I started my sample tour of the newly opened Fresh Market, 180 Collins Rd. NE, with pumpkin spice coffee. It is October now, after all, and the coffee was the perfect fall morning pick-me-up.

Just an hour after the grocery store opened with the official cracking of a giant wheel of Parmesan, the place was packed. I made my way through the store as best I could, munching on samples as I explored aisles loaded with organic goodies.

To accompany my coffee - after finishing the pumpkin spice sample, I filled up a full cup of Tanzanian Peaberry - I grabbed a sample of house-ground sausage and a small strip of bacon. The bacon was good, but the flavorful sausage was better. Next I moved on to a sliver of Parmesan and a cube of cheddar cheese, both also good.

I was impressed with Fresh Market's giant olive and salad bars, as well as the overflowing bakery. While examining trays of petit fours and fruit tarts, an attendant asked if I wanted to sample zucchini nut bread. I was glad I said yes.

Next I moved over to check out the lunch counter, where employees were making piles of sandwiches, salads and sushi. A sushi sample was very good, and I'll probably be back for further tasting in the future. Staff was having a hard time rolling the sushi as fast as it was being plucked from the displays, though, so I grabbed a chicken Caesar salad from the deli counter for my lunch. I also picked up a Fresh Market-brand blood orange soda.

For my co-workers, I also snagged a box of cookies from the bakery and a container of kale chips.

The cookies were good, though the flavor was like most other store-bought cookies. The "Vampire Killer" kale chips were very good and appropriately named with plenty of garlic flavor.

Fresh Market has a wide variety of such snacks, from bulk bins of things like green bean chips and dried fruit to pretzels covered in chocolate and caramel and yogurt. A less healthy bar of jars upon jars of candy will be sure to entice legions of children shopping with their parents.

My only critique of Fresh Market was that, while all of the produce seemed to be organic, very little appeared to be local. A huge display of tomatoes did offer a small section from Fairfield, but that was the only local produce I saw, even in sections like squash, which I know are widely available in Iowa right now. Produce labeled "regional" was from Michigan.

Before I left, I grabbed an almond croissant from the bakery. It was perfectly fluffy with just the right amount of powdered sugar on top.

I'll definitely be back to try more treats once the crowds die down.

The store is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Chef demonstrations and sampling will continue through Oct. 4.