You know you’re in Lidl, the European-based bargain-price food store, when a fellow customer helps you figure out how to use the self-service bakery.
And you have no trouble following along.
Bargain-price leader Aldi may have a German name, but Lidl (it rhymes with needle) feels more European. While you need to bring your own bag or buy one for 99 cents, you don’t need a quarter to get a shopping cart. With wide aisles and big windows, it doesn’t feel cut-rate.
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Even though Lidl’s North American expansion has slowed, including a planned location on South Boulevard, Charlotte shoppers got lucky: With stores already open in Indian Land/Fort Mill, Gastonia, Rock Hill and Shelby, we’re surrounded.
Is it worth the trip? It is if you’re in a party mood. I asked Facebook followers to tell me what they buy at Lidl and drove to the location near Fort Mill, 9990 Charlotte Highway, to check it out.
Like Aldi, Lidl has the usual grocery selections (frozen and canned vegetables, cereal and a wide center aisle of random household goods), but it’s the specialty food that makes it fun.
1. Bakery. There’s a reason they put it at the front of the store: It’s the best part. Since it’s completely self-service, grab a bag and tissue paper, choose whatever quantity you want, then use a kiosk to print your own label. (Keep things in separate bags, to make the labeling easier.) Pro tip: If you spot things like brioche, loaf bread, pretzels and the legendary croissants, grab them. The bins empty fast and get refilled slowly.
Get: Croissants. At 49 cents each, they’re large, crispy and flaky. (At Fresh Market, a single croissant is $1.49.) There are also specialty croissants, like chocolate hazelnut, for 99 cents. Also grab: Long baguettes for 95 cents.
2. Charcuterie. After the bakery, head for the long refrigerated case that stretches the length of the store. There are some odd things, like bottled “fish soup” (it’s apparently Norwegian lobster bisque) and frozen meals with international flavors. What you really want are the specialty meats: Proscuitto di Parma ($4.49 for 3 ounces, compared to $4.68 for Boar’s Head at Harris Teeter), mortadella with pistachios ($3.59 for 4 ounces) and $3.99 aged salami.
Get: Jamon Serrano (An amazing $2.79 for 3 ounces).
3. Cheeses. The selection isn’t as big as Trader Joe’s, but there are plenty of good deals: 18-month Gouda ($3.99 for 7 ounces), double-cream brie ($2.99 for 7 ounces) and small wheels of soft-ripened blue brie ($2.99).
Get: Preferred Selection Montasio Italian Hard Cheese ($3.79 for 7 ounces). A semi-aged cow’s milk cheese from northern Italy, it’s mild and a little creamy, perfect for grating or cubing on a cheese tray.
4. Fresh meat, fish and chicken. Each is in a separate small case. While the selection isn’t large, particularly seafood (Trader Joe’s still rules for fish steaks and wild-caught salmon), almost everything is labeled organic, wild-caught, grass-fed or antibiotic-free. A nice touch: Steaks are packaged individually, so you can just buy as many as you need.
Get: Grass-fed, antibiotic-free ribeye steaks. $13.58 per pound, vs. Costco’s choice-cut ribeyes for $9.99 a pound or prime for $19.99.
5. Nuts. The bulk bins are disappointing, with a skimpy selection and per-pound prices that aren’t stellar (pecans for $10.99, walnuts for $9.29, pistachios for $6.99 and raw almonds for $5.99). But around the corner, you’ll find more interesting packaged nuts with better prices.
Get: Rosemary- or truffle-flavored Marcona almonds. $4.99 for a 5.9-ounce bag, compared to $6.49 for 6 ounces at Trader Joe’s.
6. Chocolates. While Lidl stocks some American favorites like Hershey’s and Kit Kats, it’s the imported stuff you want. One example: Belgian truffle-filled sea shells, similar to Guylian except in price: An 8.8-ounce box is $3.99, while Guylian on Amazon.com is $10.30.
Get: White chocolate bars with crispy strawberry bits, $2.29 for 7.1 ounces.
7. Cookies. You’ll see good prices on familiar things, like Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies. They’re $3.99 here, vs. $5.49 at Harris Teeter. The fun is in the imported cookies and candies, though, like Speculos and the chocolate hazelnut cluster bars.
Get: Italian Fior di Grano shortbread cookies, $2.99 for a 14.1-ounce bag.
8. Pastas. Lidl’s house brand, Preferred Selection, are all bronze-cut (meaning the surface is a little rougher, so sauce clings better) and made with durum semolina.
Get: Preferred Selection penne rigate, $1.29 for a 1-pound bag.
9. Packaged foods. Expect the same bottles and jars you’d see anywhere else, including crispy cornichon pickles in several flavors, olive oils, and dried mushrooms (great price on dried porcini, $2.99 for a 1.06-ounce bag).
Get: Preferred Selection Italian sour cherries in syrup, $2.99 for a 16-ounce jar. Compare that to Luxardo, for $15 and up.
10. Wine. Right up there with those croissants, the curated wine selection is the thing that draws fans. Even with codes for styles and prices, it’s a confusing jumble of bottles. But if you have a good eye, you can spot deals, like $7.99 Beaujolais Villages and $4.99 Italian DOCG Chianti.
Get: Dry Creek Zinfandel or red blend for $7.99.