by Mike Corrigan

What's cooking at Huckleberry's? Um, damn near everything. The bistro is tucked into the market's southeast corner between the bread aisle and the cheese case. Here, the variety of foods prepared fresh daily is staggering -- and you can view many of them in all of their bright, colorful and enticing glory through the glass of an expansive refrigerated deli case.

In keeping with the health food vibe of Huckleberry's Market, all of the menu items in the bistro are created with natural and organic ingredients whenever possible. But believe me, it's not all wheatgrass juice and tofu (though you can get those, too). Nope, carnivores will be just as happy as vegans as they peruse the menu's many, many options. It's all the stuff we love to eat: soups (typically six daily), salads (at least a dozen varieties, including pastas, greens, legumes and fruit), sandwiches and paninis (with fillings featuring beef, tuna, chicken or veggies) and hot entrees like the quartered roasted chicken, scalloped and roasted potatoes and vegetable stir fry. You can find wraps, quiche, spanokopita, coho salmon packets and sweet and sour meatballs.

Huck's also does breakfast in the morning and is open for dinner at night (this summer, the evening hours will be extended to 9:30 pm). It's all reasonably priced, too. Soups are $2 (a cup) and $2.75 (a bowl). Hot sandwiches and entrees are $6 or less. Cold salads range from $6 to $9 a pound.

The dining room is bright, utilitarian and a little tight. On a recent trip during the lunch rush, we spied one open table, claimed it with a bag and proceeded to the ordering area. Once we scanned the many menu boards that dangle somewhat imposingly from the ceiling (pick me -- no, me) and made our decision, it was time to sidle up to the case to relate our orders to a member of the friendly and helpful counter staff.

With so much to choose from, it was tough to narrow things down. We tried the Grilled Portobello Peasant Sandwich from the "panini and others" menu (all are $6 and come with a spring mix salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing), which consisted of marinated grilled portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomato pesto, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and olive spread on a big chunk of crunchy peasant bread. It was a great vegetarian sandwich and deemed more flavorful than most meat sandwiches. And fresh mozzarella (hard to find out there, anywhere) is always a real treat.

From the hot menu came the lemon chicken sandwich ($6 with the spring greens salad): a generous portion of saut & eacute;ed chicken breast topped with tomato and covered with creamy lemon-garlic pan sauce on a thick slab of asagio ciabatta bread. It, too, was substantial, peerless in ingredient quality and delicious, if a little messy (keep napkins handy with this one). The salad exhibited a nice balance of the bitter, the sweet and the tangy, but it could have done with more dressing.

We also wanted to try a couple of the other salads, namely the curried red lentil and the grilled chicken farfalle with lemon-artichoke pesto. The lentil salad has a smooth and tender texture and a very subtle curry flavor; it features a light, clean finish, with sweet currants and vinaigrette balancing out the earthiness of the lentils. The savory chicken farfalle was an equally tasty and more complex character, featuring peppers and a definite lemon presence.

There was only one minor caveat to report, and that was the less-than-speedy turnaround time we experienced (my sandwich didn't arrive until my dining partners were well into their meals).

"That's our weak point when we're busy," admits Executive Chef Corey Menzer. "We only have one till -- it's a security issue with the store. But people kind of know this, and when we run into it we try to be extra nice and accommodating."

Menzer has been at the helm just three weeks, yet his expertise with and enthusiasm for healthy, interesting and tasty victuals is immediately apparent in his hands-on approach to deli orchestration.

"It's hands-on to the point that a lot of the long-timers are wishing I'd take a day off right now," he laughs.

Even though it relies heavily on tried-and-true favorites, the menu at Huckleberry's is in a near-constant state of flux, with items coming and going depending on the season and the availability of fresh ingredients.

"We're rotating a lot more short-term specials into the menu," says Menzer. "So much of our customer base is our regular customers, and we want to offer up different choices for them -- and because we're trying to be more seasonal. I'm proactive about knowing what our vendors have on special, and if I can get something really nice at a reasonable cost, I'll pass that on to our customers."

Huckleberry's also now has three beers on tap, and Menzer is working on new selections for the juice bar, along with new menus for breakfast and dinner.

Publication date: 06/19/03

Wallace Huckleberry Festival @ Wallace

Fri., Aug. 19, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sat., Aug. 20, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
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