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Let the gourmands begin!

Foodies from as far as Bay Ridge and as nearby as the Red Hook Houses stormed Brooklyn’s new Fairway Market Wednesday, snapping up organic produce, chewing the fat (of the store’s house-made sausage), enjoying the view of the Statue of Liberty from the store’s café, and vowing that grocery shopping in Brooklyn will never be the same.

“Who needs Fresh Direct or Park Natural [an upscale market on Court Street] when we have this?” said shopper Dana Goldberg, who drove from Clinton Hill to be at the opening.
But it wasn’t just the gourmets cheering.

“I have lived on Coffey Street [in Red Hook] since 1962 and this is the first good thing to happen here since I moved in,” said Barbara Stevens.

“Look at this place. It’s beautiful, the food is fresh, high quality and very reasonable. We’re going to save money and eat better. Who could argue with that?”

But will the excitement last? After all, the new Fairway, which occupies 52,000 square feet in a converted Civil-War-era coffee warehouse on the Red Hook waterfront, joins an already-crowded field of gourmet grocers in Brooklyn.

Fairway will compete with “foodtiques” like Union Market in Park Slope, Foragers in DUMBO and Garden of Eden in Brooklyn Heights; old-line supermarkets, including several Key Foods that are upgrading to meet new customer demands; the giant Pathmark nearby on Hamilton Avenue; health food markets like Perelandra in Brooklyn Heights, Back to the Land in Park Slope, and Park Natural in Cobble Hill; Fresh Direct; a coming Whole Foods Market on Third Avenue on the Gowanus side of Park Slope; and even the politically charged Park Slope Food Coop, whose thousands of members work a three-hour shift every month in exchange for reduced prices and a communal environment.

“We can take them all on,” said Fairway owner Howard Glickberg.

“Before we opened, I priced every store in the area. On staples, like Bounty paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, we can’t be beat. And our produce is fresher and better than everyone else’s. We buy direct. We cut out the middleman.”

Glickberg said he would even make converts of the Food Coop’s notoriously devout members.
“We have everything — fresh fish, prepared foods — so they won’t have to go anywhere else,” he said.

And he insists he’s not concerned about Fresh Direct, whose trucks have become ubiquitous in Brownstone Brooklyn.

“[Expletive deleted],” said Glickberg. “Their prices are higher, but there’s something even more important: Our shopper loves food.

“He comes in, he browses, he looks at the food, he smells it, he touches it. Maybe he was looking for broccoli, but he sees we have great Brussels sprouts, so he chooses the Brussels sprouts.”

Glickberg predicted that the Red Hook Fairway would quickly become the borough’s highest-volume supermarket.

It certainly offers a wide array of things to buy, from a gourmet salad bar with grilled vegetables, couscous, quinoa, dumplings and other prepared foods for $5.95 a pound; fresh coffee beans roasted on site by Benny Lanfranco; a meat case that looks like it was designed by Dr. Atkins himself; enough varieties of olive oil to unclog every artery in Brooklyn; a cheese aisle that would make a Frenchman drool; a Kosher butcher shop; ethnic specialty items; and an ocean of fresh fish.

“That’s going to be worth the trip alone,” said Greenpoint native Tom Gilbert, eying a salmon steak.

“This could possibly be the best fish market in Brooklyn. At most supermarkets, you shop for fish by choosing whatever doesn’t look spoiled already.”

Gilbert is notoriously finicky about his cheese, but even he snapped up a house-made Fairway mozzarella.

“If I’m going to eat mozzarella plain, I’ll still go to the Italian lady in my neighborhood, but if I’m mixing it into pasta, this is more than acceptable.”

Gina Mileo of Park Slope was in a similar bind.

A sausage fanatic, she makes a weekly pilgrimage to Faicco’s pork store at 65th Street and 11th Avenue in Dyker Heights — but one taste of Fairway’s sweet Italian made her a guilty convert.

“It surprised me how good it was,” she said. “I’ll still go to Faicco’s — they’re the best — but not as often.”

Some customers complained that the hard-to-reach store, which sits at the end of Van Brunt Street, is accessible only by car (see sidebar).

The store has lined up weekend ferry service from Manhattan and will run a free shuttle to and from a Carroll Gardens senior center every Wednesday.

One shopper at the busy Key Food on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope — which has its own parking lot — said he would undoubtedly shop at Fairway occasionally, just as he sometimes treks to the giant Shop Rite on McDonald Avenue, but prefers to shop locally, where a car is not necessary and where the prices are competitive.

Glickberg conceded that accessiblity is an issue, but was confident that “everyone who owns a car — or has a friend who owns a car — will shop here.”

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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