It’s a sign of how things have changed in the New Orleans area that the corner of Airline and Clearview now hosts an Ideal Market. This is prime real estate for a retailer in Metairie, at least as far as I can figure. I’m no expert, but I drive by that intersection pretty frequently, and I can count. That’s a lot of traffic, y’all.

My personal Ideal Market (when I’m not shopping at Norma’s) has, to this point, been the one at 250 South Broad St., which is great, but nothing like the new joint.

The next time you shop at a Winn Dixie, Target, Rouse’s or Wal-Mart, look up. You’ll notice that the ceiling is very high. I’m sure there are other reasons for it, but with my amateur’s eye for architecture, I’ll posit that part of the reason for the high ceilings is to create a more open, welcoming space for customers. You feel more at ease when there’s not a bunch of ductwork within five feet of your head.

So this new Ideal Market, with its high ceilings, neon lights and wide aisles is a pretty fantastic space. What’s better is that it has an even bigger selection of items that for too long were difficult to find in New Orleans. If you look at the store from above, as a large rectangle, one side offers baked goods and cooked meats; the back wall is fruits and vegetables, the other side is where you can find seafood and meat, including pre-marinated or seasoned versions of each. The middle of the store is where you’ll find canned goods, cleaning products and the refrigerated/frozen items.

Pretty standard stuff, if you pay attention when you’re in the grocery. What’s different here, again, is that a lot of the products would be more familiar if you grew up in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico (which is the last place in Mexico I visited a grocery).

Why should you go? Go for the tortillas, for one. Corn or wheat, they’re made in-house and they’re excellent; just remember that like good bread, fresh tortillas will not last as long as the ones you can buy on the supermarket shelves next to Wonderbread. You may also find chile peppers, fresh or dried, that you’ve never tasted, or herbs like culantro (a cousin of cilantro) with which you’re not familiar. There are cheeses and other products made from cream that you will almost certainly not see in most supermarkets.

 In my experience, the bakery at Ideal Market is good if you have a serious sweet tooth, and the prepared foods are usually excellent, too. I’ve become addicted to the breakfast sandwiches at Norma’s, and you can find the same sort of thing at Ideal; whether in a tortilla or a small loaf of bread that looks like a pistolette, the filling is refried beans, crema (similar to sour cream), eggs (cooked with or without meat and/or vegetables) and some sort of sausage or cured meat. Now and again they’ll have fresh slices of avocado to add, along with a few grating of a salty white cheese. Put it all together, and you have a fantastic, filling breakfast.

I do not speak Spanish fluently, and there have been times (all of the times) where I am hesitant to use my less than perfect accent and inability to conjugate verbs with native speakers. I have learned two things: a) if you genuinely try, people appreciate it; and b) most folks at Ideal Market speak English reasonably well, or at least better than I speak Spanish. But even if your communication is limited to pointing and grunting, it will be worth the effort.

Check out the newest Ideal Market 4421 Airline Highway Drive.