Rotten Tomatoes

Our man Sietsema orders Fresh Direct

The one-inch-thick porterhouse ($17.48, at $15.99 a pound) was superb—well-marbled with fat, and exceptionally tender for meat rated "Choice." I also got a rotisserie organic chicken ($9.99), which tasted steamed after I'd reheated it in the oven as instructed. The flavor of a beefsteak tomato ($1.88, origin unknown), further lessened by its having been refrigerated, was woody and bland. A ball of fresh salted mozzarella ($6.47), made at the redundantly named Fromaggio Italian Cheese in Hurleyville, New York, was better than supermarket Sargento, but fell short of the fluffy homemade product at places like Faicco's and Joe's Dairy.

I'd have to say the only real disaster in my one-box-plus-one-plastic-bag order was the bread. Since Fresh Direct offers no completely baked bread, I'd ordered a "par-baked" baguette ($1.99) which, the label said, had been half-baked in the company's Long Island City plant. The simple instructions dictated that I further bake it in a 350-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes. Well, after 10 minutes sitting in front of my computer in an adjacent room, I smelled smoke wafting out of my kitchen, and I opened the oven door to find the bottom of my baguette incinerated. Bakers usually bake their breads all the way till they're done, for obvious reasons. Imagine if you went into a restaurant and the food was only half cooked—and you were expected to finish the job.

Despite what I think, Fresh Direct is obviously doing something right: The number of trucks and volume of business have zoomed. Forbes reported last year that 150 trucks generated $200 million in sales per annum (others reported 200 trucks generating $240 million). According to Forbes, these trucks carried two million orders, encompassing 60 million items, packed in eight million boxes—that's a lot of trash! While regular supermarkets pay commercial haulers to take away their packing material, Fresh Direct gets a free ride on the city's garbage trucks. We all subsidize Fresh Direct, whether they'll deliver to us or not.

Fresh Direct in LIC
photo: Cary Conover
Fresh Direct in LIC

A Fresh Direct spokeswoman, Samantha Freeman, refused to confirm these figures. Since Fresh Direct is a privately held corporation, there is no public annual report. She did claim that Fresh Direct has serviced 30 percent of the households in those parts of Manhattan that appear on its gerrymandered map, filling over five million orders since its inception. According to her, Fresh Direct has 1,500 employees.

Based on my order, Fresh Direct groceries are good but not great. The biggest problem remains that you can't pick and choose what you're buying, something serious cooks insist on. Shopping in person for the best of this or that is also the foodie's greatest pleasure, and a quintessential urban experience. Fresh Direct diminishes the quality of life in the city, by removing consumers from the streets and replacing them with trucks, by squandering city resources, and by consciously separating shoppers according to social class—and turning the Fresh Direct class into online grocery-buying hermits. And please, Fresh Direct, stop parking in our bike lanes!

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