This is a local interest piece I wrote for a local paper that didn’t get picked up. I’m sharing it here as a rare example of my capability for brevity.
The relevant business can be found here.
“Nothing gold can stay,” said Robert Frost, but with all respect due, sometimes it does stay; it just turns to silver in doing so. If it stays long enough, we might even start whining about it.
Let’s be clear; Grocery Bar is absolutely awesome, and our city is lucky to have it. The hot bars are delicious and varied, with great selections for carnivores and vegetable dishes an insecure male doesn’t have to be self conscious about nabbing. Moreover the staff is as helpful and attentive as Enzo’s ever was. The new additions don’t stand out from the old guard, and the same justly renowned smiling meat guys are still plying their trade behind the butcher’s counter. Even as I write this I’m munching on some of Grocery Bar’s cranberry pumpkin seed trail mix and it tastes like my own hypocrisy; also delicious.
But was any of it necessary?
Walk in the front door of the Grocery Bar and you’re greeted by a stack of artfully arranged artisanal watermelons ahead of you and a cornucopia of mid to high priced cheeses on your left. “Don’t worry,” it all seems to say, “Enzo’s lives on; your paleo friendly pasta sauce and gluten free muffins await within, just as before.”
Then you see those bars. Arranged laterally with your entrance, in contrast to Enzo’s perpendicular setup, they are four massive altars, afforded pride of place in the new layout, with space enough for entire platoons of customers to comfortably mill about them. The arrangement is as much mission statement as it is practicality, and a marked contrast to the melon and cheese supplication of moments before. “This. Is. GROCERY BAR!” it bellows, before kicking you into a pit with your stupid muffins and marinara.
Perhaps if those bars would cede some space, the souls of Enzo and Grocery Bar could comfortably share a body. But as of now they don’t, and that leaves us with a paltry selection of produce, a much reduced butcher counter (though you might not notice, with those familiar butchers flashing their movie star smiles), a decent enough dairy case, and ONE AISLE of dry grocery.
This ain’t Enzo’s. It isn’t even a grocery store. Grocery Bar is a well-stocked delicatessen.
Whether it wished to be or not, Enzo’s was as much political statement as it was neighborhood grocer. In the middle of the food desert that was the south side, Enzo’s was an oasis that precluded a long pilgrimage to St. Elmo or the North Shore. It was an alternative to the inoffensive, corporate blandness of your Bi-Los and your Wal-Marts. It was Whole Foods without the pretension (and with better lighting), and in serving a multicultural stew of locals and tourists alike it was incarnate the liberal dream that Whole Foods’ Obamacare hating founder draped around his company like a cloak made of opinion polls.
Why was it necessary? That’s the question I keep coming back to. Enzo’s gave a densely packed swath of Chattanooga an opportunity to taste something generally reserved for the SUV and soccer practice set. Now what do they have? Another place to get a ten dollar lunch in an area that doesn’t lack for quality dining?
Truthfully, it’s embarrassing to even be able to complain about this. Grocery Bar kicks ass. If it was in any other city, or had replaced any other business, I suspect I’d be embracing Grocery Bar as something new, bold, and wonderful. But this is Chattanooga, best culinary city in the South, and it is Enzo’s sign that came down mere weeks ago.
Check out the /r/chattanooga subreddit; this isn’t just me. We may not have much right to whine about it, but damned if we won’t. File it under #FirstWorldProblems.
I don’t know. I want to think Grocery Bar is something more than just a vanity project that has yanked something so briefly, beautifully, unique as Enzo’s from our community. Maybe Daniel Lindley has some spectacular future in mind that will quell my doubts. At the very least, maybe more actual groceries are on the way, to join the bars. I hope so.
There’s certainly enough space to add them.