The first time I walked into an HEB supermarket I knew I had discovered something amazing.
Not too sure how to differentiate it from other large grocery stores with aisles of fresh produce, fresh baked goods, fresh deli meats, fresh everything and just being so funky fresh...but HEB has a certain quality to it that immediately grabbed me and made us feel at home.
It's like the first time I heard Black Sabbath, or bit into a real pastrami sandwich; that feeling that the Almighty has reached down, touched your heart and stomach and announced:
"This! This is where you belong!"
Yes. The HEB is where I belong.
It's where we all belong...
|Picnic foods ready to go? Oh, this is only the beginning.|
It was maybe 7 or 8 years ago, like 2008 or 2009 (?), when I stepped foot into the flagship store in Kerrville Texas. She-Ra and I were in town to visit her grandparents who have lived in Kerrville for many years. In fact, her grandfather's family can be traced back generations in the near sleepy Texas hill country territory as it is a hot bed for German immigrants who have set up shop there and the nearby populace of Fredricksburg making the location a go to for eastern European fare and fun.
Sure Kerrville is in Texas but it kind of doesn't feel like a real "Texas" town. If it didn't have the Texas state flag everywhere to remind us that we are in the lone star state, this quiet municipality could be along the coast of northern California or a tree lined borough skimming the eastern seaboard.
Most Texas cities to me are sprawling metropolitan conglomerates or hipster hubs, all soaked in BBQ sauce and beer (nothing wrong with that though...) and over run with ironic beards, huge hats and folks driving tucks that block out the sun they're so obnoxiously wide and jacked tall.
Kerrville is kind of the opposite of all of that. Sort of.
There are big trucks everywhere...but that's just Texas.
What are you going to do?
|Never ending bins of hot wings...YAY!|
But Texas is lucky. Why? Because it's mainly the only state where you can shop, admire, love, gawk at and embrace the awesomeness that is the HEB.
And I think they have no idea how lucky they are to have the HEB in their immediate zone. Do they? I sure hope so. But I don't think so.
They probably do.
Anyway, the place has just got...everything. In an unpretentious, welcoming environment, HEB stands alone in the full service, full throttle, full on fully store that entices, inspires and entrances those that walk through their doors and envelops them in a food world of edible bewitchment and flavorful retail divinity.
Or...something like that.
Oh HEB...is there anything you can't do?
No. No there really isn't...
|Yes...more buffet style vittles!|
"So what is this HEB you speak of?"
Well, if you're not from Texas or frequent the big ol' state where Ozzy peed on the Alamo, you may not be familiar with what HEB really is.
Let me give you a quick history lesson:
|There aint nothing cheesy about fromage.|
A lady by the name of Florence Butt (yes...that's the B in HEB) opened a store called the CC Butt Grocery Store, in Kerrville, back in 1905. Pretty unfortunate name right? Well, it wasn't until her youngest son, Howard Edward (yep, that would be the H.E.) took the store over in 1919 that it began to find mild success. Thing is, ol' Howard tried to expand the shop into other locations way too soon after doing so and all of them fell flat and had to close.
But in 1927 when Howie opened a store in Del Rio, Texas, his name and his franchise began to take off. Hence the HEB started to become, well...the HEB.
Now HEB has expanded into other names and trades, yet still sticking with the service and food industry, and is worth several billion dollars in stock.
Now that's just good Texas business know how if you ask me.
|Fresh baked bread as far as the nose can smell.|
But enough of all that "business" stuff...we don't care about that. What we really love about the HEB is, well...everything else.
First off the deli counter is one of the finest I have ever witnessed and consumed. And the deli is a big thing for me. Like big.
Always staffed with friendly and skilled workers, the selection of meats and cheeses rivals any corporate name store in any town or even some of the smaller names that I pride myself to be a regular patron of.
(Apologies to any and all delis here in Tucson that start with the word 'Sausage')
The bread comes straight from the ovens of the adjacent bakery and the extensive line of product, again, is some of the best and freshest we've had.
(Again, apologies to those local bread companies that begin with Beyond and Barrio)
But check this out: They have a full service sushi counter with a sushi chef that is right there making the rolls that he/she packages up and is ready for you to take home and devour. They have this one roll, the Firecracker Roll, that is topped with, get this, flamin' hot Cheetos. And you know what? It's delicious!
I mean...c'mon. Fantastic right?
Well...we think so.
|No, really, there is a sushi chef making these...really.|
'So what', you might be telling and shrugging to yourself. So what?
Other stores have services and product like the ones I'm mentioning at the HEB. High end shops always have chefs and sommeliers at the ready to guide you into a blissful food and wine coma.
OK, fine. HEB, at least the ones that I have visited so far, does not have a sommelier nor does it need one. HEB isn't super fancy, by any means, but it is a step, or few steps, beyond the wake of most super markets, local or global.
So why do we love the HEB so much? Hmm...
It's like trying to describe how you feel when you're at a really good concert and they are playing your favorite songs or putting a new engine into some classic car you just bought from some cruster on the side of the road who was just going to junk the darn thing or that feeling of driving that car once it's up and running and cruising along the coast as all eyes enviously watch you and your magic rig glide happily across the surface of a wind swept, ocean kissed highway.
It's like that. Kind of.
But with food and booze.
|From the nearby rivers and right to your face.|
The best part about the HEB is that there is usually some kind of food demonstration going on. A talented cook can be found in the round kiosk towards the center of the store, grilling up and tossing together a grand heap of featured items and seasonal fare. Not only do you get to witness such badassery, but you get to interact with the cook and then sample what they are putting together all with the idea that if this person in the floppy chef's hat wearing a microphone can do it...so can you.
By the way, this meat product is on sale and you can find the olive oil on aisle 5.
To round it all off, the kiosk is surrounded with recipe cards, all filled with easy and inventive dishes, most of which end up in our never ending and always expanding book of ingredients, techniques and cooking ideas.
Thanks HEB. That Asian inspired salmon dish was just delightful...
|Texas loves them some meat...like, they love them some meat.|
Here's the thing:
We need an HEB here in Tucson. Why you may ask? Because.
Because we just do.
AJ's is fine but way too pricey and a bit out of the way. Basha's is alright but would be better if it had regular food demonstrations and an area dedicated to bacon jam and locally jarred pickles (as does the HEB has). Food City is the absolute favorite of ours but the one in our neighborhood, midtown, corner of 1st Ave. and Ft. Lowell, closed down and is being primed for demolition.
You know what's being built in its stead?
A "Neighborhood" Walmart.
Yeah. You heard right.
Another stinking Walmart.
|Local products stocked mile high.|
You know what would be amazing at the corner of 1st Ave. and Ft. Lowell? That's right...
Sure a Neighborhood Walmart is going to do well in that spot...heck, anything at this point is a welcome addition to that scrub of a pocked marked parking lot. That old Food City has been shut down and sitting dead for over a year now and is a constant reminder of all the good times we had there from years past. It's going to be nice to see that area come back to life, even if it is at the hands of (blerf) frikkin' Walmart.
But an HEB. Oh, just imagine the possibilities! It would be glorious. Midtown would convert from a brokedown meth toilet to an upscale meth "spa". That questionable vicinity could be the new Foothills...or at least various nooks and crannies of Oro Valley. Okay, maybe some east side condo laden neighborhoods. Kinda.
But...you get the idea!
|Our recipe book is packed with these things.|
It is here that we start the campaign and imploring to the higher ups at the HEB:
Please come to Tucson!
No really. Texas (and certain areas in Mexico) are fine and all but none, NONE!, are a designated city of gastronomy. You know what city is the first to be honored with that distinction?
We are! Tucson!
It's too late to find a home on 1st and Ft. Lowell, but I'm sure you can find a spot, oh....anywhere else! But just be sure that you are sort of close to our neighborhood so we don't have to drive too far to get to you.
It's bad enough driving a half hour for a taco served out of a gas station. And let me tell you, that is one fine taco. But the car travel is getting silly.
So I'm sure you can find a grand location in some bulldozed central or midtown Tucson neighborhood because, believe me, you would do great here in Tucson HEB.
Sprouts? Meh. Whole Foods? So done. Trader Joes? Okay, we do like Trader Joes but...they don't sell soft shell crabs or crawdads still wriggling and pinching in the briny sea water they were caught in.
But the HEB does! Whee!
|If they came to Tucson, you'd see me doing this.|
So hear us out Tucson and those who make all the decisions at HEB:
Set up shop here in the Old Pueblo.
It's a win-win situation and you could use the expansion territory and we could use a HEB. Everyone could use an HEB. The world would be a better place with more HEBs.
But start here in Tucson.
Think about it HEB. Think about it.
For now you kids reading this will just have to travel to Kerrville to fully experience the majesty that is the HEB. Once you do, you'll want one in your neighborhood too.
Trust me here.
Thank you for reading this and thank you HEB. Thank you for just being you.
Did we mention that we love the HEB?
Because, well...we do.
|The Tucson Homeskillet loves HEB!|
Camera, Typing, Shopping and Worshiping
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Road Trip in Early August, 2016