Even among the most dedicated organic grocery stores, few go so far as to buy a horse ranch and convert it into a certified organic farm like New Frontiers has. There aren’t many that roast and grind your coffee to order or drive to a farm to pick up locally grown artichokes, which El Rancho Market does. And few can afford to specialize in high-end artisanal goods like 75-year-old balsamic vinegars and wild boar bratwurst, as does Los Olivos Grocery. But where wine goes, foodies follow, and the gourmet grocery stores of Solvang, Santa Ynez, and Los Olivos thrive in a community of health-conscious connoisseurs.
Chef Anne Bunch designs the deli food for the five New Frontiers stores (three in Arizona, two in California) and views cooking with the eye of a painter. “Nature provides such colorful food,” she says. “If you look at vegetables in the field, they’re vibrant, full of life, and they can remain that way all the way onto the plate.” The deli case brims with that vision: roasted butternut squash mixed with ruddy apples and sliced almonds, Florentine ravioli drenched in creamy salmon-pink sauce, and a salad of campanella pasta, arugula, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes are a few offerings on display. Anne’s recipes combine strong flavors and seasonal vegetables in unusual ways, taking inspiration from her many travels, friends, and experiences.
According to Ron Colone, marketing director for New Frontiers, the owners purchased a 53-acre horse ranch in Buellton in 1992 and turned it into a certified organic farm. Their farm works with other organic farmers in the area to grow 15 percent of the produce for all five stores. In addition to fruits and vegetables, some of their eggs are also sourced from nearby farms; the hard shells and orange yokes are a giveaway of birds enjoying a healthy diet.
Colone said that “creating a culture where we sincerely care about and for each other” is the core value of the company. On the third Wednesday of every month, five percent of sales goes to a nonprofit organization, and during the summer, New Frontiers hosts free community concerts where locals can gather for good food and music.
New Frontiers is located at 1984 Old Mission Drive, Suite A10, in Solvang. Call 693-1746.
El Rancho Market
Greg King, general manager of El Rancho, can recite a long list of foods made from scratch in the store: sausages (including traditional Danish rullep,lse), pizzas, salsas, sauces, dips, spreads, and pies. They recently added a sushi bar, complete with two sushi chefs, that has been very popular. Greg joked, “I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘I’ve eaten grocery store sushi and it’s not that good.’ But this is different and you can tell by the sales.”
Making food from scratch was originally an attempt to keep employees busy during down-time, so they began grating their own parmesan, making garlic butter, fresh squeezing orange juice, and roasting coffee. Now, they sell more pounds of coffee than gallons of milk. Their coffee bar has 40 different varietals, 30 blends, and 30 flavors in regular and decaf, which they will roast and blend to order.
El Rancho also has one of the widest wine selections in the valley and hosts tastings by winemakers every weekend between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. When pressed for a recommendation, Greg suggests the Margerum Syrahs, which are crafted close by and reasonably priced. El Rancho Market also creates gourmet lunchboxes for some of the Santa Ynez wine tours to compliment a day of wine tasting in the country.
El Rancho Market is located at 2886 Old Mission Drive in Solvang. Call 688-4300 or see elranchomarket.com.
Los Olivos Grocery
Los Olivos Grocery specializes in unusual finds, but according to managing partner Kevin Henning, “There are a lot of stores like this in Napa, but not here in the valley. Great wine demands great food. We try to match our food with the great wine being produced here.”
Their deli boasts a Cordon Bleu trained chef who excels in Mediterranean and French cuisine-think mushroom gorgonzola roulade, spinach feta pie, and large stuffed grape leaves. Unusual oils like almond and macadamia and aged vinegars fill one long aisle next to pink Himalayan salts, exotic spices, and rubs. The frozen section is an equally interesting foray into rarely seen meats, such as duck sausage with foie gras, buffalo, and wild boar bratwurst.
In this small country store, acclaimed wines draw not only oenophile tourists, but also winemakers. While the bottles on the shelves impress, there are also collectible bottles not on display that sell for up to $3,000, and bottles from “garage winemakers” who send only a few cases that sell out quickly.
Despite the high-end nature of the products, Los Olivos Grocery maintains a friendly country store feel. Labels hang above the produce telling customers which farm their peppers or asparagus are from, and fun facts are taped to shelves telling stories such as how maple syrup originated, or giving serving suggestions for unusual sauces.
Los Olivos Grocery is located at 2621 Highway 154. Call in 688-5115 or see losolivosgrocery.com.