Pluto’s orbit

Downtown fresh-food outlet seeks to feed ‘a hungry universe’

MEAT ME AT PLUTO’S Uri Kenig slices up the tri-tip at the popular new downtown eatery.

MEAT ME AT PLUTO’S Uri Kenig slices up the tri-tip at the popular new downtown eatery.

Photo By Carla Resnick

In the solar system: Pluto’s is located at 210 Main St. (343-0165, Open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

If you find yourself shopping till you’re dropping in downtown Chico, you might reach a point where you need fortification in the form of fast, healthful, delicious nourishment.

Open since April, Pluto’s offers a refreshing change from some of the Birkenstock’s-practically-required restaurants of the downtown area. Bright, modern and chic and employing a cadre of positive people who truly know the definition of “hospitality,” Pluto’s is part of a chain of sister stores that stretches from the Bay Area to Chico. Upscale and upbeat, Pluto’s has an “urban feel” to it that most downtown restaurants don’t offer.

Although it’s a chain restaurant, Pluto’s doesn’t offer the boring, formulaic food that some chains flop onto a plate. Its slogan tells all: “Fresh food for a hungry universe.” The freshness of the food jumps out at you the minute you walk into the 2nd and Main Street venue and view the extravagant, just-picked-appearing salad fixings glimmering beyond the glass.

You’ll probably have to stand in line—Pluto’s is popular and busy—especially if you hit it during a peak lunch rush. While standing in lines is never preferred, Pluto’s has an excellent system down that keeps the line moving quickly.

Part of the trick involves guests marking their choices on a paper menuette that is then handed to the counter help for processing. After you receive your food, you present this guest check to the cashier and pay your total.

Although one of my fellow shoppers made a snippy remark about having to “fill out” a menu, I didn’t mind it at all. Anything to expedite a line—especially when those lined up are clearly ravenous—is fine in my book.

Pluto’s menu items fall into the following categories: Greens & Things, Meats & Poultry, Veggies & Spuds, Sweets, Quenchers and Little Astronauts. The Farmer’s Greens with Choice of Crunchy Fixings comes as either a side ($3.95) or a main course ($4.80), and it can be ordered with grilled chicken or marinated flank steak (both well prepared) for an additional sum. You get to choose the particular salad fixings that go onto your salad, which seems like a very intelligent way to allow people to get a salad they really like. Besides, it’s fun having all of those choices (15 total), and the mushrooms, roasted peppers and sweet walnuts (along with grilled chicken) on the fresh bed of greens was custom-made for this rabbit-food eater. A slice of fresh-baked bread cost only 25 cents, and extra meat was but $1.50.

Meats are available by the slice or in sandwiches, all for reasonable prices; the Grilled Herb Chicken and the Herb-Roasted Sonoma Turkey provide special treats to the discerning meat lover, and the Grilled Portabella Mushroom Sandwich looks like a must-try. Also worthy of future visits is the “Celestial Sandwich of the Week,” and you can add cranberries or BBQ sauce onto your sandwich for an additional 25 cents.

A variety of sides can accentuate your meal, including the Crater of Orbital Soup ($3.50), Smashed Spuds of the Day with Beef Sherry or Turkey Gravy ($1.65), Seasonal Veggies ($1.65), Grilled Eggplant ($1.65) and others. In sampling an array of these sides, we found none that were unsavory, and, somewhat amazingly, they all tasted fresh—even in a chain restaurant.

A number of homemade sweets are available for those who want dessert, and a nice variety of drinks, including Napa Valley wines, will slake the thirst (and raise the spirits) of the weary shopper.

Pluto’s is child friendly, too, offering Crispy Chicken Asteroids ($2.50), Saturn Potato Rings ($1.00) and Pretzel Cheese Lasers ($1.50) for littler shoppers.

But don’t wait till you’re on the verge of dropping—Pluto’s offers a pleasant lunch-time break for even the most die-hard retail-therapy aficionados who lustfully wander the downtown boutiques.