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A Visit to Penzeys in Menlo Park

Much like a visit to a neighborhood bookstore, a trip to Penzeys’ new Menlo Park store will have you happily perusing the shelves while losing all track of time.

The new store, which opened at 771 Santa Cruz Ave. in late November, is the Wisconsin-based spice giant’s first Northern California outpost.

Since opening in 1957 in Milwaukee, the company has become a mail-order phenomenon, with cooks nationwide clamoring for its more than 250 herbs, spices, and seasonings.

The Menlo Park store already seems to be a hit. When I visited on a Tuesday afternoon, about 10 customers were browsing their way through the small store. Employees behind the counter said the holidays have been quite busy, with customers loading up on spice gift assortments.

What I especially love about the store is how informative the simple displays are. You’ll find apothecary jars on each shelf, containing a large sample of the spices contained in the surrounding smaller jars for sale. On the outside of each apothecary jar is a short description of each herb or spice, where it comes from, and suggested culinary uses. Best yet, you can uncap each large jar to take a whiff of what’s inside.

A charming old-fashioned kitchen is set up in the middle of the store, displaying baking spices, and the longest vanilla beans I’ve ever seen.

I toted home a bottle of Mexican vanilla extract (per the advice of FoodGal reader, Rena Takahashi), a jar of Chinese cassia cinnamon (because FoodGal reader, Moe Rubenzahl, raved about it), a tiny jar of powdered pure wasabi (made from the real-deal rhizome, and not just colored horseradish), and some Singapore Seasoning because one sniff convinced me it would be magical in a sauce with coconut milk.

If you’re ever at a loss as to what to cook or bake next, wander over to Penzeys. You just can’t help but discover inspiration there.¬†