Unbelievable. We made it almost all the way to July without going up in flames.
But now the heat is on, and compared to the balmy, record-breaking low temperatures of May and June, it feels more hellish than ever. Who wants to slave in the kitchen over a hot stove?
The Kitchen Market Caf 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. SundayD'licious Dishes
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday
Just what I suspected. Well, folks, you're in luck, because there are three new spots in town that are going after your dining dollar by way of pure convenience, promoting their prepared foods to go. In north Scottsdale, there's The Kitchen Market Café/Wine Bar, while north central Phoenix offers Luci's Healthy Marketplace and D'licious Dishes. There's room at each of them to sit and eat a meal on the premises, but all three cater to customers who'd rather grab it and go.
The Kitchen Market Café/Wine Bar is the big daddy amongst them, and also the most upscale. Remember the short-lived Dish Marketplace? This is basically Dish 2.0, with negligible tweaks to the setup.
The ownership is different now (it's a subsidiary of Sacramento-based Good Eats Grocer), and its press kit calls The Kitchen a "new market cafe concept that elevates the experience of dining out." Perhaps the new owners think that by calling it "new," someone will believe it. Still, I'm not convinced that The Kitchen has any better chance of surviving than Dish did — hardly anything's changed here.
As before, they've thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. How about a panini? Or prime rib? Or pasta? There will even be sushi — "coming soon," at the same exact counter where Dish sold it. It's all a little much.
Grabbing something to eat at The Kitchen is cheaper than going to a restaurant, but there are some pricey treats here as well, so shop strategically. For example, a $6.99 turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich from the sandwich bar won't break the bank, but two salmon cakes — stuffed with more filling than fish — will run you $17. It's prices like that that surely did Dish in.
As far as gourmet groceries go, The Kitchen has covered all the bases. You can pick up artisan breads, cakes, and desserts just inside the front entrance, prepackaged soups, sandwiches and entrees from the fridge in the back, and everything from crackers to canned tomatoes from freestanding shelves. The deli island in the middle features Boar's Head meats, 10 kinds of olives (try the mix with herbs and preserved lemon), ready-to-cook meat and seafood (à la AJ's), an eclectic assortment of cheeses, and sides like tangy tabbouleh and grilled asparagus.
I recommend checking out the sandwich bar and hot grill station first — put your order in and they'll hand you a buzzer to let you know your order's ready. It might be slightly less convenient to order a wood-fired pizza or a brisket sandwich slathered in barbecue sauce and chipotle mayo, but it's worth the brief wait. I'd take either of those over the packaged, reheat-at-home tortellini, which was definitely not as good as homemade.
While The Kitchen goes for the gourmet niche, Luci's Healthy Marketplace specializes in organic and natural foods — sort of a pint-size Sprouts, minus the produce department. It's bright and airy inside, with a stylish retro-modern theme, a coffee bar, and a Viking Test Kitchen, where they offer cooking demonstrations. For a neighborhood market, Luci's is pretty unique.
The market side of the space has a huge freezer stocked with all kinds of microwaveable organic entrees, as well as a fridge filled with cheeses and meats that would go well with wine — which happens to be displayed right alongside it. And there are enough organic ingredients and snacks on the shelves to stock a pantry.
But I have to admit, I was disappointed with the limited selection of Luci's "good-to-go meals," available in the coffee bar. They didn't strike me as much different from what a typical Starbucks sells. When I visited, there were few kinds of sandwiches and salads, a couple of entrees, and lots of desserts — pie, scones, cookies, and cakes. How ironic that there were more sweets at the "healthy" market than healthful dishes.
In any case, everything was fresh, tasty, and relatively cheap, from the egg salad sandwich (which came with an apple) to the giant portion of homestyle sausage and pepper lasagna. I also loved the fluffy spinach and cheese quiche. They all would satisfy my hunger in a pinch, but unless Luci's amps up its meal offerings, I'd go back only for a latte and a pastry.
Last but not least, D'licious Dishes tags itself as "fabulous food to go" — and I couldn't state it any better myself.
This low-key spot sells the obligatory specialty items, like cheeses and fancy olive oils, but it's not as much of a market as The Kitchen or Luci's. Instead, a sprawling assortment of sandwiches, salads, and ready-made dishes from the deli cases are the main attraction.
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One day's poblano chicken chowder tasted like something my mom would cook up on a rainy day, along with some meaty blue crab cakes. I liked the sausage lasagna, too, oozing with cheese and sweet tomato sauce. And the Beef and Bleu sandwich, with roast beef, blue cheese-horseradish spread, onion, and tomato on a ciabatta roll, was decent, although a bit skimpy on the meat.
Truffle mac 'n' cheese, baked at home in the oven, got bubbly and nicely browned — scrumptious! — while pork tenderloin, topped with apricot-Creole mustard glaze, was still tender after I reheated it. And grilled Mexican street corn, slathered with cheese, was sweet and juicy.
What really appealed to me about D'licious Dishes was how the food lived up to the name — it didn't taste like something from a grocery store. Indeed, you probably could convince your family that you made some of this stuff.
This time of year, it'd be no sweat.