomic lust, from the peerless seasonal sandwich menu to the bakery items, gifts, fancy chocolates, high-end butcher counter, and wonderful cheese selection. Farm stand sells local veggies direct from the farmers. Recently stopped selling wine in favor of handbags. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. 1198 Howell Mill Road. 404-365-0410. www.starprovisions.com.

SAWICKI'S MEAT, SEAFOOD & MORE Butcher, bakery and sandwich shop. Carries a selection of British marmalades and candy. Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. 250 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-0992. www.sawickismeatseafoodandmore.com.

TOSCANO & SONS Westside market specializing in Italian goods, wines, desserts and freshly made paninis. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 1000 Marietta St., Suite 106. 404-815-8383. www.toscanoandsons.com.