Playing The Market

Lunds Marketplace

1450 West Lake St., Mpls.; 825-6618

          IN MORE WAYS than one, there is a big void where McDonald's used to be on the corner of Lagoon and Hennepin. Although a new Mickey D's is already under construction in the same location, you can bet its design won't include that outdoor mini-plaza where kids were inclined to hang out. One might speculate that Uptown is consciously becoming less hospitable toward folks who won't or can't fork over ridiculous wads of cash for gourmet ice cream, coffee, candles, and disco outfits. Is the newly renovated Lunds Marketplace part of some city scheme to make sure that the people roaming through Uptown are people who dress in straw hats and eat endive soaked in raspberry vinaigrette instead of people who tromp around in worn boots and smoke Camel Lights? Probably. But it must be admitted that the new Lunds is truly an extraordinary place; the selection and scope of goods here might be high falutin', but the people working here are friendly and down to earth.

          Big and fancy are the words that come to mind when walking up to the august market, the parking lot thriving with neatly uniformed men and women trotting out bags of groceries and loading them into the cars of customers who either can't or won't do it for themselves. The glass doors slide open and there you are, faced with brilliant fresh flowers and plants, a vast array of gleaming produce, both local and imported (red and white endive from Belgium, arugula from Holland, and feijoa and carambola from the Caribbean just to name a few), plus gourmet chocolates and a dizzying array of spices for popcorn. It's overwhelming, and the casual shopper might initially be numbed by the experience.

          For example, I found myself staring at a stack of "Apple Machines," devices that, for $21.99, will peel, core, and slice your apples for you. The directions for assembling the Apple Machine were complex (beginning with "attach frame at 'H' to suction base with 2 wing nuts at 'Hn.'), and I began to feel ill at ease among the silk scarves and cashmere sweaters that seemed to be everywhere. These people could probably assemble an Apple Machine with no problem.

          I beat a hasty retreat to the cafe upstairs, which is quiet, spacious, and furnished with six different clocks that mark the time in places like Paris and Tokyo. There are plenty of corners, counters, booths, tables, and toddler-sized tables and chairs to make your noshing cozy. You'll find a coffee bar (stocked with a variety of daily newspapers for in-house reading), an ice cream counter, and a small inventory of baked goods, sandwiches, and soups, all made fresh daily.

          My friend and I enjoyed a nice lunch, splitting the chicken panini ($4.95). It's grilled chicken marinated in an herbed vinaigrette, topped with mozzarella cheese and razor-thin slices of tomato, dressed with fresh pesto. We also tried the vegetable panini, which is stuffed with crisp slices of roasted eggplant, mozzarella, fresh spinach leaves, sliced tomatoes, and chopped olives. I was duly impressed, and hope that the woman who helped us wasn't offended when I couldn't stop laughing at the sandwich press, a device that rings like a telephone when your sandwich has been pressed the correct amount of time. We finished off with a nice cup of wild rice soup ($1.59), thick as porridge and rich with the flavor of smoked ham. Someday when I'm in need for a treat, I'll come back for the sundae bar; the kid I saw at the counter was enraptured by his caramel apple sundae ($3.10), a gooey mass of vanilla ice cream topped with apple strudel, hot caramel, and whipped cream.

          Thus refreshed, we climbed downstairs for a quick survey of the rest of the store. The deli counters are loaded with freshly made salads, roasted peppers, all sorts of olives, imported cheeses, and cold cuts, though the best features in my opinion are the signs reminding us to "Feel free to ask for a taste." For those Uptown denizens on an enforced budget, I recommend visiting on a Friday or Saturday, those being the best times for hitting the free sample tables that are wheeled around the store by workers with smiling faces. Who could pass up a free sample of Mushroom Champignon cheese ($5.89/lb.), imported from France and setting on a Carr's biscuit? Along with a sample of Howlin' Coyote Chili, and a sample of Sunrich sweet bean side dish, it made for quite a mid-morning meal.

          If you are looking for prepared food, you'll be very happy here. Lunds has an abundance of carry-out items, including a lush chicken pot pie served with corn bread muffin ($4.29), whole rotisserie chickens ($6.49), sides of mashed potatoes and gravy ($1.25), and selections from their Mexican Cafe. We made a picnic one day of various prepared salads, trying the ramen sesame salad chicken, thick with toasted almonds and carrot shreds ($4.29/lb.); the wild rice and artichoke salad ($4.09/lb.), vinegary tasting with cherry tomatoes, peas, artichokes; and the symphony salad ($5.49/lb.), a sticky mass of fresh broccoli dressed with lots of bacon, cheddar cheese, and red onion.

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