With aisles that can be as clogged as its parking lot, WinCo (636 Harris St., Eureka) is not for the weak. But for the strong and the willing, the employee-owned supermarket is a universally acknowledged deal. Solid fish counter, busy bakery, bulk bins for days (a barrel of giant jawbreakers!) and nobody notices if you shop in your pajama pants. We crowd-sourced and cruised the shelves for beloved staples and new finds. Sadly, the jars of taramosalata are no more (RIP, Greek cod roe dip) but there was still plenty to bag up.
Vegetable chips. I may never accept kale chips but openly embrace the sweet, audibly crunchy green beans and whole okra (bite a dry spear and marvel at the return of its sliminess). It's like the freeze-dried astronaut food of your youthful imagination. Are you concerned about reaching into a bin into which tiny hands may have strayed? (I see you, child by the yogurt pretzels.) Relax, no child in the history of supermarket snacking has ever snuck a green bean.
Gummies with zip. There are bins and bins of gummy candy, but on the endcap closest to the fish counter you'll find dusted tamarind gummy bears and spicy chamoya gummy worms ($2.48 per pound). The former is earthy and tangy, and the latter is like the deliciously lurid fruit cup with the tart and spicy sauce all over it but in a form that allows you to eat it in a dark theater or one-handed at your desk.
Ahi tuna cubes. A frozen mosaic of deep pink cubes thaws out for easy homemade Hawaiian poke ($8.14). Yes, you can slice it half thawed yourself but this is so much easier and deeply soothing to those of us who value perfect uniformity a little too much. It's wild-caught in Vietnam and is also lovely seared and skewered with toothpicks for a low-effort/high reward appetizer.
Fried chicken. I love supermarket fried chicken and only God will judge me. WinCo's is perfectly greasy, with a lovely seasoned crust and savory, glistening meat within. A 12-piece box of legs and thighs (do you really want the white meat — really?) is $9.98. If I close my eyes, I can hear the pieces tumbling into the metal tray when a new batch comes out of the fryer and it gives me peace. Speaking of chicken ...
Salt and vinegar wings. The sharp bite of the crusty wing is the perfect foil for the juicy, fatty meat of these hefty drumettes and flats. Perhaps the greatest VIP moment of my life was ordering a box of them for pick up and rolling up to the counter to be handed a white cardboard package with the words "Fill this with vinegar wings for Jenn" written on the side. I had arrived. Try the lemon pepper, too. They won't even stain your face and fingers like Buffalo.
Deep cuts from the meat department. Fans of modestly priced tri-tip and marinated carne asada swarm the refrigerated shelves but few shops can match its stock of tripe, pork feet and beef marrow bones. Ask somebody in a white coat and he or she will cheerfully find you the offal or odds and ends you seek. And hey, a whole beef heart rings up at a mere $2.84.
Cookie butter. The delicate two-packs of caramel Lotus Biscoff cookies once scarce outside of airplane carts is smoothed into a creamy spread ($3.81). Put it on toast or put a schmear between a couple of cookies for some cookie-on-cookie action. Why yes, it does come in chunky. And for a slightly spicier version with crispy cookie granules, its cousin the Roland Speculoos Cookie Butter Spread is right there on the shelf, too ($3.27).
Muffins. The artificial green pistachio ones, about which I mercilessly hazed our intern who ate them daily, turn out to be fantastic. (My bad, Sam.) But the even-crumbed almond poppy, double chocolate and blueberry are all solid duplicates of the squat industrial kitchen-born manna that you have always loved. The six-pack is $3.98 but you can get an individual muffin, its top pressed against the package like the nose of a curious child, for 98 cents.
Armenian pastry. The full line of Eurobake goodies is worth your exploration but start with the nazook ($5.58), folded pastries with crumbly vanilla filling that tastes almost like almond and will speak to your inner Nana. They are perfect with tea and transformed into soft, bready delights by a few seconds in the microwave — the package suggests 20 but that's volcanic madness unless Armenian microwaves are crazy weak.
Roasted garlic sourdough. PSA for established devotees: These speckled sliced loaves have moved and are now facing the checkout lines ($2.98). The white interior is soft and perfectly elastic, while the pebbled crust is chewy and dotted with fragrant, nutty minced garlic. Step up your sandwich game, serve it with soup or eat it toasted with butter, slice after slice.
BONUS: Cake parfait. Were you dumped via Instagram? Have you been watching cable news all night? The WinCo bakery offers you succor without judgement in the form of its cake parfait, a cup layered with pieces of Hershey's chocolate cake, fluffy frosting and fudge ($2.48). It's a careful dosage to get you through — you just need a spoon and some privacy during this difficult time.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or Jennifer@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.