Savor: Gourmet To Go

BY Hannah Bunn

Though it seems the time-honored tradition of the family meal is slipping away there is hope.

All across the Azalea Coast there is a plethora of places now serving prepared and frozen meals — the Sandwich Pail in Landfall Shopping Center comes to mind — and thankfully the past few years have given birth to a new industry to accommodate busy lifestyles and bring back dinnertime. Meal assembly facilities are an innovative new concept and since their recent development they’ve been popping up all around the nation. These do-it-yourself kitchens provide the ingredients and recipes to assemble complete healthy meals right in the store that can be taken home and cooked that night or frozen for a later meal. Some places even offer pre-assembled freezer meals so all you have to do is pick them up and pop them in the oven. Oh and the best part? Prep time and cleanup are completely eliminated. If you’re wondering what’s for dinner tonight there are several of these home-away-from-home kitchens right here in Wilmington that can come to your rescue.

Pass Your Plate is one of the franchises on the frontier of prepared take-home dinners. You’ll be greeted by a friendly staff handed an apron and assigned your very own spot in the freezer to store the meals you make during your visit. Buffet lines arranged throughout the store each house their own recipes ingredients and materials to create a hassle-free meal. “We try to take some of the tedium away from the preparation ” says co-owner June Chubbuck. “We come along and clean up behind you and we’ve left the fun enjoyable parts for our customers.” Chubbuck owns Pass Your Plate with her husband Gary and Juan and Kathryn Espinoza. Their Internet-savvy business encourages customers to book a session and pay online beforehand (walk-ins are also welcome) so all that’s left to do is arrive and assemble. “It really does save a lot of time and that’s the main thing ” says Juan Espinoza. “You’re looking at an alternative for eating healthier and having the opportunity to try something different.” Pass Your Plate offers a new menu the first Tuesday of every month with palate-pleasers like chicken Florentine with bacon and black bean lasagna rolls.

The fun and funky atmosphere of My Girlfriend’s Kitchen can take the stress out of dinnertime. Owner Mandy Parish Caulder got her girlfriends together and in July 2007 opened a location in Wilmington after hearing of the rising popularity of these meal assembly facilities. “It just seemed so brilliant to me to be able to still make dinner and it’s healthy and you recognize all of the ingredients going in ” says Caulder. My Girlfriend’s Kitchen’s menu changes each month with different entrees like shrimp scampi and sassy almond orange chicken stir-fry. Each meal has its own prep station in the store and customers can walk in any time Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday) and assemble as many meals as they want. Caulder says the convenience is what attracts the customers: “If you’re the kind of person that can whip together a delicious meal in no time flat and it’s not stressful for you then God bless you honey!” For everyone else there are meal assembly kitchens.

Pine Valley Market a local favorite for fine wines and gourmet foods is also known for its fast and easy freezer meals. “They are probably the single most popular thing that we do ” says co-owner Christi Ferretti. “I’d say every Monday there are about eight different moms that come in baby in tow and they load up for the week. Their families love it and it’s just like they made it themselves.” All of the freezer meals are prepared with fresh ingredients right in the kitchen at Pine Valley Market. They are then packaged and displayed in the freezer for customers to grab on the go and they can be frozen for up to 90 days. The meat lasagna and broccoli-and-cheese casserole are the top sellers along with other Italian favorites like the manicotti and eggplant parmesan. Pine Valley Market also offers a “heat and eat” hot bar no thawing necessary with items like its popular twice-baked potatoes. “The whole concept is that you can have good food made just as if you made it yourself ” says Ferretti. “I think people are tired of fast food they’re tired of junk and they want to feel good about what they eat and what they feed to their families.”

Open in our area since July 2007 Organic Art Cuisine prides itself on its fresh and healthy menu of ready-to-serve prepared meals. Customers can call ahead to choose an entrée and specify a time they’d like it to be ready. Like clockwork the folks at Organic Art Cuisine will custom-cook your meal and have it ready just in time for dinner. You can either pick it up at the store or have it delivered right to your door. “It’s like having a custom chef ” says Penny Polites co-owner of Organic Art Cuisine along with Chef Lori Bailey. “Each day we do several selections that you’re able to choose from and everything we prepare is completely fresh.” Not only fresh but all of their ingredients are 100 percent certified organic. Organic Art Cusine also offers a lunch menu all day as well as catering services.