Prepared foods are big, big business. Freshly made soups, casseroles, and grilled meats, cooked up by a gourmet shop or supermarket deli, accounted for more than $32 billion in food sales last year, according to a recent survey by market specialist Packaged Facts. It’s no secret that a visit to one’s favorite food establishment is often on the evening route of Fairfield County moms and working couples.
Looming large on the menus at such places are comfort foods—soups, chilis, mac and cheese, grilled sandwiches—that satisfy a hungry family and have the cachet of taste and aroma of homemade without the kitchen labor. When time is short, here are some shops that do significant business in comfort offerings:
First, inhale deeply at a good prepared food outlet, and you will understand its appeal.
These stores smell great. If you’re looking for the right spot for picking up your own meals-in-a-minute-or-two, let your nose be your guide.
Our first stop on a circuit of fragrant shops was The Pantry on the Post Road in Fairfield, where General Manager Paul Zawadski ran down the list of foods that top the list of comfort offerings.
“You will nearly always find favorites such as chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie on our menu,” notes Paul. “We are known for our mac and cheese with ham and peas, and every day, we have a soup du jour and panini du jour. Wednesday is Turkey Chili Day, and we get plenty of regular customers for that.”
There’s in-store seating at The Pantry, making a meal-on-the-go easier than ever; on a busy Saturday afternoon when we stopped by, there was not an empty chair in the house.
Next up, a stop at Aux Delices in Westport in the Jennings Plaza shopping center, where customers can also eat at the store’s on-premises bistro (serving beer and wine along with their comfort food). The fourth, and newest of co-founder Debra Ponzek’s shops, Aux Delices Westport follows a tradition that has proven its success from the flagship location in Riverside, then joined by spaces in Greenwich and Darien.
In the shop were ready made packages of delectable looking mac and cheese, and three kinds of panini. We later spoke with Ponzek by phone for more details about Aux Delices’ comforting entrees.
“I think I could sell beef bourguignon all year,” notes the chef. “We do tons of different soups, and there are specials every week—New England clam chowder, turkey and white bean, and always some vegetable soup are big favorites. As for chili, we make turkey, beef, and vegetarian varieties.”
Kings supermarket which replaced old favorite Porricelli’s in downtown Old Greenwich, has a noteworthy and enormous deli department, with comfort food galore, and very friendly, helpful staff—great customer service was a constant, everywhere we went. Four soup pots were brimming with three piping-hot soups—chicken noodle, New England clam chowder, and spiced pumpkin bisque—and beef chili, with containers and sides of oyster crackers conveniently placed for self-service. The servers were eager to let customers sample from the deli case, where mac and cheese and lots of different meats and salads were on offer.
We saved a renewed old favorite for last as we headed home through North Stamford.
LaRocca's Country Market
LaRocca’s Country Market (formerly Giovanni’s Country Market), has been our family’s go-to store for prepared food for years. In addition to soups, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, freshly made meatballs and the store’s homemade pasta, and great chili, all served from the deli hot table, there’s a large rotating selection in the prepared food case.
One final note—for those who’ve really got a long to do list—all of the above-mentioned shops will prepare your holiday feast (family dinner or party-size), with turkey and trimmings. Call or visit them for the details.
Who knew that no cooking nights could be so delicious?