Phoenicia Specialty Foods is not where you go when you a) are in a hurry and/or b) just looking to pick up a few staples. A visit to Phoenicia is multi-sensory experience in which you encounter hundreds of fresh and packaged foods from around the globe that demand your perusal. Just as you can’t get through the Louvre in 15 minutes, nor can you make your way (in any productive, enjoyable fashion at least) through Phoenicia. But what makes Phoenicia even better than a museum is that virtually everything on display is yours for the buying.

This self-proclaimed “international food market of your dreams” is actually better than anything I could dream up because, well, for one random reason, I never imagined there were so many Israeli cheeses with which I wasn’t acquainted. For years, I was motivated to make the “trek” to their (still-impressive) Westheimer location and since 2011 have been equally enamored of their shiny downtown branch. An added benefit to the downtown Phoenicia is its adjoining pub MKT Bar, which offers wine, beer, and clever cocktails (plus drink specials for national holidays and big sporting events) and Sunday brunch.

There are hundreds of interesting, one-of-a-kind products at Phoenicia, including but not limited to: kale oatmeal raisin cookies, smoked kippers, fresh rigatoni, Danish cookies, Russian jam, frozen lamb pies, and a continuously operating conveyor belt delivering fresh pita bread. Those features, in combination with the seemingly endless collection meats, crackers, chutneys, gravies, cheeses and condiments, can lead you easily to spend an hour on the ground floor. Don’t forget, however, to go up the stairs to the second floor where there’s an even greater wine selection, household goods, like Le Creuset and every cooking utensil you can imagine, plus shelf after shelf of spices ranging the pedestrian (cinnamon) to exotic (jiggery powder).

During lunchtime on weekdays, you’ll want to allow even more time for your Phoenicia visit if you’re planning to pick up made-to-order food (highly recommended). A hot buffet bar is stocked with stewed lamb, vegetables, etc. but a better bet is the freshly made pizzas. Those with a sweet tooth should check out the extensive baked good options that encompass everything from oversized chocolate chip cookies to house-made, incredibly delicate Indian and Mediterranean pastries.

The downside: the diversity of imported goods plus the downtown locale adds up to not-cheap prices. So, again, skip picking up produce, paper towels, and milk at Phoenicia and save your shekels for the olive bar.

Joanna O'Leary

September 4, 2014

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