Entremet: Spice girl

Most grocery stores carry a large selection of pre-packed condiments and spices. But freshness and quality can only be tasted once you open the sealed glass jars; in other words, after you buy the product. Stores like Whole Foods offer some condiments in bulk, but usually just the most popular.

In Europe, you can still find authentic spice shops filled with popular and hard-to-find ingredients. Entering one of these stores is like going back in time and traveling the world through an infinite blend of aromas; jar after jar.

In the heart of Greenwich Village you can find one of these stores. Aphrodisia opened its doors on April fools, 1969 and, in a rare example of independence, stayed afloat and relevant until this day. Thanks to Joanne Pelletiere who since founding the store remained actively managing it–constantly looking for the best purveyors and establishing one-to-one relationships with her customers.

The homey atmosphere is genuine. No faux antique labels or fussy interior design. Everything is real. In between the jars, old culinary books and a myriad of curious objects accumulated over 40 years.

Joanne describes her business as “A complete experience in herbs and oils that encompasses all types of uses, from culinary to fragrance.” She personally selects the herbs that fill the store’s countless glass jars. “Bee pollen comes from Colorado because it’s the best tasting I ever tried” –she says, explaining the reason for not simply buying locally. Specialty teas come fresh from Chinese masters she has established enduring relationships with. Seasonal offerings like chili peppers are sold only when in season. It’s all about freshness.

There’s no shortage of spices, herbs and essential oils to choose from. Exotic spices like galangal and asafoetida can be found next to the more common rosemary and thyme. But over 20 types of chili and several varieties of cinnamon may put indecisive shoppers on a tough spot. If that’s your case, don’t be afraid to ask.

Despite selling to visitors from all around the world, Aphrodisia is, in many ways, a neighborhood store. While locals chitchatted outside on a sunny Saturday afternoon, a customer walked in to buy tea. After a brief conversation about his preferences, Joanne perused the wall-to-wall shelves that surround the long room adding a handful of herbs to a small bag. The customer was given a one of a kind tea blend, created just for him. Pelletiere recognizes the importance of taking care of her customers with a great deal of attention and personal service.

As I was leaving the store, I noticed 2 cats sunbathing on the warm rays that came through the front window. “They are the most important things in this store”–she said as the well-fed cats lay there in clear appreciation of her attentive customer service.

Aphrodisia is at 264 Bleecker St, New York.

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