There is something appealing about getting a meal in the same place you do your shopping. The convenience of grabbing ready-to-go food while buying groceries is hard to beat.
Hart's Local Grocers came onto the scene with a flurry of social media activity and a ton of hype. For me, one of the more anticipated sections of the store was the sandwich counter up front. The menu features breakfast, served all day, and a selection of seasonal lunch and dinner options to choose from. I'm a fan of breakfast sandwiches and Hart's offers one of the finer versions in town.
The fantastic Ace roll that is usually offered wasn't available during my visits, but Hart's substituted a pleasant ciabatta that carried the bulk of the sandwich well. The two eggs, arugula, bacon, and cheddar ($5.95 for the build your own sandwich) made for an appetizing and clean-tasting option. The corned beef hash with two over-easy eggs ($5.95) is filling but needed more of a sear on the flattop and a sprinkling of salt to shine.
The pork carnitas ($7.95), using a tangy and smoky chipotle BBQ sauce, was the most flavorful of the lunch sandwich offerings I tried. It also didn't hurt that the tender pork, crunchy slaw, and pickled red onions gave a balance of textures. The caprese grilled cheese and the pork cutlet sandwiches ($7.25 each) both suffered from a distinct lack of salt. Conceptually, both made sense, and with a little added seasoning, the fresh ingredients from the caprese woke up nicely.
What turned out to be the highlight of my visits was the prepared foods section with its wide variety of salads and meats sold by the pound. The section also has a rotating $8 dinner option. I went for the BBQ chicken with roasted potatoes and a simple summer vegetable medley. For a takeout meal that was pre-cooked, it was a top notch effort on all fronts. The vegetables remained crunchy and bright, and used hints of garlic; the potatoes were assertively seasoned with rosemary, pepper, and salt; and the chicken was juicy throughout.
I was also pleased with the chicken pot pie ($6.50). After re-heating in the oven at home for 15 to 20 minutes, the crust was beautifully flaky. Thankfully the classic chunky pot pie vegetables and meat inside weren't overdone, and the gravy was thick and rich. I would have enjoyed some fresh herbs in there to lighten up the feel of the dish, but this is still something I'd be happy to bring home with me any night. If chicken pot pie doesn't float your boat, edge into a heavy beef stroganoff ($9.99 per pound) or an impressively balanced vegan coconut curry lentil stew ($8.99) that would satisfy any meat eater.
The store's daily selection of cold salads is impressive, and each version is based around a different starch. My favorite was the quinoa salad ($9.99 per pound), cooked just under al dente and served with tomatoes, onion, sunflower seeds, and lima beans. This came across as a light, fresh accompaniment to the heavier main course options.
The farro salad ($9.99 per pound) reminded me of a classic couscous dish; the salad used dried fruit (apricot and cranberry in this case) and herbs. The chopped fennel and mint helped to make it more complex, and not end up with a one-note sweetness. Other options include kale tabbouleh, tortellini salad, and a Mexican-themed rice and beans.
It was an odd sensation to look into a to-go case and see a dessert as visually appealing as the mango mousse ($3.99). It stood out with a starkly bright orange-yellow cream in a plastic ring mold and was topped with an artfully stenciled piece of chocolate. This is a simple dessert but one that had me wanting more of the floral mousse and dark chocolate combination. The peach cobbler ($3.99) had plenty of cooked down fruit in a lightly sweet sauce and used a more wholesome version of the traditional oat topping. This isn't the most decadent version of a peach cobbler by a long shot, but the first bite of the peaches had me hooked, and I didn't even bother to re-heat it.
There are more options than ever to get food quickly when you can't be bothered to make a whole meal at home. Hart's stands out with its diverse selection, allowing you to balance out an entire meal. You can satisfy both the comforting side and the more virtuous side of dining. The produce and meat used in its food is sourced locally when possible which only makes the offerings more appealing.
You can read more from Chris Lindstrom or listen to his podcast on his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.