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$20 Dinner

Wegmaniacs Beware: The Prepared Food at the New Astor Place Wegmans Is Awful

Stick to grocery shopping.

Shoppers on the first day of the new Wegmans in Astor Place. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

On Wednesday morning, East New York resident Jordan White woke up hours before dawn to make his way to Astor Place and get on line to do some grocery shopping. When I met him, he had been waiting since 4 a.m. to get into the brand-new 87,500-square feet Wegmans supermarket, which now fills the two-story space where Kmart used to be. 

"It's a momentous occasion," White told Hell Gate. "I love seeing everyone excited for the new store, seeing everything as fresh as can be, even though Wegmans is very big on quality so everything every day is fresh. I'm from Rochester, moved here in 2016, and there weren't a lot of options that I felt like I could go to and get pretty much everything I wanted in one place. Not like Wegmans."  

If this sort of passion for a grocery store chain is surprising to you, then you've obviously never spoken with a Wegmans true believer. A Wegmaniac, if you will.  

Wegmaniacs on line about an hour before doors on opening day. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Wegmaniacs tend to talk that way about this place, as if they're parroting ad copy. Take Bradley Orego, who drove from Buffalo to throw an opening day tailgate party on the sidewalk with his buddy, Bushwick resident Jeff Pollock, giving out plates of pancakes to passersby.  

"Wegmans has been such an important part of my life. I grew up with Wegmans," Orego explained. "Any time I'm not in a city that has a Wegmans, I'm like, you don't know what you're missing, it's a different experience. What I tell folks is that the quality of the goods is so high, but the prices are not, and that's what makes Wegmans special."  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The family-owned supermarket chain started in Rochester in 1916, and today, there are more than 110 stores along the East Coast. New York City got its first Wegmans in 2019 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and opening day there was a chaotic scene. Politicians were on hand for a ribbon cutting, hundreds of people waited for hours in the pouring rain on Flushing Avenue to get inside, and the 700-car parking lot was filled to capacity.  

But for most of us, the Navy Yard is a pretty useless location for a grocery store, catering more to car owners and drivers than subway and bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians. Astor Place, on the other hand, is a core New York City location, with multiple subway lines within easy walking distance, the iconic Cube across the street, and loads of late-night memories lurking for anyone who's lived here for more than a minute or two. And the building itself, which once housed an annex to the original Wanamaker's department store, is an official City landmark.

I spent nearly three hours at the Astor Place Wegmans on opening day. Beginning with the good news first, the enormous lower level is stocked with everything you could hope to find in a supermarket, from good junky snacks and soda to paper goods and drugstore stuff to mountains of produce and multiple shelves of kombucha. Most exciting for me, the ice cream selection is solid as hell, highlighted by pints of Graeter's, the great Cincinnati brand that's hard to find in New York City.

Just a few of your options at the fish counter downstairs. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There's a huge butcher section, with lots of cheese sporting corny names like We Be Chivin' and Sake2Me, and a deli with plastic packages of pre-sliced meats. Most interesting (and, these days, pretty unique in the city) is the somewhat pretentiously named Sakanaya (Japanese for "fish counter"), which features an almost comically large and diverse selection of whole fish. You can get any of these cleaned and filleted on the spot, and one of the mongers will walk you through the best ways to cook it.  

Almost nothing down here seemed either outrageously overpriced or blessedly cheap, though there are some super luxe items thrown in for the NoHo crowd, like the $72 one-pound whole thornyhead fish flown in from Japan, and the $240 per pound snow-aged A5 Wagyu strip. 

Really, it's on the store's main floor, home to Wegmans's vaunted selection of hot dishes, sushi, and prepared meals, that the whole "land of plenty" promise falls apart. It's where Wegmans's vast quantities and gleaming surfaces and super-friendly service can't hide the fact that the food up here just isn't any good.      

The worst slice of pizza I had all year, $4. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The pizza, for example, which comes in a half-dozen varieties and is made on the spot, is awful. It probably doesn't help that there are decent slice shops galore in this part of town, including the excellent Funzi's a block away, but still, you can't land in the East Village slinging this sort of bland, gluey nonsense and expect to get away with it. Maybe they should hire some local talent to run this department? 

There's a hot sandwich stand, with offerings like chicken shawarma, pastrami, Kobe beef, and a really sad excuse for a Cuban, which is dominated by thick slices of cold boiled ham. As for the other items I tried, I figured I was playing it safe with the Buffalo chicken soup—I mean come, this is a Western New York outfit, no?—but somehow, it tasted mostly of carrots. The slightly spicy Buffalo wings were a little better. The sweet barbecue wings were a little worse.   

Tuna volcano roll, a total gloppy disaster, $11.99. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Please take my advice: Don't get the tuna volcano roll. I probably don't need to tell you that—sushi drenched in various mayos is never a good idea—but just in case you get struck by a fit of "when in Rome" recklessness like I did, know that it's a gloppy, unfinishable disaster. And was the best thing I ate all afternoon a pair of mediocre mall-ish cookies? Maybe. They certainly were very sugary.  

Another cause for discouragement—unlike the Navy Yard Wegmans, which offers cafe-style seating for 140 people both indoors and out, there's nowhere to eat on the premises. Yes, a sushi bar and a "champagne and oyster" restaurant are coming next year, in the currently walled-off space just to the left of the entrance, but all of us soup-and-sandwich peasants will still have to leave the store and grab a table (or a rock) across Lafayette at the Astor Place plaza. 

Admittedly, the fact that a supermarket's prepared food is boring or bad isn't exactly breaking news. But since Wegmans highlights that part of their operation—most of the main floor is turned over to all the various grab-n-go stations—it seems worthwhile to suggest that, upon entering, you head straight downstairs and get your grocery shopping done.     

Half a sad Cuban, $8; timid Buffalo chicken soup, $5.99. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Or just wander around a bit and vibe out! As NYU student Charlotte Wyman told me on her way home, arms laden with Wegmans jelly beans, chocolate chips, and baby carrots, "It was so entertaining, so much fun in there. I had a great time. I love grocery stores in general, so it was really an exciting experience. It felt like Disney World."  

Wegmans Astor Place is located at 770 Broadway (the entrance is on Lafayette and Eighth Street), and is currently open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.     

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