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Best Gourmet Store

The Vinegar Factory
431 East 91st Street; 987-0885

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We like to think of the Vinegar Factory as Eli Zabar’s atonement for the sins of his exorbitant E.A.T. The baguette tycoon has annexed most of an Upper East Side block with his bakery operation, a restaurant called Across the Street, VF News Cafe, and his megamarket, which has its own upstairs café (see “Pancakes”) and a housewares department to rival Williams-Sonoma. What we admire most about the man is his sense of supermarket synergy. Nothing goes to waste. Unbought bread becomes bread pudding. Overripe fruit gets put up for preserves and chutneys. Hot air from the bakery is channeled into his rooftop greenhouse, where he grows lettuces and fraise des bois. And the market itself keeps growing, with burgeoning departments for flowers, organic produce, and fish. The prepared-food selections make inspired lunches; the bread assortment is staggering. And, since it’s too far off the beaten path for the ogling tourists who descend upon the food halls of SoHo and the Village, shopping here is a local, unharried experience. One quibble: Cheese fanatics might still feel compelled to brave the crowds downtown.


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