Indie Cookware/Cookbookery

Open House was the name of a cookware/houseware store on Bala Avenue, one of the few main drags in my hometown of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., a stone's throw from Philadelphia.

Open House was a locally owned shop with untreated hardwood floors much like an old-time hardware store. It stood on a corner, with storefront windows, about six blocks from our house on Penarth Road. I remember going in with my mother, and we'd poke around at all the cool stuff -- placemats and pottery, platters and glassware, pots and utensils. I remember classical music filling the room. Maybe my mother can fill in the dots, but it was a magical place for me.

A taste of the Kitchen Witch in New Orleans. (Kim O'Donnel)

Flash forward 30-some years, and I've still got a yen for independently owned cookware and cookbook shops. They're a dying breed, I know, as are small businesses across the board. Remember the days of the local record shop? Stationary store? Hometown pharmacy? (And with that pining for the past, I suppose I'm officially an old fart.)

Whenever I'm on the road, I sharpen my antennas and seek out local cooking-related destinations, and these places become my point of reference for future visits. Some folks do the museum route; me, I check out the markets, the cookbook stacks, the hanging pots and pans. You can take the girl out of the kitchen...

Trips to Miami's South Beach no longer seem complete without a visit to the now-defunct on Lincoln Road, but there's plenty more cities around the country representing independent cookbooking and cooktooling.

Below, a list of cooking indies, based on my travels over the years. By no means is this list comprehensive, so that's where you step in. If your hometown has a cool indie cookbook or cookware shop, or if your travels have taken you to a pots-and-pans oasis, share your notes in the comments area below. And if you don't mind, let's refrain from adding the William-Sonomas and the Sur La Tables in this space; we're all indebted to their presence, but that may be just the point -- they're in every mall across America.

List below the jump.

Indie Cookware Shops

Alexandria, Va.: La Cuisine, on Cameron Street in Old Town, has been owned and operated by Nancy Pollard since 1971. Seriously-minded cookware.

Chapel Hill, N.C.: A Southern Season is an enormous (something like 60,000 square feet) space that's been a landmark in Chapel Hill since 1975. You could spend an entire day in this place. It is likely the premier one-stop shopping experience for all things culinary.

Charleston, S.C.: Charleston Cooks! is a combo cookware shop and cooking studio with a southern bent. I am partial to the array of local foodstuffs that are hard to come by in other parts of the country, including stone-ground grits from Anson Mills, aromatic and gold rice from Carolina Plantation Rice and benne wafers, the sweet sesame biscuits with African roots. Great selection of Carolina and southern cookbooks.

Key West, Fla.: The Restaurant Store has a mixed inventory geared for both home cooks as well as restaurant chefs. My brother Tim was delightfully surprised to find basics such as a coffee grinder on a visit there earlier this year. Cooking classes are also offered on an ongoing basis.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Fosters Gourmet Cookware, in the Reading Terminal Market, offers the whimsical, unusual as well as the practical for the kitchen and dining room. Tight squeeze of a space; rear includes demo table that attracts local chefs and cookbook authors.

Seattle, Wash.: City Kitchens (1527 4th Ave., 206-382-1138) is located right by the famous Pike Place market and filled to the gills, floor to ceiling, with tools and gadgets.


New Orleans, La.: Kitchen Witch (631 Toulouse Street, 504-528-8382), located in the French Quarter, defies description. The lair of Philipe LaMancusa and Debbie Lindsey, this place is chockfull of old recipe collections, hard-to-find titles from your grandmother's era, with an impressive showing of Cajun and Creole texts. There are also old records, lots of tchotkes (some for sale, but ask first, won't you please) and the menagerie of dogs, cats and bourbon on the counter.

New York, N.Y.: Kitchen Arts & Letters is a good excuse to go to the Upper East Side. Owner Nach Waxman has made it his mission in life to create the largest selection of titles on food, wine, food history, culinary memoirs -- the ultimate smorgasbord of epicurean libraries.

Philadelphia, Pa.
: The Cookbook Stall in the Reading Terminal Market may be small but is packed with titles, both new and obscure. They'll do special ordering, too.

Portland, Ore.: Powell's Books for Home and Garden is just one of several annexes of the literary powerhouse that is Powell's. This so-called satellite location is bigger than some small towns. What a lineup of titles expressly reserved for food and drink. I was salivating from the minute I walked in.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 27, 2007; 12:10 PM ET Cook's Library , Cookware
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I love La Cuisine! It's only a few blocks from my apartment and office. I walk over there whenever the yen to bake comes over me, but I don't have the supplies I need, and their cookware is high quality yet affordable. They have a serious selection of food coloring as well, including the red I needed for your velvet cake!

Posted by: Sara | June 27, 2007 12:43 PM

While King Arthur Flour is ubiquitous - their store is great, with a shop and bakery - and classes! (Norwich, VT)

The Vermont Country Store ( - the store itself is worth an afternoon, and extends from kitchen items to their old-fashioned candy counter, and beyond (bath, pets, etc). (Weston and Rockingham, VT)

Posted by: C | June 27, 2007 1:12 PM

In Annapolis, check out The Cook's Revenge on Main Street (right in downtown). The owner is a great guy and very knowledgeable, and you can try out knives before you buy them - something everyone really should do before dropping that hard-earned cash!
In my hometown of Louisville, KY, there's a great store called Campbell's Gourmet Cottage. Unfortunately the "cottage" recently burned down, so they've moved into a strip mall, but you still get great service (even if the ambiance is lacking!). They have cooking classes, neat baking ingredients and foodstuffs (chocolate, teas, coffees, etc.), and linens in addition to the cookware, knives, gadgets, etc. I registered there for my upcoming wedding, hoping to give people a chance to support a local business if they want. (I also registered at a department store for those out-of-towners.) Something for all you brides-to-be to consider...

Posted by: JEA | June 27, 2007 1:24 PM

The main Powell's branch doesn't exactly slack off in the cookbook department, either. Just rows and rows and rows of beautiful, fabulous cookbooks.

Now I'm homesick for Oregon...

Posted by: Wendy | June 27, 2007 1:32 PM

In Santa Cruz, CA, Chefworks can't be beat. They have all the basics along with some quirky accessories.

Posted by: Jenn | June 27, 2007 1:38 PM

The Peppercorn in Boulder, CO is my favorite store. They have a HUGE cookbook selection (I used to work in that department) as well as all the bakeware and kitchen things you could ever think of. Plus, there's a fine china and other nice things selection upstairs.

Posted by: DeenaJR | June 28, 2007 7:57 AM

I think Home Rule on 14th St. in DC is independently owned. They have some great items in there--it's been a terrific addition to the neighborhood.

Posted by: E | June 28, 2007 3:42 PM

What about Fantes in the Italian Market in Philadelphia? It definitely deserves a mention!

Posted by: E | June 29, 2007 9:30 AM

In Sudbury, MA, is Duck Soup...cookbooks, gadgets, small electrics, whole bean coffee and condiments. Online at And if you don't see what you want, they'll order it for you. I was looking for a small Melitta drip cone and they got in for me in just a couple of days at no extra charge.

Posted by: Rose | June 30, 2007 11:26 AM

In Winchester VA is Terra Cotta Kitchen where you can buy table linens, cookware and gadgets, wine and some specialty food items.

Posted by: Sue | July 2, 2007 1:53 PM

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