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.
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 real.life.basic 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.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Sara | June 27, 2007 12:43 PM
Posted by: C | June 27, 2007 1:12 PM
Posted by: JEA | June 27, 2007 1:24 PM
Posted by: Wendy | June 27, 2007 1:32 PM
Posted by: Jenn | June 27, 2007 1:38 PM
Posted by: DeenaJR | June 28, 2007 7:57 AM
Posted by: E | June 28, 2007 3:42 PM
Posted by: E | June 29, 2007 9:30 AM
Posted by: Rose | June 30, 2007 11:26 AM
Posted by: Sue | July 2, 2007 1:53 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.