"If you are Orthodox (Greek, Russian or Jewish) and work or live on the Peninsula, you'll undoubtedly end up here," says Stuart R., of Point Reyes Station, on Yelp. But not only the Orthodox come down to the Crossroads.
On the last block of San Antonio Road before Palo Alto becomes Mountain View, Crossroads doesn't look like much from the street. It was a Straw Hat Pizza until 2004.
Then Hani Haddad, former college math professor, decided to expand the business he'd started in Hayward.
Ever seen a marble floor in a grocery store? Haddad can identify stones in the floor from Brazil, China, India, Italy and a handful of the four dozen countries whose products are sold here.
On your left, as you walk in and pick up a basket, are crackers and breads from Armenian dark rye to kosher challah, and fresh pita, white or wheat.
In the middle of the store is the cashier, who, while very nice, was the only employee on a recent busy Saturday except for a bagger, who only bagged. Lacking an information desk, you're pretty much on your own. Have fun!
Proceeding past the bread department, you'll face the freezer, fully stocked with pelmeni, pierogi and filo dough, to name a fraction of what's there. We bought a frozen Alsatian pizza ($5.49), with cooking instructions noting that its name, Flammenkueche, means "burnt edges."
Back away from the freezer and you're at one of my favorite spots, the raisin bar. Here are familiar black raisins ($1.99 a pound), plump and irregular goldens ($2.99 a pound) and intriguing green Iranian raisins that look like shriveled pistachio nuts ($3.99). Go for the golden.
There's also a date bar, and a hand-lettered sign: "Do not sample without assistance." You are unlikely to get assistance. Use the scooper and sample at home.
Continuing clockwise, the olive bar contains excellent half-sour pickles, crisp and not too salty. The oven-baked falafel balls, while healthier than fried, were a little dry. Also in this vicinity, the Greek-style yogurt, labneh, is spectacular.
Think of feta cheese as a salt lick? Crossroads stocks a half-dozen that will change your mind, including French, Greek, and Bulgarian, in a cold case behind the cashier.
In the bountiful wine section, I found a large, reasonably priced bottle of Polish mineral water that proved invaluable when we sat down to eat the fabulous Costa Rican yellowfin tuna in olive oil ($7.29 for 6.7 ounces), Latvian sprats (like herring) and Russian-style smoked sablefish.
At the Eastern wall, a refrigerator case stocks sausages and cured meats including a very good coppa ($9.99 for 180 grams, about 6.5 ounces), cured pork shoulder from Casa Italia, made in Canada. Fans of Fabrique Delices will note the good prices on their pates, mousses and rillettes.
I couldn't possibly do justice to the pasta section, the sweets, and the sauces. From Bulgaria, tasty Zergut eggplant "caviar" spread ($2.99 for a 19 ounce jar) works as well as a pasta sauce. Roland pesto from San Remo, Italy ($2.99 for 3 ounce jar) also is very good.
Just reading the packages is a trip. From the Cracovia brand of linden honey: "Ingredients: honey." From Pastificio G. Di Martino: "Tofette, al dente in 11 minuti." Cook the pasta for 11 minutes, not 10 or 12.
What didn't we like? Villa Reale caperberries in brine were squishy. From Belarus, capelin "caviar" has a mousse-like consistency and tasted more of smoked soybeans than salmon. A search for Belarus reveals it is landlocked, which might have had something to do with it. A side benefit of shopping at Crossroads is that you'll get a little more familiar with all the countries in the former Soviet Union.
720 San Antonio Road (near Middlefield), Palo Alto. (650) 858-6910. Also 230 Jackson St., Hayward. (510) 582-2231.
Hours: Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m. - 7:30 pm Monday-Friday
Sat 10 am - 7:30 pm
Sun 10 am - 5 pm