Registry Tampa Bay

Whether it’s a meeting that ran late, kids basketball practice or simple apathy, sometimes cooking dinner is just not going to happen. But such kitchen ennui doesn’t have to result in yet another pizza delivery or microwaving frozen meals.

Most respectable supermarkets offer a hot-food buffets or deli-style counters where you pick your items, bring them home, heat them as necessary and serve. It’s the latter that I’m delving into this week — a dinner alternative we rarely use, so I’m genuinely curious about the quality of the food. Our contestants are well known: Whole Foods Market and The Fresh Market.

Both offer meals that include an entree and two sides. I did a good job of matching the dinners up, if I do say so myself.

We picked up the takeout meals late Tuesday afternoon in one run, brought them back to the FFF Lab + Photo Studio™, put both pieces of chicken in the oven for 25 minutes at 350, plated the meals and ate them them side by side. We added a piece of carrot cake from each place for dessert.

FRESH MARKET

For the store’s Bistro Meal ($9.99), we chose the Italian Chicken boneless breast, Bacon Tomato Pasta Salad, and Super Veggie Salad.

Appearance, Texture and Taste

Those takeout containers split into compartments never do the food justice.

And not to get all tree-huggy here, but I briefly imagined the box in a garbage patch the size of Montana out in the ocean somewhere. The food looked way better on a plate.

First impression of the chicken: dry. Same for the second and third impressions. And while the breast had a hefty crust, I couldn’t detect much Italian-ness.

The bites of bird worked best when paired on the fork with the creamy pasta salad, which was infused with the flavor of bacon and littered with little bits of it.

The finely chopped green salad contained kale, corn, yellow raisins and other stuff I couldn’t ID. In all, it had a sweet(ish) flavor that I really took to.

WHOLE FOODS

For our Chef’s Plate ($12), we selected Chicken Scallopini (boneless breast), Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad, and Brussels Sprouts and Kale Slaw.

Appearance, Texture and Taste

This plate looked similar to that plate — so much so that Bonnie made little signs for each. The bird breast was plumper than the one from Fresh Market, and some actual meat peeked through the coating.

My first impression of the chicken: Moist. Make that juicy. The breading was light, expertly seasoned. This was restaurant-level chicken.

I’m not sure how Scallopini it was, but Bonnie and I nodded approvingly as we ate it to nothingness.

The pasta salad lived up to its name, with the added bonus of a few mozzarella cubes scattered throughout. Pieces of baby spinach provided a contrast to the creamy dressing.

Kale and Brussels sprouts are two greens I only eat occasionally and in small portions. That said, the salad, while more bitter than I prefer, worked well with the rest of the meal.

Got Room For Dessert?

We did — but not until the next evening.

The Whole Foods carrot cake ($5.50) was prettier. Cylindrically shaped, it sat on a little gold base and had a frosting carrot on top. It came surrounded by a band of clear plastic, which took some doing to pry off.

The Fresh Market version ($5.99) was more robust, bigger, less … impeccable. It had nuts. It had the little orange strips. A no-nonsense slab of carrot cake. Based on appearance, I was biased towards it.

And that’s how it played out. Fresh Market’s was coarser and heartier and had bolder flavors of cinnamon and ginger. The Whole Foods carrot cake did not wind up a distant second. It was elegant, but not dainty. Ultimately the frosting, which I found too firm, overshadowed the cake.

So Which Was the Tastier Takeout Dinner From Two Major Grocery Chains?

Whole Foods.

It’s the chicken, stupid! (How’s that for a 32-year-old political reference?) The bird was the lead dog in these meals, and it was no contest. I slightly preferred Fresh Market’s pasta salad (it’s the bacon, stupid!) and its green salad. And its dessert, too — but let’s consider dessert a separate meal.

In all, this was a close contest. A split decision. We enjoyed both meals, but it boiled down to a game of chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

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