At the Meadow, which unveiled its new location in Nolita, at 240 Mulberry Street, at Prince Street, on September 1, the whimsical hodgepodge of specialty foods tend to fall into one of three categories: bitter, salty, or sweet. The slabs and vials of salt, small-batch bitters, and artisanal chocolates, sourced from around the world and meticulously displayed in library-like floor-to-ceiling shelves, represent the store’s future as much as they tell its pandemic story.
“I wasn’t sure, to be honest with you, that I’d be able to hold on to the company,” says founder and proprietor Mark Bitterman, who also has Meadow outposts in Portland and Tokyo. “I’ve never created a model based on zero revenue.”
The past year has included much of the bitter category: A pandemic-driven shutdown of the store’s original New York location in the West Village, its home of just over 10 years. “The biggest thing,” he says “was that our fixed costs, like rent, didn’t go away.” There’s the salty: With support from his team, Bitterman has launched the new location literally single-handedly, with an injured arm immobilized in a sling, while flying back and forth between New York and his home base of Portland, where he opened the first Meadow location in 2006. But then, there’s the sweet: The Meadow is back with a vengeance, with soon-to-open locations on both coasts. Plans have been finalized for a prime new location near Powell’s Books in Portland, while the team continues to scout locations for a second spot in New York, likely in Brooklyn, to open sometime within the next year.
In the quiet of the pandemic, he says, “I was able to think more deeply about what the Meadow was about.”
While the space in Nolita contains some new additions, like a pantry section of dry goods (think pastas and grains) and condiments, it is anchored by a familiar sight: A wall with 350 bars of artisanal, specialty chocolate from at least 75 purveyors that answer the question that Bitterman often asks himself: “Where do you go to be surprised with chocolate?”
Established names like Stephane Bonnat and Francois Pralus, famed for introducing the concept of single-origin bars in the 1990s, appear alongside relative newcomers, like the female-led Bixby from Maine, Solstice from Utah, and SOMA Chocolate from Canada, whose Old School Milk Chuao bar features three ingredients pressed into vintage mélangeur, a contraption that’s often used to grind cocoa beans, to produce a confection with a crumbly, biscuit-like texture.
“We want to have a range,” says Bitterman. “It’s really important to us to have bars that are accessible.”
Would-be Wonkas hail from all over the world, with chocolate makers from Vietnam, Iceland, and Hawaii, the only American state where cacao grows. A section showcases the handful of options from New York, like the Brooklyn-based Raaka, whose bars use unroasted beans, and Sol Cacao, a newcomer that Mr. Bitterman describes as “the only chocolate makers in the Bronx.”
From dragonfruit to sweet potato to oat milk, the chocolate varieties are comprehensive enough to include two options with Middle Eastern bread: “Pita the Bread,” a Portland-based bar infused with pita chips, dukkah, and hazelnuts, or Mirzam’s dark chocolate laced with ultra-thin ragag bread from the United Arab Emirates.
Every part of the bean is fair game. “Let me briefly explain to you the most insane product I have ever developed,” reads a note from Domantas Uzpalis, a Lithuanian chocolatier who describes how he takes cacao pulp, the white placenta-like substance that surrounds the cacao bean, and freeze dries it into a spongy, meringue-like confection that is encased in the bar.
For purists, at least 20 bars contain 100 percent cacao — good for taste testing across the brands, says Kelsey Sheppard, a salesperson whose encyclopedic knowledge of the goods makes her something of a chocolate sherpa, offering guided recommendations tailored to individual preferences.
The store is kept at a humidity-free 67 degrees to prevent “anything that messes with the cocoa butter lattice,” says Bitterman. “The chocolate will not go bad between the maker and us.”
And like any true connoisseur, he has a specialty reserve as part of his private collection. “I’ve got a couple cases that I’ve been cellaring, like a wine,” says Bitterman. “It’s a Valrhona Chuao bar from 2003.”
For all the chocolate talk, it is salt that has made Bitterman’s name and that continues to bear it. After authoring a James Beard Award-winning cookbook on the mineral, he launched an eponymous brand that’s grown to about 100 varieties of salt that can be categorized as cooking, finishing, and flavored (dill, truffle, wasabi), and limited edition, with rare black volcanic kala namak from India as a particular source of pride. Next to a sign at the store’s entrance that tells shoppers to “throw away your table salt!,” salt slabs larger than coffee table books function as serving trays.
Despite disruptions to the supply chain — “Salt has been the worst! We’ve had containers and pallets sitting in foreign ports,” says Bitterman — the shop still offers its monthly subscriptions, which allow customers to receive mystery boxes of salt or chocolate by mail.
And in an homage to the store’s namesake, buckets of fresh-cut flowers are sold by the stem. But for the store’s legion of diehard followers, getting a hold of a rare chocolate bar, one that might not be available anywhere else in New York, is what feels like things are coming up roses.