UPDATED August 17, 2020 – Elroy the dog has passed on to the Big Dog Beach in the Sky. But Elroy’s Fine Foods lives, and opens Thursday, Aug. 20.
The odds were not good Elroy the charismatic miniature doberman would make it to opening day of his namesake gourmet grocery, in the footprint of the former Monte Vista Market in Monterey.
The original opening of the store was slated for March, when Elroy the dog would’ve turned 18, or 126 in dog years. Mini dobs’ normal life spans typically top out at 14.
So while he won’t be there and plans to have him taxidermied to greet guests at the door were scrambled by COVID-19, nothing else from the master vision for the neighborhood store has changed, according to owners Jay and Chloe Dolata. Wait…make that one big thing that has: Extensive pandemic-savvy safety measures, including 100-percent concierge bulk food service, are in place.
That grand vision includes all sorts of goodies: plenty of organic and biodynamic produce orchestrated by Jamie Collins of Serendipity Farms; a full-on New York-style deli; a smoothie bar; craft beers, local wines and sustainable Tsar Nicolai caviar; fresh flowers; carefully curated local purveyor goods like Real Good Fish seafood, Tassajara Natural Meats and lots of top-shelf prepared foods; barbecue that hopefully evokes Monte Vista Market and owner/grillmaster Joe Solis’ heyday; seating areas indoors (eventually) and out, as part of 6,000 square feet all told.
Speaking of vision, the gleaming new Grillworks grill is something to gawk at (and costs more than many new cars on the market).
“We wanted something unique that can be the central part of the kitchen,” Jay says.
Chef Eden Colibri Hutchinson, who worked closely with the Dolatas at their former restaurant Carmel Belle, which they sold last winter, will helm the kitchen. Longtime local tastemaker and pioneering organic-driven chef Sarah LaCasse will continue to consult.
While Hutchinson is also gaga about the grill—“It really brings out flavors,” he says—he’s most amped about the prepared food department, which will make up far more floor space than comparable market layouts.
“We are passionate about sourcing the finest ingredients we can, [lots] of local, seasonable, sustainable,” he says. “We have a slow food mentality and restaurant standards—and are bringing that to prepared foods, which will definitely be setting us apart.”
Breakfast items will include things like a buttermilk biscuit sandwich with Baker’s Bacon, eggs, cheese and a sweet-savory-spicy onion-jalapeño-watermelon jam and a Basque-style apricot-and-brown-butter semolina almond cake. Lunch will star Carmel Belle-esque sandwiches like grilled cheese with fontina, sharp white cheddar, pimento and kimchi, or Chloe’s smoked whitefish sandwich with house-smoked fish and housemade horseradish cream.
A hallmark of the barbecue will be the “Carolina gold”-style sweet mustardy sauce—Colibri Hutchinson came of age on the Virginia-North Carolina border—to go with all sorts of grilled vegetables and proteins that will be available by the pound every afternoon to pair with sides from the cold case.
Another grill highlight to anticipate: a Frogmore “stew” that’s typically more of a steamed medley of corn, sausage, shrimp but at Elroy’s will come completely grilled with their own Old Bay-style rub.
After inevitable delays were deepened by COVID complications, the Dolatas are eager to offer what will be a boutique and localized take on the grocery experience that will resemble upscale Los Angeles outposts like Erewhon Natural Foods and Gjusta or Napa Valley’s Oakville Grocery Co.
“[The current crisis] definitely has highlighted how important our food economy is to our survival, and how important our food chain is to supporting a community,” Jay told Edible in April as part of a wider piece spotlighting positives amid the pandemic. “Thank God we live where we do and are able to get fresh produce and have all these wonderful small farms nearby us.”
Speaking of wonderful and small, there is a final market element worth noting: Six-month-old Ace the miniature Affenpinscher recently joined the Dolata family and is thrilled to carry on Elroy’s legacy as plucky puppy ambassador.
That element, in turn, comes with a final note. When a project as tantalizing as Elroy’s Fine Food comes along, it’s easy to get carried away with expectations. Monte Vista Market lifers and top-shelf grocery connoisseurs alike have every right to hope it’s everything they hunger for. But these are crazy times, and this is a soft opening with limits on the number of shoppers allowed in at once.
So please be patient. Tasty things come to those who wait.
Elroy’s Fine Foods is located at 15 Soledad Drive in Monterey. Hours are 8am-8pm Monday-Saturday, 9am-7pm Sunday. More updates on Elroy’s Instagram page.