The first time I entered San Francisco's Bi-Rite market was to buy a couple of really bad tomatoes -- hard, pink, tasteless ones -- as props for a talk I was about to give. From a block away on 18th Street in the Mission district, the shop, with its glaring Art Deco façade, looked exactly like the sort of bodega or convenience store where you'd find such tomatoes in the produce section, and probably little else.
That misimpression vanished the moment I stepped inside and confronted counters mounded with heirloom tomatoes and festooned with hand-lettered signs telling which farms -- all local -- had grown them. And that was just the start. From the grocery aisle to the meat counter and deli in back, the cramped space was a cornucopia for all things sustainable and artisanal.
Most of us can only dream of dropping into Bi-Rite to pick up a fillet of wild Pacific salmon or a wedge of Red Hawk cheese from northern California's Cowgirl Creamery. But now the store's owner, Sam Mogannam, with co-author Dabney Gough, has encapsulated the Bi-Rite ethos between the covers of Eat Good Food: A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community through Food (Ten Speed Press). The fat, photograph-rich book is part culinary manifesto, part recipe collection (it includes 120 for dishes like Spicy String Beans with Sesame Seeds, Ginger-Lemongrass Chicken Skewers with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce, and Apricot-Ginger Scones), and part insider's buyer's guide full of advice and tips for sustainable grocery shopping anywhere: "As a rule of thumb, the more detailed information you can get about the meat you buy, the more likely it is that you are making a good decision;" "The vegetable drawer is the perfect spot for cheese in your refrigerator;" "Look for dark, leafy greens that are unsprayed (look for a few bug holes for evidence)." If there is a downside to the book, it's that it is as jam-packed and hard to navigate as the store itself on a busy evening.