Net Cost Market is the best supermarket that you’ve never heard of

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

It's the place that could very well pose a serious threat to both Whole Foods and Di Bruno Bros. if it were just a little closer to the city's more cosmopolitan center.

There is an underground network of food lovers who pride themselves on being able to share secrets. They tell one another where to get unpasteurized cheeses, a secret source for fennel pollen or who has the best selection of caviar at prices that aren't going to require taking out a second mortgage. Those in the know are aware that Net Cost Market, a Northeast Philadelphia outpost of a Brooklyn chain, is the destination for that last one.

Located in an unassuming area of Bustleton, the first Philly area Net Cost has been quietly serving the city's Russian community for the past 10 years. It's situated in a strip mall, one of many in the expansive Northeast, and is filled with under-the-radar culinary gems.

The story of Net Cost starts back in 1991 when founder Sam Shnayder and his family opened up shop in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Since then, the idea of opening a grocery catering to Russians and Eastern Europeans has expanded into nine stores that embody a way of shopping that is entirely international.

A second Philadelphia Net Cost opened on April 28 at the Bluegrass Shopping Center, just off of Welsh Road and near the Northeast Airport. From Turkish delight to D'Artagnan ducks and an expansive hot and cold food bar, it's the place that could very well pose a serious threat to both Whole Foods and Di Bruno Bros. if it were just a little closer to the city's more cosmopolitan center.

Andrey Malkin, co-owner, vice president and global buyer for Net Cost, is clear in his vision for the chain. "We're not just your typical mom and pop Russian market," he says. He's intent on introducing a new, more European idea of shopping. "We're strong on produce. We have yogurts from Europe, jams from England and chocolates from Belgium."

He sees Net Cost as one of the city's hidden food secrets.

Peter Markov, the affable store manager at the Bluegrass location, is the market's unofficial ambassador. As he walks down the aisles of the new location, he explains that it took years for the Bustleton store to attract a wider base of customers. (Bustleton's Net Cost will remain open.)

The new store's produce section has everything from tiny guavas to Champagne grapes, ugli fruit, a garden's worth of fresh herbs and tiny green plums called alchas. Markov explains that the goal of Net Cost is for people from all over the world to come in and find something familiar, something that brings them back to their childhood.

As a self-professed "grocery guy," Markov is more than happy to field requests. "Anyone can come into the store and ask, 'Why don't you guys carry that?' and we'll try and get it in as soon as possible."

Walking past a refrigerated wall of pickles, Markov explains that aside from the more familiar cucumber varieties, pickles can be a hard sell to non- Eastern European customers.

"Americans, they're not used to that kind of stuff, it's very hard to introduce them to our Russian pickles, " he said. "At Bustleton, they sell a lot. But here it's kind of small. It takes time for everyone to come here, notice it and say maybe I'll try it. When they try it, they like it."

In a neighborhood where Acme and Giant are the go-to grocery chains, Net Cost isn't necessarily the easiest sell.

"Some people come here and try to compare us to Giant and that's comparing apples to oranges because it's something different, and that's not what we're trying to offer," Markov says.

What Net Cost is offering is an unparalleled selection of groceries that ranges from show-stopping pastries to pristine fresh fish, a tea aisle that reads like the roll call for a U.N. meeting and, maybe most important, a willingness to share the bounty that they've accrued.

Moving on to the deli counter, Markov points out a salami shaped like a piglet.

"Most of the meats, Americans have never seen, ever," he says, looking over a serious selection of Russian bolognas, frankfurters, smoked hams and sausages. "Anybody who comes here, if they're curious — it doesn't mean that you have to buy — you can try anything. Anything from the open case, anything from the deli, smoked meats, even caviar."

There are juices that would make the cold-pressed set's collective head spin. (Seriously, when's the last time you've seen sea buckthorn juice?) Also on the shelves are mineral waters, tarragon-flavored sodas, kvass, (a sparkling drink made from fermented rye) and an entire section devoted to kombucha.

It would be easy to go on and on about Net Cost's inventory, but the best way to experience the market in all of its glory is to make the trip out to the Northeast and go shopping. They're going to be hosting an official grand opening party on Saturday, June 13, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., complete with giveaways, DJs and a pelmeni (Russian ravioli) eating contest.

Net Cost Market // 2417 Welsh Rd., 215-7953773, Hours: Mon. - Sat., 9a.m.-9p.m., Sun., 9a.m.-8p.m.

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