Fast & Healthy

WE ALL KNOW how health food stores have changed in the past few years--expanding from small soy-and-millet operations to splashy department stores that peddling everything from tablecloths made from unbleached cotton to designer cosmetics. It is now possible to leave such a place with a bellyful of smoked trout pâté and blood orange samples, having browsed through various nutrition management guides and sex manuals, your skin aglow with the very best in natural lotions and ointments. I confess that it's left me feeling like I know too much about the restorative powers of shiitake mushrooms and wheat grass. On the plus side, I have never had to learn how to prepare them; many local co-ops do brisk business serving their own variations on fast food.

The Mississippi Market (1810 Randolph Ave., St. Paul; 690-0507) has been at this game for a few years now, ever since the store moved into its current, more spacious home. Here you'll find a complete baked goods case, sandwich bar, and deli. Most everything we tried here was beyond reproach, creative, and affordable. The spread moves from the simple (featuring soups like matzo ball and tomato--$1.75-$3.49, depending on size) to the majestic, such as a portobello tart ($3.50), a whole wheat crust brushed with butter and olive oil and covered with a slew of portobello mushrooms, leeks, and cheese. Our encounter with the Market's cabbage rolls ($1.79) had us wanting to kiss the purple leaves that unfolded to reveal a pillow of brown rice spiked with spices and vegetables. The New Mexico tempeh salad was wonderful; considering the regal mixture of ingredients (brown rice, tomatoes, bell peppers, red onion, almonds, oranges, lemon juice, cilantro, garlic, tamari, jalapeños), the price ($5.69/lb.) did not seem excessive at all. Another easy grab is the nori maki roll ($2.38 for two), nori sea vegetables surrounded by organic short-grain brown and sweet brown rice, all spiked with a bit of maple syrup and rice wine vinegar.

Over the hill a bit is Whole Foods (30 Fairview Ave. S., St. Paul; 690-0197), a Jesus Christ superstore experience that begins with a juice/coffee bar as you walk in. Here you can read about the wonders of wheat grass while you enjoy coffee or any one of an assortment of vegetable, kefir, and juice drinks; the chai tea we tried ($1.95) was dressed up with soy milk, and pretty tasty at that.

Location Info

Map

Whole Foods Market

30 S. Fairview
St. Paul, MN 55105

Category: Retail

Region: Macalester/Groveland

The Wedge Community Co-op

2105 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55405

Category: Restaurant > Grocery

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

It turned out to be the easiest decision in the whole place. Will you be bringing home the blackened chicken salad ($5.99) or the cashew curry red lentil pâté ($4.99), a thick spread of red lentils and roasted, salted cashews accented with onions, carrots, ginger, garlic, cilantro, curry powder, and cayenne pepper? There's also a delicate vegetarian pot pie ($2.75), which is actually a puff pastry filled with ratatouille. If your mood is more adventurous, you might consider the faux caviar, made from hiziki (an oceanic vegetable) shredded and cooked with toasted sesame oil, ginger, rice and plum vinegar, and garlic ($7.99/lb.); it's not the real thing, but the taste is surprisingly close.

Whole Foods also features a treasure chest of delicacies made daily in its Bakehouse: fruit tarts (including the best lemon tart I've ever tasted, a beautiful creation with enough butter to make a cow blush, for $2.49); vegan fruit pies in apple, cherry, and blueberry ($2.39); and several extravagant breads. Among the favorites in my tasting party were the chocolate cherry demi-bread ($1.29), which was full of dried cherries and bittersweet chocolate; there was also a memorable jalapeño cheese demi-bread made with corn flour and two kinds of cheese (99¢), and all sorts of pane bello, or "beautiful breads"--ryes, challah, paisanos.

The deli counter at The Wedge Community Co-op (2105 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.; 871-3993) is another haven of gourmet fast food. The salads stand out; I sometimes find myself just wanting to look at the food there: the luminous Italian Basil Medley salad with its fluorescent green beans, tomatoes, broccoli, and calamata olives ($4.99/lb.); or the technicolor bean salad ($4.19/lb.), tossed with scallions in a red wine vinegar/soy dressing that bears hints of ginger, turmeric, garlic, and coriander. Other favorites include a vibrant tomato cucumber ($3.99/lb.) wrapped with scallions and wine vinegar; a wild rice hazelnut salad ($3.59) made with carrots, scallions, and celery; and a Sri Lankan curry noodle salad ($5.69/lb.) with mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, red bell peppers, udon noodles, and peanuts, with enough curry and chili powder to bring color to your pallid Minnesotan cheeks. The Wedge also boasts a heap of desserts, including the exceptional apricot tofu cheesecake ($1.99), Cathy's banana chocolate-chip cheesecake ($1.99), a glossy pumpkin pear streusel ($2.29), lavish chocolate truffles ($1.49), and chocolate-dipped macaroons ($1.39).

Although the Seward Co-op (2201 E. Franklin, Mpls.; 338-2465) is a bit smaller, you'll find their deli to be more than up to snuff. I especially like the Seward's black bean dip ($4.75/lb.), a lush mix of mashed black beans, green bell peppers, scallions, salsa, lime, cilantro, cayenne pepper, and cumin; I can also recommend the rich confetti neufchatel spread ($4.75/lb.), which is peppered with carrots, red onions, black olives, and green peppers.

For a meal, the spicy soba salad ($5.15/lb.) does nicely, as does the Mediterranean pasta ($4.99/lb.), replete with red bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. My favorite, though, is still a simple cup of French onion soup ($2.75/pint, and 25¢ extra is all it takes to get it with a baguette and a bit of Gruyère cheese).

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