Central Texas has a new low-cost grocery store that should be on your radar.
The German-based Aldi opened earlier this month in Pflugerville. There are already 1,600 Aldi stores around the country; this is the first in the Austin area. The chain is in the middle of a major U.S. expansion that will add nearly 1,000 stores by 2022, but so far, this is the only store planned for Central Texas.
Southwest Missouri is rarely ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to food trends, and yet I grew up near an Aldi. But until last week, I hadn’t been to one in years, even though there are locations in College Station, Killeen and Temple.
So, is it worth driving from Austin (or elsewhere) to Pflugerville to shop? If you live in Pflugerville, is it worth battling the lines? Here are 10 takeaways from my visit:
- Prices are cheap. I haven’t seen a giant container of coffee for less than $5 in a decade, but you’ll find 30 ounces of ground coffee for $4.79 at Aldi, nearly $2 less than the similar container of Hill Country Fare coffee at H-E-B.
- You’ll need a quarter to use a cart. I didn’t have a quarter, so I decided just to use my reusable bags and not buy more than I could carry around the store. You get the quarter back when you return the cart, but it’s a small annoyance shoppers will have to get used to. You can buy paper and plastic reusable bags at the checkout stand if you need them.
- It’s not all canned goods and random boxed meals. The produce, meat and dairy sections have expanded significantly since the Aldi days of my childhood. The cheapest eggs will set you back 79 cents, 20 cents less than you’ll find in most stores. A gallon of the most basic milk costs $1.59, compared with $1.88 at H-E-B.
- The quality of the goods, so far, has been pretty good, but I know enough about the food chain to know that a store can’t sell food for this price if they are using top-of-the-line ingredients. Many, many American shoppers, however, are not as concerned with pesticides and GMOs and animal welfare as your typical Whole Foods shopper might be. If you don’t like one of the Aldi brands, however, they’ll refund your money and replace it, if there’s a similar item in stock.
- Expect lines. A cashier said it’s been nutty ever since the store opened. I was there at 2 p.m. on a weekday, and there were lines to check out and people running into each other in the aisles.
- Have fun spotting the knockoff package designs. At Aldi, you’ll see names like “Boulder” instead of “Bounty” on a package of paper towels, and you’ll pick up a brick of cream cheese and swear it’s Philadelphia brand, until you realize that it’s not. The in-house design team has spent countless hours trying to mimic the look of the most familiar grocery brands in America, and having nearly fallen for the fake Shiner beer, I’m surprised they aren’t facing a bunch of lawsuits.
- Beer and wine are for sale, including some traditional brands. Just don’t get fooled by the knockoff packaging, like that Broegel bock beer. Not to say that it’s not good, but plenty of people will think they are buying Shiner until they get home and look more closely at the bottle.
- Go there for deals, but get there early. Aldi is known for having at least one major sale item each week, but I heard several shoppers looking for on-sale items that were already sold out. “We get four trucks a day,” the cashier told one shopper. “We don’t know what’s in those trucks, but they come early, so if you want to get an advertised deal, come early.”
- The store is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, and they’ll be closed on Thanksgiving. It’s located at 1415 FM 685 in Pflugerville, near the intersection of East Pflugerville Parkway and FM 685 that’s also home to a Walmart Supercenter.
Sweet potatoes, black beans round out beloved weeknight chili
Some dishes come so naturally that you take them for granted. I’ve made this chili more than probably any other dish I’ve cooked for my kids, yet I haven’t taken the time to write the recipe down for the family recipe book, much less share it in the paper.
Chili purists will scoff not only at the beans but also the coconut oil and the sweet potatoes and probably the garam masala, too. It’s OK. I understand their passion for Terlingua-style no-bean, no-tomato chili, but that doesn’t have nearly enough nutritional oomph for a weeknight family dinner.
With the beans (kidney and black beans are ideal, but any mixture will work) and the sweet potato, you’ll get full on more than just meat and spices, and you can use the leftovers to make empanadas. We like to eat it topped with everything but the kitchen sink — sour cream, shredded cheese, Fritos, cilantro, onions — but I’ll leave that part up to you.
Addie’s Weeknight Chili
Use any canned tomato that you’d like; even leftover marinara sauce works. I sometimes throw in a can of tomato paste or masa to thicken and intensify the flavors and texture. Some of you might like chili with 3 tablespoons of chili powder, but I tend to play it safe on the spiciness for the sake of the kids.
A final note: Try garam masala in your favorite chili recipe, if you haven’t already. With notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, it adds a sweet smokiness to the already cumin-spiced chili. With the sweet potatoes, black beans and coconut oil, it’s a match made in heaven.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups peeled, chopped sweet potatoes
1 1/2 lb. ground meat (beef, pork, lamb, bison or combination)
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 (15.25-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
2 cups water (or beer or stock or a combination)
In a large pot with a heavy bottom, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sweet potatoes. Cook, stirring often, until the sweet potatoes have softened, about 15 minutes. Take the sweet potato and onion mixture out of the pot and add the meat. As you brown the meat, add the spices and stir often. When the meat has cooked, add the sweet potato mixture, the beans and tomatoes to the pot. Stir well and then add two cups of water or another liquid. Simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour and serve. Garnish with sour cream, cheese, avocado, Fritos, saltines, cilantro, onion or whatever other chili toppings you like.
— Addie Broyles
$50,000 in grants up for grabs through Austin Food & Wine Alliance
For six years, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance has given away tens of thousands of dollars to local food businesses and nonprofits, and this year, it’ll be giving away the biggest amount yet.
Last year, the organization gave away $27,500 to five local groups. Now, it is planning to award $50,000 in grants at a ceremony in early February. Chefs, farmers, winemakers, food artisans and nonprofits are invited to apply through Dec. 1. You can find the form at austinfoodwinealliance.org.
The alliance distributes the awards based on innovation and impact in the community. Past recipients include Argus Cidery, Confituras, SRSLY Chocolate and Keep Austin Fed, a bootstrapped nonprofit that diverts food waste from Austin restaurants and grocery stores to feed the city’s hungry. The alliance also hosts an annual culinary arts career conference for local high school students, and the grants are funded by the Austin Food & Wine Festival and events like the upcoming Wine & Swine Annual Pig Roast on Nov. 19 at Camp Mabry. Tickets are available online.