I gave up on in-person grocery shopping a long time ago. My day job at Serious Eats requires a lot of cooking, and grocery shopping in New York City — even without the backdrop of a global pandemic — is chaotic. But once the pandemic hit, it seemed everyone was suddenly grocery shopping online, and, just like that, my beloved three-hour Instacart delivery windows from Fairway and Wegmans turned into a three-week delivery desert.
That’s when a friend told me about Local Porter. The newish retailer is part of a cadre of online marketplaces that now sell groceries and specialty ingredients directly from restaurant suppliers to consumers. Co-founder Brian Bush began his career working in restaurants like Jean-Georges and Uchi — “porter” was the title for the very first position he held — and then moved into restaurant technology, building a platform to help restaurants manage their supplier relations. When the pandemic hit and restaurants all but closed, Bush realized the only way those suppliers would stay afloat would be by pivoting to selling to consumers. So he teamed up with a former colleague of his, marketing professional Sarah Rachmiel, and the concept that would become Local Porter was born. (The friend who first told me about it is Rachmiel’s brother.)
While I was initially drawn in by the premise that my shopping would support small restaurant suppliers instead of big food brands, I have returned to Local Porter again and again (and again) because I am always delighted by what I receive in each delivery. Local Porter is very selective about its partners (it only works with suppliers that are transparent about sourcing and ethical standards) and, in essence, selects the ingredients it sells the same way chefs choose the ingredients they want to cook with. And at a time when even the most capable of at-home cooks are having trouble getting creative in the kitchen, I find the stuff I buy from Local Porter gets me genuinely excited to step behind a stove. The service has transformed my quarantine cooking from a tedious must-do into a tasty extracurricular that’s also educational, because it has inspired me to try new recipes (the site even provides a few of its own) in addition to perfecting favorites.
Some of my favorite things to cook with from Local Porter are Casa de Case’s Italian imports. The sun-dried cherry tomatoes, for example, are the brightest, most flavorful gems. I toss them into salads, pop them onto homemade pizzas like vegan pepperoni pieces, and put them in frittatas and omelets. Oftentimes, I’ll also just eat them as a snack because they’re that fantastic. I also love the items from Salumi Chicago, including the ’nduja, a cured-pork-and-Calabrian-chile creation that can add funky, salty flavor to just about anything. (I have been known to just toss chunks of it into jarred sauces to give them a more homemade quality and also to toss chunks of it into mac and cheese to make it even more savory.) Salumi Chicago’s beef bresaola — which is aged for 110 days and then hand-cured — is another favorite; I’ve been using it to put together charcuterie boards that me and my non-pork-eating fiancé can snack on. (Not your typical supermarket meat, Salumi Chicago products are used by some of that city’s best local chefs, including Grant Achatz of Alinea.)
In addition to regional and international delicacies, you can buy bulk pantry staples, like Casa de Case’s 11-pound supply of chickpeas or five-liter can of olive oil (I’ve had the same can for what seems like months now; it’s delicious drizzled over bread or for sautéing veggies) and even ground beef from small, eco-conscious farmers. And, like a favorite grocery store, Local Porter always seems to find new treats I never knew I needed, like a peach hot sauce and lemongrass powder I’m planning to add to a future cart. You can even buy an entire wheel of cheese.
For all its draws, Local Porter does have a few setbacks, the biggest being that it is not going to have every single item on your grocery list — it stocks no produce, for example. While most items are available to ship nationwide, some things, like the bulk ground beef I mentioned above, are only available for delivery in certain areas. (Shipping, however, is free on orders over $65.) And since every item comes from an individual supplier, your delivery will come in different shipments at different times. But I actually like to think of this last thing as a positive, because every order I place arrives in the form of little gifts throughout the month.
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