>there is a tiny slice of surreality nestled near inman square, which i was tempted this afternoon to traverse. you would think that, as a purveyor of food within the confines of the neighborhood, i would have already hit it up in my five-plus years living in cambridge.
this mysterious, mysterious place is none other than johnnie’s foodmaster. if you can’t tell from the name, it’s a grocery store, and it’s so shades++ that it doesnt have its own official website.
it’s larger than a convenience store, with an honest-to-good deli, seafood section, bakery, and frozen section. however, it’s a family business and not anywhere near the scale of shaw’s or whole foods. but even more so, there are tiny quirks that catch you off-guard. not bad, just completely bizarre.
the first thing about it that anyone who has ever been there will proclaim is that it…
is carpeted. do you comprehend? a carpeted supermarket. ANOMALOUS. the place is clean, all things considered, but you don’t want to look too closely at the artifacts that have accumulated on the industrial pile over the years.
also, it’s a supermarket that also has a beer/wine section. i never understood why places like whole foods and trader joe’s can carry alcohol, but more mainstream supermarket chains cannot (or choose not to). the alcohol at johnnie’s is incongruously sandwiched between aisles of kashi cereal and rotisserie chicken. the pic on the above right is a special on a ros� wine plunked next to skippy peanut butter. i love it.
also, after perusing the aisles, you notice some different types of brands and flavors. i imagine the market caters to the brazilian community, but also townies that have been there forever. for instance, see the utz chips? (my dad loves utz, so i’m very familiar with the brand, all east coast, yeaaaa…) but cheddar and sour cream flavor? seems plausible, but for a very specific consumer market. kind of like how some mcdonalds have the mcRib sandwich (for the bbq south), or clam chowder (for the nor’easterns), or lentil burgers (cuz india aint eatin’ beef). in maryland, there’s crab-flavored utz potato chips. does that sound as weird to outsiders as it sounds as normal to me, chesapeake native?
there were so many brands i didnt recognise, but here’s a glimpse of the portugeuse beverage section, and i espied the royal-like purple boxes of plum pudding and hard sauce sitting side-by-side with the corn syrup and honey. there were a ton of items i wanted to document, but as you can imagine, it’s a little self-conscious wielding one’s camera around in the very public space of a supermarket. hand-written specials such as “rabbit: $5.99/lb”, “capon!” and “johnnie’s unbeatable apple pie”. i had a curious experience at the deli counter. i saw a special for honey ham, so i asked the guy for a pound of it. he shook his head and said they didnt have any more honey ham. so i’m like… aah… i just need some ham. i pointed to another random ham and asked to see it. ham’s not too attractive in a huge hulking 20lb log, so i didnt know how to judge whether it was something i wanted or not just by looking at it. i hastily said it was fine, and he went off to the meat slicer. he cut off a couple pieces, and then handed me a slice with an encouraging smile. i couldnt tell if it was for me to taste, or to appease me for their being out of honey ham. maybe this is normal deli-counter behaviour, but it took me by surprise. and if you were wondering, “imported ham” == tasty. :)
the meat section was plentiful and *bloody*. i dont think i’ve seen as many choices for meat cuts, organs in one small area, and it was all very very red. fresh, though. i was encouraged by the space allotted to the linguica, a sausage quite particular to portuguese eatings. (i’m almost ashamed to admit i recall the ‘queer eye’ episode where ted brought the guy to a butcher who specialised in linguica, a specialty meat if you’re not in a major portuguese market. however, though i love ted, i have dumped the fab five since that horrible red sox debacle they aired on bravo.) anyway, i’m sure there are plenty of places around inman and east cambridge which carry it, it’s funny to see it in a grocery store, flanked by hillshire farms and ballpark.
i made it out alive, and it’s probably not the best or worst of groceries, but it’s worth it as a destination for experience alone. it’s one of those places where you’ll find something in the back of a shelf dated 1986, and you won’t freak out, but more likely think it’s a marvelous piece of history. it’s another place where you can be surrounded with piles of blood sausage and pig hocks and guinness. and, you know, the packaged chocolate sauce in chocolate bread cake. or whatever it got translated to.
it’s worth a return trip.