Supermarket Sweep

A good market does more than offer the best merchandise. It also entertains and gives us clues into culture. At Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, I love to load up on Tasmanian Brie and bouquets of fresh lavender. I'd make a special trip to Philly just for the homemade apple dumplings served up by bonneted Amish lasses at Reading Terminal Market. And I admit to the secret shame of packing only one change of clothes every time I go to Costa Rica, just so I can fill my Travelpro with 30 pounds of Rey brand coffee and hearts of palm.

It doesn't give me the same thrill to shop for light bulbs and toilet paper at my local supermarket, but someone's got to do it.

A lady I met at jury duty recently gave me an unsolicited testimonial about a Kirkland, Washington-based service called Home They made their debut in OC in September, and she claimed she hadn't been to the store since.

I felt I had to try it, but I feared failure, as my computer has the speed and capabilities of a Speak 'N' Spell. But it worked! In less time than it takes to drive to the store, get a parking spot, throw things in the cart and schlep it all home, I had clicked my way through my first HomeGrocer experience. They don't have a liquor license yet, and in the pictures, the floral arrangements had that homely "FTD" look. On the other hand, via computer, I wasn't tempted to shelf-sweep the behemoth display of Double Stuff Oreos into my cart.

It was the day before our Super Bowl party, but instead of lugging 20-pound bags of ice and negotiating gargantuan pyramids of chips and bean dip, I was out with Mister Dude on a leisurely five-mile run. I got home at 10:45 a.m. and started rearranging my spice caddy in anticipation of my scheduled HomeGrocer delivery. At noon, there was a knock on the door. A friendly young guy proceeded to bring my neatly packed groceries from the refrigerated truck into my kitchen.

Then he unpacked everything, stowing it away in the pantry while I lounged on the sofa eating bonbons. Just kidding, but he did give me a gift bag of produce, a HomeGrocer mouse pad and a gift certificate good for $10 off my next order.

I began a thorough inspection: the produce was flawless, and everything was there. The prices were competitive, and delivery was free, since my order was more than $75. With the zeal of a love child conceived in a lusty encounter between an Amway salesman and a Mary Kay rep, I became a maniacal devotee, spreading the HomeGrocer good news to anyone who would listen. "Dad, you're going to love it," I preached. "But I like going to the store, Kel," he countered. Good point.

When I get a hankering for the sensual, tactile experience of shopping for food, I head to the Irvine Certified Farmer's Market at the Irvine Market Place on Saturday morning. The leeks are the size of billy clubs, and the grapefruits are as big as your noggin. I love nothing more than to shop in the sunshine for armfuls of heady freesia and cumin-perfumed aged Gouda. But when it comes to lugging 40-pound bags of IAMS Mini Chunks home for Mister Dude, I leave it to Member Services, (800) 688-0201; Orange County Farm Bureau (for OC Certified Farmer's Market info), (714) 573-0374.


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