New Bedford’s Gourmet Wonderland

by Amy Traverso
Source: Yankee Magazine
If you’ve ever found yourself in a restaurant-rich neighborhood in Boston—the South End, say, or Beacon Hill—chances are you’ve seen a white Sid Wainer truck making a produce or specialty foods delivery to the back door of some bistro or another. The company, which began with a little horse-drawn produce wagon in New Bedford in 1914 and remains family-owned into its third and fourth generations, now supplies microgreens, fingerling potatoes, French cheeses, rare honeys, and olive oils to more than 20,000 restaurants around the country.
I’ve seen these trucks for years. And for years I’ve wanted to make the trek down to New Bedford to visit the Wainer retail shop, which was described as a pleasure dome for foodies filled with every possible exotic. But one thing or another got in my way until last week, when I was in the neighborhood for a meeting with Bill Russell at Westport Rivers Winery. It was time to take a look.
The store is in the back of a busy commercial lot where specialty goods are rushed in from around the world, processed, and rushed out again on trucks. This isn’t some genteel mini Whole Foods with a lot of curb appeal.
But inside? One of the first things you see is this huge counter set out with salads, pâtés, cheeses, balsamic glazes, and breads, all free for the tasting.
I headed directly for the cheese room, eager to see the bulk goat cheeses and Manchegos that restaurants buy.
But what really got me excited was the produce room, which, by the way, is even colder than the cheese cave, so wear a jacket.
Here was produce from around the world: mangoes, tomatillos, edible flowers of every stripe, rambutans and guavas, a whole wall of microgreens. So that’s where all those tiny sprigs of greenery on every restaurant table come from…
Look at the potato display alone.
And those microgreens? They don’t just have tiny basil sprigs. They had several flavors of tiny basil sprigs. Plus at least ten varieties of edible flowers.
When it came time to making a purchase, though, I stuck to foods that I new my family would embrace. Some produce and cheese, a couple of hard-to-find spices. With a four-year-old who loves the color purple, I had to have this cauliflower.
Back home, I roasted it with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, then tossed that with some ricotta salata (salted, pressed ricotta cheese from Italy) and currants that I plumped in a little cider. Everyone loved it.
Now that farmer’s market season will soon be in high gear, I can’t say I’ll be making another trip to New Bedford in the near future. So much incredible food is now being made and sold right where I live that I’d just as soon spend my specialty food dollars with local farmers and purveyors (though I should note that the Wainers have their own Jansal Valley Farm in nearby South Dartmouth, which supplies some produce in season).  But it’s a treat to visit this New England food landmark, and to know that if I ever want to go crazy with a flower-and-micro-mizuna salad, they’ve got me covered.
May 4, 2012
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