On the run, Well Done

“To go” no longer means a paper bag full of burgers and greasy French fries

Photo By Jill Wagner

Once upon a time, if you were hungry but pressed for time or too lazy to cook, your feeding options were simple: the drive-through window at the nearest fast-food joint or your neighborhood pizza parlor. Why should you suffer with mediocre food just because you are inept with a skillet, have an overextended suburban mom or are a bit of a workaholic? In Sacramento, a number of markets around town offer restaurant-quality meals “to go” at reasonable prices. So, forget the submarine sandwiches, burgers and French fries. When you pick up dinner from one of these carryout markets, it could very well be the best meal you’ve had all week.

Corti Brothers
Behind the façade of this friendly neighborhood grocery store lurks a gourmand’s dream come true. The deli case stretches for an entire aisle, showing off dozens of Italian meats and cheeses; fresh-made pasta and potato salads; and ready-to-heat main dishes; like salmon cakes, meatloaf, chicken cutlets, and spinach and zucchini frittata. Particularly mouthwatering are the zeppelin-sized twice-baked potatoes with Gruyère cheese. An adjacent self-serve bar features gourmet olives and roasted peppers. Buy whatever you want by the pound and heat it up at home. Perhaps the best feature of the Corti Brothers gourmet “to go” experience is the large selection of single beers. Curious what a Staropramen from the Czech Republic tastes like? Want to see how a Quilmes Cerveza from Argentina complements your chicken and jalapeno quesadilla? For about $1.50, you can sample such international brews, or choose one from a number of stateside microbreweries. 5810 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 736-3800.

A happy customer refuels on the go at Selland’s.

Photo By Jill Wagner

David Berkley Fine Wines and Specialty Foods
So what if you don’t own a Mercedes. You still deserve a great meal, and this cramped but classy specialty market can deliver it, or at least pack it up for you. Here, you can get a complete meal to go; such as a main dish, potato and vegetable … for $14.99. We’re not talking Salisbury steak here. The take-out menu reads like the Joy of Cooking: black angus rib roast, pan-fried sole with red wine sauce, skillet fried corn bread with orange blossom honey, chicken and basmati soup with cilantro pesto. David Berkley uses lots of local organic produce and the quality shows. On a recent trip, the broccoli was perfectly done (crunchy but tender, well-seasoned but not overpowering) and the daily pasta special (corkscrew-like cavatappi with cherry tomatoes in a tomato cream sauce with Parmigiano-Reggiano) was a meal in itself. With all of the fresh, delicious dinner items, it’s easy, but not advised, to overlook the dessert case and its comprehensive selection of tarts, truffles and cakes. 515 Pavilions Lane, (916) 929-4422.

Italian Importing Company
This is take-out that any Italian matriarch would be proud of: good, hearty and reasonably priced. You’ll get a full, hot meal to go in a Styrofoam container for less than ten bucks. Think good, old-fashioned Italian comfort food. Vegetable or meat lasagna, gnocchi with Bolognese sauce, cheese ravioli, linguine with white or red clam sauce, all served with salad and garlic bread. Combine that with a selection of old world incidentals like sparkling water, canned Oranciata or a tiramisu cake from the small dessert case, and your meal is complete and hassle free. With locations in East Sacramento and Midtown, the Italian Importing Company is a convenient place to stop, whether en route to grandma’s or heading home to sack out in front of the television after a long day at work. 1827 J Street, (916) 442-6678; 5030 Folsom Boulevard, (916) 452-6974.

I repeat, so what if you don’t have a Mercedes. This upscale market-cum-café can provide a fully prepared, restaurant-quality meal for two for under $40, and you don’t have to dress up or socialize to get it. Choose from nearly ten predetermined dinner plates—such as grilled salmon with roasted red potatoes and veggies for $14 or teriyaki chicken with macaroni and cheese and veggies for $10—or mix and match several prepared dishes to suit your mood (who says eggplant casserole, mashed potatoes and cucumber salad don’t go together)? You can also choose from the dessert case: A single serving of creamy pannacotta, airy raspberry mouse or pumpkin pie is the perfect way to top off your gourmet meal to go. 5340 H Street, (916) 736-3333.

Whole Foods Market
If you lived within strolling distance of Whole Foods, you might never cook dinner again. Why bother, when you can just frolic down the expansive prepared foods aisle here and eat a completely different but delicious thing every night of the week? Monday, visit the deli and choose from a hodgepodge of cold salads or entrées that you can heat up at home. Sushi rolls, curried-chicken salad, chicken fajitas, meatloaf, lasagna, sesame tofu, wild mushroom quesadillas, potato pancakes and julienne vegetables are a just a few of the items that appear regularly. Tuesday, visit what I’ve affectionately dubbed the “hot comfort-food station” for barbecued ribs and chicken, gooey macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, turkey meatballs, grilled vegetables and other finger-licking choices. Wednesday, make for the serve-yourself hot-food station: It typically features Asian fare (teriyaki chicken, kung-pao tofu, fried rice) or a Tex-Mex theme, such as the impressive make-your-own-taco bar with everything from black beans and sautéed corn to fresh salsas and guacamole. If you feel like you’ve been eating too much, hit the salad bar on Thursday to make your own amalgamation of vegetables, fruits, nuts, croutons and dressings, or choose from at least four kinds of soup. Friday is causal, the perfect evening for a few slices of fresh pizza or a made-to-order sandwich. Not only does the food at Whole Foods taste good, it does good, too. The company is committed to sustainable agriculture and humane farming and uses only naturally raised meats and cage-free eggs in its prepared food. 4315 Arden Way, (916) 488-2800.