That's what Circle K's executives seem to have done. They've opened up Emily's Market in demographically rich Chandler. It's an upscale, not-quite-gourmet grocery that specializes in meals-to-go. The target audience: too-pooped-to-cook folks with disposable income who want to cocoon at home after a long day at the office, but who don't want to dine over canned beef stew or Kentucky Fried Chicken takeout.
The East Valley prototype store (there are sure to be more), set in a new shopping strip, is shiny and sparkling. You can buy wine, premium beers, even sherry, port and madeira. You can pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers. You can buy freshly roasted whole coffee beans--"Better Than Starbucks," boasts a sign. You can find packaged pasta and jars of exotic condiments, dips, sauces and spices. There's also a small produce area, in case you have the urge to steam some asparagus or munch an apple. Surprisingly, there's no salad-bar section, which you'd think would be a can't-miss proposition.
Refrigerated cases display items you don't generally find at the local supermarket, like fancy cheeses and d'Artagnan pates. If you feel energetic enough to punch on the microwave, you can buy fully cooked sources of animal protein, like duck confit or Italian chicken. If you don't mind more extended kitchen effort, you can purchase grill-ready skewers of beef kebab or hamburger patties. You can also yield to the temptation of fresh breads, bagels, cakes, pastries and cookies.
The heart of the operation is the meals-to-go, which range from packaged sandwiches to hot entrees.
How's the fare? The sandwiches are nothing special, if my six-inch turkey and Cheddar was any indication. At $3.49, I wouldn't call it a bargain, either. You'll pay a price for the convenience of the pizzas, too. They're ten-inch, bake-at-home models that go for nine bucks. (Emily's will bake them for you in-store if you like.) However, the pizza is somewhat better than the ones put out by the chain-delivery parlors. The Italian pizza is thick with cheese, sliced tomato and fresh basil, but the crust is crumbly, not chewy.
At $4.99, the hot meals (prepared by an in-store chef, I'm told) are more cost-effective. Chicken pot pie is first-rate, with lots of moist hunks of chicken, carrot and potato under a puffy canopy. Lamb roast is also enjoyable. The beef stir-fry, however, was done in by gristly meat.
Each entree comes with two sides. However, from what I tasted of the scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, rice and mixed vegetables, I think you're better off stopping at Boston Market for these go-withs.
The baked goods have their moments. There's nothing special about the sticky pecan bun. But the cranberry scone is well-fashioned, the pain au chocolat is rich and flaky, and the chocolate macaroon is simply scrumptious.
Emily's Market is located at 5965 West Ray in Chandler, at the southeast corner of Kyrene and Ray. It's open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Call 705-8100.--Howard Seftel
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