Cheap Eats: Savi Urban Market
Beyond the mom-and-pop groceryTuesday December 6, 2011 08:00 am EST
I remember my shopping list: a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. But wait ... how about a Berkshire pork belly BLT, some sous vide Brussels sprouts, and a bottle of Allagash Curieux, too? Oh, and why not some Sweet Grass Dairy cheese, a Lotto ticket or two, and some spring-fresh fabric softener. I'm at Savi Urban Market, and the variety is simply ridiculous. Where else in town can you pick up a $150 bottle of Dom Perignon, some organic cat food, and a Southern bánh mì sandwich with chicken liver pâté? Actually, there are at least two places to do that — the original Savi Urban Market in Inman Park and the new outpost on Dresden Drive in Brookhaven. I bet the fine people of Brookhaven are still in shock to find their old Mom & Pop's Food Store gone and turned into an emporium of strange and great things that looks like it fell right out of an episode of "Portlandia." Would you like a locally baked artisan pop-tart with your ginger kombucha tea?
Savi Urban Market is best described as a gourmet convenience store with a healthy dose of local and organic flavor. It's about the size of a typical gas station market, and, for the time being, there is nowhere to sit: no chairs, no benches, no tables. However, owner Paul Nair says expansion plans are already underway, with an eye to opening up outdoor seating, an upstairs chef's table, even a full butcher counter, all next spring. What did you expect? More space for Lotto tickets? From the shelves loaded with an astonishing selection of wine and beer to the selection of fresh local vegetables to the eclectic array of fancy foodie things, Savi excels in the unexpected. And the ability to pick up whatever you forgot to get on that last trip to Target just adds to the allure.
Then there's the sandwich counter, which has a few offerings that help Savi rise even further above the rank of neighborhood pit stop. That pork belly BLT? If you dig pork fat like I dig pork fat, it's a melt-in-your-mouth knockout of a sandwich (FLT is really more fitting — fat, lettuce, and tomato). The romaine lettuce provides the crunch, green tomato marmalade adds a fruity-citrusy punch, and the pork belly literally just sinks into the soft bread, pulling everything together into harmony. Likewise, Savi's spin on a Cuban is a crunchy, spicy, cheesy, porky symphony of flavor and texture, with jalapeño slices and some serious mustard hitting the high notes. That's not to say all the sandwiches sing. I found the Southern bánh mì (aka "The Buford") to be a literal hot mess — the warm caramelized onions clashing with the cool chicken liver pâté, the carrot sticks cut way too thick, the lack of the typical pickled daikon/herbal crunch throwing things out of balance.
One of the more unusual elements of Savi's deli counter is its selection of sous vide "proteins" and vegetables, packed in vacuum-sealed plastic, ready to take home and warm up. The packaging is not wholly appetizing, and first-time shoppers will need to ask for instructions (simply submerge the packs in simmering water for a few minutes, then cut the plastic open to serve). But $9.99 gets you a main and two vegetables, which make for a nice meal for one at home. The pork loin with Bing cherry chutney shows the strength of the sous vide approach — it is juicy, flavorful, and a near perfect texture. The "wood grilled" bistro steak, however, comes out a bit too mushy and would benefit from a quick sear in a skillet at home, rather than simply re-warming in simmering water. The vegetables also don't benefit much from the sous vide approach. The cauliflower is overpowered by an acidic garlic marinade, and the Brussels sprouts with walnuts are way too firm and much too bitter. You're better off sticking to the meat or fish and picking up some of the fresh veggies up front for a simple homemade side.
Back at the checkout counter, the cigarettes or Lotto tickets may not tempt you, but something sweet probably will. You can pick up one of the massive chocolate chip cookies from local baker Rooster 14, or maybe a beautiful French chocolate bar from Bovetti, or a thick slice of banana nut bread. And you may as well grab that bottle of Napa cabernet featured at the front of the store, and, oooh, some Nona Rosa's vanilla/anise pizzelles (also local), and, oh, that lightbulb replacement you need. It's nearly enough to make your mind explode. Whatever you do, though, don't forget your loaf of bread, container of milk, and a stick of butter (all made in Georgia, of course). Oh, and that Berkshire pork belly BLT.