What to eat at NYC’s futuristic Amazon Go stores
Go, Amazon Go!
The tech giant’s futuristic grocery stores — where Amazon account holders can “come in, take what you want and just walk out,” as its walls advertise — are suddenly everywhere. There are 26 across the US, and eight have sprung up in Manhattan since May, when the first one opened in Brookfield Place.
The New York ones are a gift from heaven for busy working stiffs who have no time to waste and who know from grim experiences that “fast-food” in Manhattan usually is anything but. All are close to, or inside, large office buildings full of Type A’s like myself with no patience for lines.
At Amazon Go, there are no waits! No crowds! No slow-moving, judgmental cashiers to sneer at the Double Stuf Oreos you chose along with KeVita Master Brew Kombucha!
If you’re people-phobic over coronavirus, Amazon Go’s for you. None of the locations I visited last week were very busy — not even at lunchtime in the Chrysler Building at teeming Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. Amazon Go at Liberty Plaza downtown was as hushed as a library. It’s the one spot free from crowds in Rockefeller Center’s tourist-trap concourse.
Here’s how it works: Before you go, you download the free Amazon Go app, which lets you sweep through the store’s turnstile. Once you’re inside, you stroll the aisles and fill a brown paper bag with whatever your stomach craves. Ceiling scanners keep track of what you’re buying. (The products vary slightly from store to store; the app tells all). Then you just . . . go. Charges billed to your Amazon account pop up as a receipt on the app five minutes later.
It’s easy. It’s also still weird for shoppers. At every location I visited, customers — even tech-savvy millennials! — seemed stumped by the concept and needed help from friendly, orange-jacket-clad managers (who were the only employees in sight).
But it’s worth a little confusion. It takes only a New York Minute at Amazon Go to buy high-quality packaged salads, sandwiches and a zillion soft drinks — the sort of quick eats I consume three days out of five while on the job, either at my desk or on the run.
For all of Amazon’s new-agey attitude, the Go outlets aren’t all that wellness-oriented or environmentally attuned. Sure, the sushi’s “sustainable.” There’s organic dried mango, as well as offerings from healthyish chains, such as Proper Foods For Life. But the shelves also groan under more sugar- and fat-bombs than you’ll find in a Bronx bodega — multi-flavored M&Ms, Cheetos Puffs, Skittles and Magnolia Bakery cupcakes.
Focus on the lunch offerings: prepared sandwiches, salads and bowls. The Pesto Zoodles with Shrimp Power Bowl ($9.99) is so nicely composed — with julienned zucchini noodles, juicy roasted tomatoes and trattoria-worthy lemon-pesto vinaigrette — that I can overlook its awful “chili” shrimp, which possesses a chemical taste that could only hail from polluted New Jersey waterways. A Korean-style salad ($8.99) with doughy breaded chicken chunks gets a nice zing from gochujang dressing, while the seared lemon-pepper tuna salad from Proper Foods ($13.95) is way above grab-and-go average, although the vinaigrette is too vinegary.
They’re not Michelin-star level, but good and bad in the same container’s par for the fast-casual course. As fast bites go, these are winners.
So: tech, check, food, check. But Amazon Go needs to work on the comfort level. Make that discomfort level. The stores look as sterile as the CAT-scan clinic. The air’s just as chilly — my fingers nearly froze at the Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street outlet before I put anything in the bag.
Small, stark seating areas at several locations have hideous orange chairs. Product aisles “remind me of the old Automats,” my friend Barbara Wagner observed, adding, “Why would I go there when there are so many more welcoming choices nearby?”
But the flaws are worth fixing. If Jeff Bezos gets around to making Amazon Go as inviting as it is efficient, it might make conventional fast-casual food stops go away — and I won’t miss them.
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