Way out in the wastelands of the Atlanta Highway, just as you’re about to get to the sketchy Goodwill, is Health Wise Foods, billing itself as the largest and oldest natural foods store in Montgomery. We weren’t sure what to expect. So many “health food” stores end up being collections of weird, dusty supplements, like a low-rent GNC or your crazy aunt’s medicine cabinet. Really wonderful natural foods stores, with groceries and stuff you might actually eat, are super hard to find. We were spoiled by living close to Manna Grocery up in Tuscaloosa, and hoped to find a similar place here in Montgomery.
To be fair, the Montgomery grocery stores (at least the Zelda Road Publix) have a massively better selection of vegetarian and specialty food items than the grocery stores in Tuscaloosa. In particular, the Zelda Road Publix makes the Tuscaloosa Publix seem like a low-rent 7-11 by comparison. We have been thrilled to find all the fake meats and soy products we could really ask for at Publix.
We were happy to find that Health Wise is not solely (or even mostly) in the dietary supplements business. There’s a produce case with some produce supplied by local organic farmer Gary Weil’s Red Root Farm, and produce is 30% off on Sundays. There are some specialty items in the case … we’re not sure how to use burdock, but might be interested in learning, and there were also some nice looking rutabagas. The freezer case is pretty okay – lots of the usual suspects: Amy’s pizzas, organic frozen waffles, wheat-free things. There were some tasty-looking frozen entrees like vegetarian shepherd’s pie in the case, but they were pretty spendy. They also had Boca’s veggie bratwurst in the refrigerator case, which you don’t see that often.
The canned goods aren’t that great, and there’s not much there you can’t get elsewhere (ok, maybe the Bragg’s). But the main section of the store has a lot of great bulk foods and spices, including hard-to-find stuff like umeboshi plums and quinoa. I bought a big bag of Frontier tellicherry peppercorns for less than I would have paid to order them online.
Other notable finds: Stonewall’s Jerquee, in a variety of flavors. So salty and good! Also good soy sauce and Tom’s toothpaste (otherwise only available at Wal-Mart, and nobody wants that).
Although refrigerated produce is outstanding to have, it’s no Manna. Chiefly because there’s no deli, and Manna’s got all that great food they make on site. But the people were super nice. And there’s a good selection of organic personal care products (Dr. Brenner’s soap in the big jug, things like that). It’s not a substitute for a grocery store, but seems like it will make a fine supplement to the corporate options available. Plus, they make it pretty clear that they’re happy to order whatever you want that they don’t already stock. Well worth the trip up the Atlanta Highway.