Welcome to the jungle (Jungle Jim’s, that is)

Before dinner at The Wildflower Cafe this past Saturday, we had a few more Cincinnati food experiences. We brunched at the Green Dog Cafe, where the sweet-potato-and-asparagus eggs Benedict was tasty as ever but smaller than I remembered. After three rounds of racket sports in roughly 24 hours, J practically burned through his Benedict calories just sitting there, so with some help from Yelp, he suggested we make a stop at Annabel’s. The wait time for a table at the cute, tiny restaurant was about 40 minutes, so a second brunch wasn’t really an option without a delay; instead, we split an absolutely delicious slice of blackberry chocolate-chunk cheesecake out on the sidewalk. The menu looked great, so I think we’ll be trying to fit in a real meal there the next time we’re in town.

After cheesecake, it was on to the major food adventure of the day: Jungle Jim’s. As their website describes it, “Jungle Jim’s International Market is a superstore unlike any other. With 1½ acres of produce, 75,000 international grocery products and cigars from 70 countries, there is much to discover…. we’re not just a store; we’re a destination!” Indeed. If Trader Joe’s mated with the grocery section of Sam’s Club, and the baby were exposed to radiation levels that turned Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk, you might get something resembling Jungle Jim’s. J asked if I wanted to take some pictures for the blog, but I said I was sure that Flickr would already have plenty. I was right.

One of several (!) Asian aisles at Jungle Jim’s. Note the giant fish hanging from the ceiling in the background. Photo by masamunecyrus via Flickr.

The photo above gives you a sense of the core of Jungle Jim’s, i.e., aisle after aisle after aisle after cooler with shelves full of domestic and international grocery items. Some countries and regions, like France and Scandinavia, were tucked into odd little nooks on the periphery of the store. Others, like the multiple aisles of Asian items, were more centrally located, if an amorphously sprawling warehouse carved into various sections can be said to have a center. They seemed to have just about everything, including a freezer full of whole durian fruit. That said, when I started looking for some harder-to-find items on my own regular shopping list (like spelt rotini, or some specific varieties of Amy’s frozen pizza), they were nowhere to be found. The prices didn’t seem to be all that special either. Nevertheless, J and I picked up some lingonberry jam, a Kex candy bar (our friend’s favorite reminder of his study-abroad time in Sweden), and some banana salt water taffy, and for a friend back home we got a bottle of Mexican Coke and some Dragonball orange soda in collectable cans.

The singing “Cereal Bowl Band” at Jungle Jim’s atop the S.S. Minnow. Photo by The Shifted Librarian (Jenny Levine) via Flickr.

If the overwhelming amount of grocery items weren’t enough, though, the store’s exterior and interior are filled with crazy, low-end, amusement-park-style features. The photo above is of one of my favorites, largely because it was so ridiculous. When we walked past, these animatronic General Mills characters were “performing” a Beatles tune (!) on top of a boat claiming to be the S.S. Minnow from TV’s “Gilligan’s Island.” What you can’t quite tell from the photo is that this display, like many others, towers over shoppers in the cavernous space.

Full-size fire truck over the hot-sauce display at Jungle Jim’s. Photo by Cindy Funk via Flickr.

Other absurdities included this fire truck (parked on top of their gigantic display of hot sauces), an Amish buggy with a (fake) horse, sculptures of giraffes and other wildlife at the entrance to the store, and much, much more. Best of all, one of the first things you notice when driving up to the property is …

King’s Island Monorail, relocated to Jungle Jim’s. Photo by CarrieLu via Flickr.

the monorail! When the store opened, NPR ran this piece on it, in which “Jungle Jim” Bonaminio talks about his dreams of a destination so appealing that one day shoppers might stay at a hotel on the grounds and ride the monorail to Jungle Jim’s for endless shopping delights. As things stand, we weren’t even sure if the monorail was functional. As you can see, it reaches a dead end in front of the store; the windows in the car also feature paper silhouettes of passengers. On our way out, though, we noticed that the other car was moving almost imperceptibly slowly towards a covered pavilion in a vast and empty back parking lot.

Although you might not be able to check into the Jungle Jim hotel just yet, this place really must be seen to be believed.

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