At 7 am today we got a new neighborhood food store. Inspections were passed; staff were being trained; products delivered and recipes retested; shelves are being stocked. It’s Uptown Market just across the street from us and I think it will be a major addition to our neighborhood.
“Our neighborhood?” What is our neighborhood?
We are not a classic Washington neighborhood like Cleveland Park that came about at the turn of the Twentieth Century when the extension of the streetcar made possible living in “the suburbs.” Everyone knows Cleveland Park; it’s a national historic district.
I am not clear even about what to call our neighborhood. Is it Van Ness or Forest Hills? I would have called it Forest Hills years ago. But that was before the University of D.C. expanded and became such a presence in Van Ness which is now is a built-up jumble of not-so-attractive buildings that dominate a neighborhood of pleasant and comparatively modest homes.
Whatever it is called, I have a lifelong relationship with this neighborhood. The first house I bought, in 1970, is on the dead end of 29th Street just below Albemarle, half a mile from Bread Furst.
My relationship with the neighborhood started even before that. My first real job after college was at ABC News. Its Washington bureau then occupied the second floor of a Deco strip mall on the east side of Connecticut Avenue. It was a wonderful block. Hess Shoes at the corner of Albemarle, Shanghai Garden a few doors down, a large People’s Drug Store on the north side of the mall, Kitchen Bazaar, a terrific local kitchenware store. And I could have breakfast at the Hot Shoppe across the street where the Burger King and Zips Cleaners are now.
The neighborhood was not a food destination, however. The little strip mall had two or three little restaurants. My boss, Howard K. Smith, the newsman, didn’t care much for Chinese Food so we didn’t often go to Shanghai Garden in the peculiar little red and white building just beyond the mall. But he liked Carmack’s and so we lunched there two times a week. There was no retail food store in the strip but a building across the street had been constructed 50 years earlier to be a Safeway at a time when supermarkets were much smaller stores.
That is the building we now occupy.
Those were the days when Washington’s retail food was dominated by two chains, Safeway and Giant. They controlled 80 percent of the food retail. They were not challenged. There were mom and pop stores to be sure. A bit to the north there was a great one, Clover Market across from Higger’s, the drug store. Noah Steinberg, the son of the owners of Clover Market works in our pastry kitchen.
Now, today there is a change. As of today we have Uptown Market that in some respects a throwback to the era of neighborhood food stores, and I think it’s going to be wonderful. I went to look again yesterday to look at the store, so my information for you is impeccably fresh.
Fresh like the fish they are going to sell. Like the meat they are going to butcher. Like the baguettes we are going to bake for them.
Some readers may know Santi Zabaleta who immigrated from Spain in 1999 and eight years later took over a purified water store on Bethesda Avenue and opened a Spanish foods-oriented market. Later he added a butcher shop across the street and still later opened Kensington Wholesale Fish.
Now he and his partner Adam Leichtner take over a large space across the street from Bread Furst in the apartment building the B.F. Saul Company built to replace the little mall atop which I worked in 1961.
So we have another real food store in Van Ness, Forest Hills, UDC, or whatever we are called. It starts today with beautiful Spanish cheeses including a raw milk Manchego, an aged one, and even French cheeses because as Santi generously admits, “Nobody makes cheeses like the French.”
The whole chickens I saw yesterday look fresh and beautiful.
It is wonderful for me to see a beautifully tied veal roast in the meat case. The butcher is French, again a throwback to The French Market, the Georgetown market to which I was devoted for many years.
There’s wine too and beer although hardly the selection offered by Calvert Woodley, a great anchor of the neighborhood. And there are those special Spanish foods in addition to some of the basics that will provide convenience to the neighborhood.
As you might gather I am excited to have another food store between the commercial strips of Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase Circle, our own neighborhood food store. I hope that others will come to this neighborhood to shop — I am sure that they do too — but this store is for Forest Hills, Van Ness, etc., whatever we are.