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A Removeable Feast

6th Avenue Petit Marche, 7146 East Sixth Avenue, Scottsdale, 947-7172. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Remember the good old days, when mom would go shopping in the morning to pick up the groceries for the family dinner? After she returned from the market, she'd spend the rest of the day filling the house with the scents of home cooking, stirring, simmering and sauteing in front of an armada of pots and pans.

Everyone knows those days are over. These days, you have a better chance of seeing the Dodgers move back to Brooklyn or coonskin caps become a fashion accessory than seeing a mom--or dad--with eight hours to spare for kitchen work. In the 1990s, the only way you'll ever see that level of home culinary commitment is to watch reruns of Leave It to Beaver.

Understandably, there's a lot of wistful nostalgia about those old days. Life seemed simpler, less hectic and more secure. Mom reigned over the hearth, cooking, cleaning and child-raising. Dad never had to worry about being "downsized" by the company. Gas was 20 cents a gallon; school boards didn't assign Heather Has Two Mommies to third graders; and the Southern Baptists didn't believe Mickey Mouse was a front for Satan.

Of course, not all was perfect. No doubt one reason mom had so much time to spend in the kitchen was that she had almost no outlet for her creative energies, no opportunity to test her abilities in the outside world.

Nowadays, mealtime is the source of a lot of conflicted feelings. We'd all like to sit leisurely around the dinner table, catching up on family news and enjoying a lovingly prepared homemade meal. The reality is that dad's working late and has to drive the kids to 6:30 soccer practice, while working mom hasn't had time even to pick up the dry cleaning she dropped off before the Fourth of July. And even if we had the time, who wants to cook in the middle of a Phoenix summer, anyway? Lovingly prepared homemade meals? Forget it.

Cagey culinary entrepreneurs have rushed to fill the gap between our mealtime hopes and reality. They know that eating at a restaurant several times a week, even if we could afford it, can't satisfy our psychological hunger for sharing dinner at home with our loved ones. So they're seizing a market opportunity that didn't exist a generation ago: It's the niche for complete, fully prepared, home-style meals to go. No matter how busy you are, now you can have your cake and eat it, too, right after the soup, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.

Actually, if you stop in at 6th Avenue Petit Marche, you can have your páte de compagne, boeuf bourguignon and tarte tatin and eat them, too. That's because this upscale little shop specializes in takeout French cuisine.

It's a sister shop to 6th Avenue Bistrot, the French restaurant next door. A few months ago, the proprietor realized that diners might occasionally prefer his Gallic fare at home, without the restaurant markup. 6th Avenue Petit Marche lets them do just that.

It's a small grocery, too, the shelves lined with the kind of goods that might tempt you when you arrive to pick up your order: wine, beer, olives, condiments, dressings and sauces. A display freezer offers goose, duck, pheasant and frogs' legs, should the urge to someday defrost and cook strike you. (When it comes to summertime cooking, I follow Robert Benchley's advice about exercising: When the urge hits, lie down until the feeling passes.)

The menu is small enough to be manageable, but diverse enough to let you come back two or three times before you have to order something you've already sampled.

There's a soup of the day, a creamy potato-leek puree the day I visited. It's competently done, subtly flavored without relying too heavily on salt.

A better way to edge into dinner, however, is the outstanding, homemade fish pate. It comes as a thick slab, moistened with a fragrant, lobster-tinged beurre blanc. If you prefer more traditional pátes, 6th Avenue Petit Marche offers a variety of them from Marcel & Henri, a well-known San Francisco brand.

The four salads are all priced at $4.50, but cost was the only thing similar about the two I tried. Mixed greens with goat-cheese croutons is completely unremarkable, a pile of romaine adorned with two thin crusts of bread lined with goat cheese. The duck confit salad, however, is a different story, a generous pile of tasty preserved duck tossed on a variety of greens. I didn't care for the pungent salad dressing, but since it came on the side, I just sprinkled on some bottled dressing instead.  

Main dishes are hardly your everyday takeout options. Valley restaurants serve some of the world's worst coq au vin, but the model here is a genuinely worthy effort. About half a chicken is stewed in a rich, winy sauce, studded with pearl onions and mushrooms. Roast potatoes furnish an appealing accompaniment.

Cassoulet Toulousaine is similarly well-fashioned, although this heavy, hearty platter isn't especially suited for hot-weather eating. It's an aromatic mix of white beans, duck, sausage and bacon, cooked in duck stock. Boeuf bourguignon is a French staple that approaches traditional standards. It could have been more generously stocked with beef and veggies, but it meets all reasonable flavor requirements. Braised lamb shank is somewhat less exciting, a hunk of meat on the bone, simply teamed with potatoes and spinach.

The kitchen also sends out pasta. Spinach cannelloni is a winner, smothered in a creamy marinara sauce. The thick meat lasagna is more filling than memorable.

The menu offers only two desserts. Get them both. The tarte tatin--an upside-down caramelized apple tart--shows the French flair for sweets. The luscious bread pudding, ladled with a buttery brown-sugar sauce, is guaranteed to keep everyone at the table.

6th Avenue Petit Marche can't bring back the old days. But if you're hot, harried, overworked, stressed out, too pooped to cook and armed with disposable income, it can help you pretend, at least for an evening.

Emily's, 10050 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 948-7676. Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

Neat, sleek and retro, with its blue-plate specials, '40s and '50s music, old black-and-white photos and chirpy, eager-to-please staff, Emily's looks like a slick '90s chain idea. Maybe it is. But the food is surprisingly good, and it's priced to please.

Originally launched by Circle K, Emily's debuted, briefly, about a year ago in Chandler. But it folded when Circle K was sold, until new owners resurrected and fine-tuned the concept.

You can eat in, but Emily's is clearly aiming to be a takeout force, the kind of place you call on your cell phone from your car on your way home from work, after you realize you haven't given a single thought to dinner. Emily's even sells basic market items like milk, beer, bread and produce ("Emily's Quality Fruits and Vegetables," reads the sign, "From Garden to You!") so you can avoid a supplementary trip to the supermarket.

Emily's offers rotisserie chicken and pizza, but that's hardly the kind of dinner June would have served Ward, Wally and the Beaver. And after all, why make a trip here when you can get chicken and pizza just about anywhere? (The Hearty Hen is a few blocks away, and California Pizza Kitchen is next door.) What makes this place worth a trip are its three "homestyle meals."

The pot roast is first-rate: juicy, tender brisket, embellished with a couple of big chunks of potato and carrot that could have come out of mom's big roasting pan. Meat loaf also gets high marks. It sports just the right coarse-ground texture, and it's zestily seasoned, too. Chicken pot pie goes beyond the institutional. There's no skimping on the ingredients--lots of white-meat chicken and veggies, mostly carrots and peas. But the chicken pot pie doesn't travel very well. By the time I got it home, the puff-pastry canopy had collapsed into a soggy tent.

Emily's knows the importance of side dishes, but doesn't always put that knowledge to good use. (Most meals come with a choice of two.) Mashed potatoes are just right, thick and lumpy; sausage stuffing makes a nice change of pace; hushpuppies have crunchy appeal; and the glazed carrots are marvelous, good enough to be an entree. But steer clear of the mixed veggies, which remind me of the dull veggies my mother tried to force me to eat. There's enough grease on the onion rings to lubricate a '55 Chevy. And the French fries should never have left the freezer bag they came from.

It was professional duty, not high gastronomic expectations, that made me order the ribs. When the enthusiastic young clerk told me they were "awesome," I remained skeptical. It turns out the younger generation may have better taste than I've given it credit for. These bones were quite good--meaty, a bit charred, with a slightly sweet barbecue glaze. In contrast, the grilled barbecue chicken seemed tame.

When I saw the quiches sitting forlornly on display, my expectations headed south. But I had to rearrange my navigational charts after I sampled the vegetarian Southwest model. The crust was fresh, not dried out as I feared, and the custardy filling was studded with veggies packing a genuine chile punch.  

Despite its nostalgic bent, Emily's is up-to-date enough to offer wraps. And the chicken caesar wrap, served in a fresh tomato/roasted pepper tortilla, is scrumptious, stuffed with lemon-pepper chicken breast and lots of crisp romaine, all moistened by a flavorful caesar dressing.

Desserts, I'm told, come mostly from Upper Crust, a reliable local supplier. The chocolate peanut butter cake and 'smore brownie have kiddy appeal. The excellent cinnamon pinwheel, on the other hand, provoked a squabble between me and my wife over who would get the bigger portion.

Naturally, Emily's can't give you the psychological and physiological nourishment a real home-cooked meal provides. On the other hand, maybe now you'll have time to stop at the dry-cleaner before the clerk tags your clothes "unclaimed" and ships them to Goodwill.

6th Avenue Petit Marche:
Fish pate
$4.25
Spinach cannelloni
6.95
Coq au vin
9.40
Tarte tatin
3.49

Emily's:
Quiche
$3.95
Chicken caesar wrap
4.95
Pot roast
6.95
Cinnamon pinwheel
1.85


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