Nicole’s in South Pas

Jun 23, 2013

NicolesSouthPas_PhotobyKatWardAYou may think of Nicole’s as a great place to have a Croque Monsieur (or a Croque Nicole!), or to pick up a thick slice of Pâté de Campagne and thin slices of prosciutto to go along with a crusty baguette.

But have you looked between the shelves? Have you ventured past the tables, the display counter that lures you with lusciousness, and into the short aisles crammed with a cornucopia of ingredients to discover that difficult to find ingredient or try something outside of your comfort zone?

It’s well worth the visit.

Let us tempt you.


Nicole’s first started as a little “hole in the wall” on Allen Avenue that attracted Caltech students, teachers, and administrators. After 5 years, it was time for something bigger and the trek was made to South Pasadena. Why South Pas? Nicole says that the idea of Nicole’s Gourmet Foods didn’t fit into Old Pasadena; she felt the area wasn’t ready for a specialty foods store. But South Pas was “very underdeveloped” with only a few food establishments up and running. She found a small space just south of Mission Street on Meridian Avenue, right in the heart of the Thursday evening farmers market. At the time, Nicole also knew that the Metro was coming and would bring in customers, and was surprised that rather than customers, it brought two years of noise, dirt, and dust. Nevertheless, Nicole came to love South Pasadena. “Ninety percent of our customers, we know,” she says. “Children who first came in with their parents, now bring in their girlfriends and boyfriends.”

Begun as a grocery store, a wholesaler, and a specialty food store, customers soon started asking, hinting, suggesting, then clamoring for prepared foods. Though her son thought the idea was crazy, Nicole was intrigued. Why not give it a try, she thought. So she increased the shop’s square footage, built a kitchen, and opened up the cafe. Now she feels that perhaps it’s taking over and she’s about to rearrange the space by more properly dividing the cafe from the market, to give the goods their due. And that’s why we’d come by. To focus more fully on the mysteries between the shelves.


Fifteen different vinegars line the entry shelves. You can choose balsamic vinegars that are 25, 50, and 100 years old, supplied by the same outfit that Nicole’s been using for twenty years. There are eight different types of olive oils, two of which are walnut and hazelnut oils from Huilerie Vernoilaise. We’d give you more background but their website has no English translation, though we were able to decipher that the company was established in 1946, just after the war, by Monsieur Clément Lorieux, and we believe it reads that they now have 30 different assortments of oils to choose from, mais nous ne pouvons pas être positifs.


Nicole’s has black ink pasta. They’ve got creamy French heirloom Tarbais beans, which is perfect for using in cassoulet (i.e. comfort food). With their warehouse in Alhambra, they don’t keep everything on site, but if you’re looking for something specific, Nicole encourages customers to ask, because they may well have it. She strives to keep her products selective and interesting. And as people have gotten into more healthy cooking, Nicole has brought in more grains and beans like basmati and bamboo rice, quinoa and Le Puy lentils, and Calypso and Apaloosa beans.



Nicole’s also has a great assortment of dried mushrooms…


…and spices…


Wonderful condiments for cheese, a large selection of honeys, and gold medal jams.


For desserts, Nicole carries savory or sweet tart shells and boats, which she says are fantastic. She carries a slew of different chocolates like Grue de Cacao and milk caramel chocolate Dulcey…


Flavorless gelatin sheets are great for baking and thickening sauces…


Nicole’s selection of cheeses is extensive, and even more in their warehouse. (Nicole’s son is the cheese guru, importing their cheeses). Below is some Bleu D’Auvergne: “The smell is strong and attests to its pungent taste: grasses and wild flowers. The pâte is uncooked and not pressed, with a sticky, moist, and crumbly texture and veins of blue mold.”



St. Maure: pasteurized logs that are “received into the caves young, fresh, and wet. They emerge drier, denser, and with a fine grey-blue coat of edible mold. Their flavors remain young and slightly acidic, but are buttery and smooth.”


And of course, the indispensable baguette, perfect for helping cheese get to your mouth…


Or a fresh croissant…Nicoles_croissant_PhotobyKatWard

Nicole thinks that the gift area of the shop is a bit of a mess, though we wouldn’t characterize it that way. There are some great kitchen cloths that always arrive with new designs, glassware, table and kitchenware, books (many by our local favorite publisher of beautiful, informative, entertaining and funny books, Prospect Park Books) and these beautiful Basque tablecloths…


Of course, we can’t finish without just a bit more temptation…


How about a close up? Passion Fruit Meringue…


Apricot Tart with almond cream and Moka Cake…


Pear tatin…


Or, maybe a jar of raspberry, orange, lemon, or lavender hard candies?


Have we managed to tempt you? We hope so.

Nicole’s Market and Café
921 Meridian Ave., Unit B, South Pasadena 91030
Mon.-Wed., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Thurs., 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Fri. & Sat., 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.





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