Having to dodge your way through cars, soccer moms and the occasional tree-hugging organophile scooting across the parking lot as fast as his socked-and-sandaled feet will take him may not be your idea of a pleasant shopping experience. But when it comes to the shiny new Whole Foods Market on Sand Lake Road, giving a hippie or two a little bump might be in order just to accelerate your entry into the 52,000-square-foot foodie paradise.

Of course I kid — you'll likely bump into plenty in the somewhat cramped aisles in the store anyway — but the stocks of specialty cheeses, impressive counter of natural and organic meats, expansive wine section and healthy junk food galore are enough to keep gastronomes gushing. I was mesmerized by the shelves of yogurt alone, and after grabbing a few tubs of maple-flavored sheep's milk yogurt, I was off to the next degustatory distraction.

Granted, the place can get overwhelming at times, but that's part of the fun, particularly when you've made the conscious decision to have lunch or dinner here. Near the meat section, a grill station proffers a pretty good burger ($5.99; cheese costs $1 extra) — try the sun-dried tomato and blue cheese. For $7.99 a pound, diners can opt for an assortment of hot and cold items from three buffet bars serving everything from beef and barley soup and roasted vegetable lasagna to pork vindaloo, baba ghanoush and grilled seitan. Items are hit and miss, but better fare can be had at the chef's station — the rotisserie chicken is a delicious steal at $4.99 for a half-bird, and the nicely spiced bite-size potato samosas are also worth sampling. If you can't get your fix at the dessert bar, finding a specialty cake or pastry isn't difficult.

If Whole Foods ultimately matched the ubiquity of Publix supermarkets, I'm pretty sure I could live with seeing more men in socks and sandals.

Speaking of On The Side, On The Side


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