Wegmans — 20600 Seneca Meadows Pkwy, Germantown MD (and other VA and MD locations)
Ok, I’m in.
Up to now I’ve been on the sidelines, even a bit skeptical. Listening to people from western New York drone on (and on and on) about their beloved Wegmans reminds me of folks from Philly waxing poetic about Tastycakes. Yeah, they’re fine. So are Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs. But you don’t see me fetishizing them just because they’re what I grew up on.
Plus, Wegmans are always a schlep. They all seem to be somewhere in Virginia I’ve never been but that seem vaguely familiar from traffic reports. I think there’s one near the mixing bowl or maybe it’s the Occoquan (I’m not even sure those places actually exist). Anyway, the closest location to me that I know is real is Germantown, Maryland, a good 30-45 minute drive depending on traffic. I’ve got several Giants and Whole Foods stores near me. What am I going to get at Wegmans that I can’t get at my usual standbys?
Then last week the big news hit: Wegmans will be opening a DC store in Fannie Mae headquarters on Wisconsin Ave NW! Sure, it’ll be 2022 before it happens, and the store will be a lot smaller than its suburban locations, but that didn’t stop the hype. At my office, people momentarily stopped talking about Kathy Griffin and “covfefe” to share their excitement.
So I decided it was time to check it out. I needed to know whether I should be on pins and needles for the next five years or whether it was more like the Purple Line — something that’ll happen when it happens but won’t really change my life.
It’s hard to capture the vastness of a store spanning 150,00 square feet. It’s three times the size of the roomy Whole Foods in Friendship Heights. The comparison to Disney World isn’t that far off. Plan your trip to avoid the crowds, wear comfortable shoes and have a plan of attack. Do you want to start in Prepared Food World, Produce Village or the Meat Market Jamboree?
If you start by turning left and going clockwise, the first thing you’ll hit is an area with ready-to-eat foods. There are fast food counters serving things like subs and pizza and several large hot and cold food bars. None of the options are that enticing. The food counters could be a small step up from Costco (minus the very good Costco hot dogs that come with a drink for $1.50) but I can’t imagine why I’d ever stop for pizza or a sub at Wegmans.
The food bars are so big that they’re divided into sections like Chicken Wings and Tastes of Asia. The quality seems on par with some of the food bar carry-out places in downtown DC. Again, impressive in size and scope but not sure how much I’d actually use it.
Wegmans hits its stride in the prepared food-to-make-at-home section. There are dozens of packages with pre-measured ingredients to take home and get a complete dinner on the table quickly and easily. If I lived near a Wegmans and didn’t like to cook, this would be a great alternative to another night of Cava or Lean Cuisine.
Take this $9 Pork Cutlet Florentine. It’s fresh, healthy, and it couldn’t be simpler — you just take off the cover, dump the sauce over the meat and veggies, and bake for 30 minutes. Blue Apron has nothing on these guys.
Or maybe grab some sushi from this wide and colorful assortment. The turnover at Wegmans must be incredible. There’s so much potential waste if they don’t sell huge volumes.
Speaking of turnover, trendy cucumber water and lemon water can’t keep more than a day or two in the refrigerator case.
But where Wegmans really gets me excited is its meat department.
Let’s say you have a hankering for turkey. Sure, Wegmans carries the usual whole turkeys and ground turkey but it also stocks various turkey parts and cuts that are usually hit-or-miss at other stores. Even Whole Foods doesn’t carry this range of choices on a daily basis.
I’m not a huge tri-tip guy, but I appreciate a store that stocks these west-coast favorites.
A nice selection of fresh D’Artagnan products, including whole duck, duck leg confit and andouille sausage.
Wegmans produce section is fine. Quality and price are both a bit higher than Giant and a bit lower than Whole Foods. So it may hit a sweet spot if you just want to go to one store, but in the end I’m not likely to give up on Whole Foods when the quality of the produce matters.
Wegmans also has a full stock of regular groceries at competitive prices. It’s not immediately intuitive to me where things are, but I’m one of those people who go down every aisle regardless so I found everything I needed. Here I turned a corner and ran into this massive cream cheese selection. Again, the volume must be huge.
Then there are specialty items like these soft, flaky tortillas made fresh every day. Compared to Whole Foods’ hard, refrigerated tortillas, these are a delight.
I love the idea of a party keg of root beer and now I know where to buy one the next time you invite me to dinner and I need a hostess gift.
The candy aisle is impressive. It looks more like a mall candy store than the usual grocery store afterthought.
And they have Turkish Taffy! I take back the part earlier about not fetishizing the foods of our youth. This is the taffy of my childhood. It’s what taffy should taste like, not that fluffy dreck in the barrels below.
In the end, I have to admit my skepticism was misplaced. I have a mild case of Wegmania. It’s an appealing amalgamation of Giant, Whole Foods and Costco in a single store most likely to meet all my needs — particularly when we’re having people over for dinner and I need both choice and quantity. Plus, it’s fun. There are so many things to discover and so many staffers buzzing about working and looking to help. Maybe it’s because it’s family-owned. But there’s a positive energy you don’t get at your average grocery store.
So you may catch me heading back to Germantown every few months for a Wegmans run. Or maybe I’ll make a day of it and head out to Virginia to find out what’s on the other side of Dulles. As for 2022, I won’t be on pins and needles waiting for the DC location to open. I’m not sure a Wegmans that’s 1/3 the size of their suburban stores will have the same allure. They just opened an “urban” Target in Bethesda with a smaller footprint and I can tell you it’s not the same.
Sometimes we have to suffer for our art. Sitting in traffic on I-270 may be a laughably first-world brand of suffering but since it’s in the service of getting to the most laughably first-world grocery store imaginable, it seems pretty appropriate.