Give me a perfectly cooked burger on a buttery brioche bun and I'm yours forever.
Give it to me along with a dozen other delectable treats and it's just another night at Whole Foods.
Sous Chef and I were invited to another tasting event for food bloggers at the Columbia Whole Foods yesterday evening, in celebration of the launch of their new Counter menu. Every Whole Foods store has its own vibe and features, and the Counter maximizes on the approachability and liveliness of Downtown Columbia by serving up plant-centric (though by no means plant-exclusive) delicacies in a casual, diner-like setting.
Upon entering the roped-off tasting area in front of the Counter (I so wanted someone from my Clark Kent job to walk by seeing me do my Superman), we were greeted with plates of Sweet & Spicy Brussels Sprouts, Chickpea Fries with Truffle Salt, and Crispy Sesame Broccoli. All three were great - the Brussels sprouts were simply magical, a great combination of crushed red pepper and honey (at least that's what I think it was...try it for yourself and get back to me). The chickpea fries have the appearance and texture of breaded tofu strips, but with a creamy texture and buttery, nutty taste. The broccoli was crunchy without being dried out - I really need to learn how to make crispy veggies. I think an oven may be involved.
Chef Michael proceeded to guide us through the new menu, which features all-day breakfast (say it with me: Pancakes for dinner!) and a fun lunch/dinner menu that is so Columbia: a perfect mix of different cultures with a hit of Southern charm; there aren't many places where you can get a falafel sandwich or curry laksa and chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy...
We started with The Stack - wheatless (yes, wheatless) pancakes with apple butter and syrup. There is just something about a fluffy pancake dipped in sweet maple syrup that brings me back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons and footie pajamas. So comforting, and these pancakes hit the spot.
Next, we indulged in a couple of breakfast sandwiches: The Biscuit, featuring locally produced biscuits from Room 11 (Chef Michael waxed poetic about how you can see the chunks of fresh butter in the biscuits when they arrive at the store; I proceeded to spontaneously drool on his shoes), and the Counter Fave - an egg/kielbasa/kale/English muffin concoction that positively curled Sous Chef's toes.
After sampling one of the three breakfast scrambles on the new menu, (we dined on the Southwest Tofu version - quite tasty), we moved on to the Lunch/Dinner menu.
You know how sometimes you just want noodles? A perfect combination of spicy broth, tangy citrus, and a dash of coconut creaminess? Then get the Curry Laksa - it's all that and a crispy shallot. Yes, crispy shallots are the new bag of chips.
The Chicken & Biscuit is a comforting classic - crispy fried chicken thighs, some more of those fantastic biscuits, and a creamy sausage gravy. The Avocado Tacos, featuring deep fried avocado, cabbage slaw, and a chipotle remoulade, transported me to a SoCal beachside cantina. The Cacio E Pepe, which Chef Michael explained is based on what was the first "macaroni and cheese", was great as well - the freshly cracked black pepper bit nicely through the creamy pecorino cheese and butter surrounding the spaghetti.
The Columbia Burger
My favorite item from the Lunch/Dinner menu had to be the Columbia Burger. I'm such a sucker for a good burger; it is why I have always been and will probably always be an utter failure at veganism. As soon as I saw it on the menu, I beelined it over to Chef Michael and said, "You are so going to let us try this." (I can be a bit forward when it comes to burgers). He playfully said, "Maaaaaaaybe..." and I knew we were in for it. As soon as Sous Chef and I had it in our hands, we both started swearing. When a burger makes you curse with pleasure, you know it's good.
Who knew you could get such good comfort food at Whole Foods? Admit it - when people think of Whole Foods, they often picture hippies buying beans and lentils (something I did actually witness in the checkout line not too long ago), but it's so much more than that. Whole Foods is very much the representation of my ideal food approach - healthy and really, really fun at the same time. The perfection of the 80/20 rule. Knowing where my food comes from - not just my produce and meat, but my cookies, too.
Sous Chef and I are already planning our next trip to the Counter. The menu will cycle and update throughout the seasons, while still keeping a few standards (fingers crossed the Columbia Burger is one of them).
And for those of you who are wondering: Yes, there's a dessert menu. And it includes a hot fudge sundae. It's next on my list.
Harvest time. One of my goals this year is to have a steady supply of wheatgrass ice cubes. So far, we're off to a good start.
A well-timed chocolate fix. Another goal? No "drive by" snacking. Any and all snacks/desserts will be intentional and thought out. No more Hey I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water but then I opened the cabinet and saw the cookies so now I've got twenty cookies in my lap and no water moments.
Having the best name ever. There's just something powerful and elegant and lovely about my name, and I'm not ashamed of loving it so much. If I were crazy enough to procreate and it were a girl, I'd want to give her my name. Men do it all the time - why is it considered "weird" or "self-centered" when a woman does it?
Ear candy. Being able to pop in my earbuds and stream the comings and goings of my six favorite fictional friends makes the work day so much better.
Whittling away the to-do list. My work email inbox is a running to-do list. If I get a new task, I send myself an email and it stays in my inbox, acting as a virtual Post-It note. Yesterday, I got to archive two of those emails. Progress.
Back in the kitchen again. Yet another goal for this year? Cook five nights a week. We've been sticking to it exceptionally well, and for me, there are few things more satisfying than methodically transforming ingredients into something more than they once were.