This little food business, Eat Boutique, emerged from a few wild passions.
It’s a fact that I love small-business food made in smaller batches; I’ve been endorsing the very best makers and purveyors across the globe for more than seven years. I also adore all things retail, from the well-curated shop of curiosities down the street to the big food-hall style markets that dot this country and this planet. Shopping online is wonderful and critical to folks who live in places where indie food isn’t all that accessible. But after hosting more than 12,000 guests at real world pop-up markets and boutiques, I’m also totally realistic.
Quite simply, there are those moments when only in-real-life browsing will do — you want to touch, smell, see, and taste the object of your desire up close and personal. You may want to hear a product’s story directly from the maker or just munch on the freshest regional cuisine wherever you travel. In all those cases, I’ve got you covered with “Food Gift Love Travels” — a new semi-regular feature here. You can follow my actual #foodgiftlovetravels on Instagram, too.
Every now and then, I’ll write about my favorite retail food markets (and why). I’ll share foodstuff details and why a certain market is worth the trek. The key principle I seek is authenticity. I want to feel like a market is crafted with the sincerest intention to share the very best there is, and not just duplicate the local grocery store offerings for profits alone. I search for a message with real meaning, and I think you do, too.
I spent the spring in one of the most verdant lands on this planet, the tiny country of Ireland. I drove across 2,700 kilometers (nearly 1,700 miles!) and since I’ve yet to share the inside scoop on that gorgeous geography, let’s talk about the most award-winning retail and food experience in that country, Avoca.
Avoca is an Irish family-run business that bridges one of the world’s oldest surviving (wool) manufacturing companies with a modern day retail and food market. It’s jam-packed with everything from their famous wool blankets and throws to fashion, indie food, giftware, restaurants, and cafes. They’ve grown from an artisan company started in the 1700s to a family of four siblings (and their parents) who source from other artisan companies, gathering all under one roof into a fairly dynamic retail experience.
There are more than 10 Avoca locations across the emerald isle. Wow, right?! I visited three spots and adore the original Kilmacanogue Store, set on the old Jameson (of whiskey fame!) estate. It houses a retail and food experience, as well as two cafes with terraces, a garden and nursery, and Avoca’s headquarters.
The best parts:
A) Everything inside one shop: There is literally everything you’d want inside these four walls. As a visitor, I managed to secure most of my souvenirs in one, drawn-out visit. I picked up everything from scarves and kitchen towels, to sweet and savory food, glassware, and even gardening necessities like local seeds for hard-to-find produce.
B) The indie food: The food market side of this department-size store is filled with both indie and big historic business food, with a focus on beautiful packaging, reputable brands, and really delicious sweets. I returned home with so many eclectic food gifts like pure Celtic sea salt, hand-crafted chocolate bars, Irish-roasted coffee beans, Irish candy (like a corn-syrup free nougat), and even apple orchard syrup (made in the next county over). There are also loads of products shipped in from the United Kingdom.
C) The restaurant: The restaurant was a refreshing change from all the fish and chips we practically inhaled across the country. The only thing that cures fried fish and chips for several days straight is a big bowl of fresh, crisp-cooked vegetables — really! I was so ready for a bowl of greens, squash, fruit, and the freshest breads. Also, after my travel mate (the husband!) foolishly endured two burgers in little village pubs hoping for a taste of home, the burger at Avoca was most definitely the best burger he had in Ireland. Keep in mind that restaurants cannot legally cook burgers anywhere near rare in Ireland, but the meat was sourced locally and raised well.
You can’t leave without:
Avoca’s baked goods have a reputation that follow them from town to town, and the fresh meringues with spring’s first berries hit the spot. Dusted with a little cocoa and surrounded by a puddle of raspberry sauce, this dessert was such a delight.
After you dine there, don’t leave without a small tub of pure Irish sea salt. The little tub I purchased from Achill Island was hand-harvest in County Mayo and actually had a Gmail address on the label, in case I wanted to email for more details, as one does. Actually, as I always do!
The final word:
You can’t visit Ireland without hitting an Avoca. Save the sight for the end of your trip, when you can finish all your souvenir shopping in one swoosh through the big shop. Stay for a nosh in their urban cafe, filled with some of the freshest food in the little country. And make sure to get one of your purchases wrapped in their darling red-and-white branded tissue paper; it makes for instant gift wrap once home!
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is now focused on opening her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: Recipes That Revamped My Pantry & Made Me Love Me, At Last, will be published by Roost Books/Penguin Random House in 2019. Her first cookbook, Food Gift Love, features more than 100 food gift recipes to make, wrap, and share and is available wherever you find favorite cookbooks.