Rarely is there any real call to eat at a grocery store. The point of grocery stores is simple: they stock bulk food that you can purchase, bring home, and use to cook meals precisely as you like them. Moreover: Groceries are fully aware of this, and when they do make a foray into the ready-to-eat category, the food tends to be monotonous, expensive, and packaged in those annoying crinkly clear plastic clamshell boxes.
Seward Co-op’s hot deli bar, therefore, is an odd duck. The aggressively multi-cultural menu changes daily. Sample spoons allow for on-site “try before you buy” action. Take-out boxes are biodegradable and — in contrast to most of its peers in grocery stores throughout the Cities — the hot deli bar is often circled by ravenous shoppers angling for a crack at the chicken tikka masala, or cassoulet, or doro wat. There’s a sense of excitement about this food that is downright intriguing, if not actually disconcerting.
Price is fair: $7.99 gets you a pound of whatever, or whatever(s) at the hot deli bar, and there are drinks and desserts available in conveniently located nearby sections of the store. You can easily make an entertaining three-component meal and walk out for less than eight bucks, or take your plate over to the dour but clean in-store eating corral and consume your stuff right on site.
The fact that sampling and multi-entree purchasing is so easy means that your bets are hedged. This is a nice option anywhere, but particularly vital when food is prepared in bulk at various times of day and with varying degrees of success.
Quality (from a taste perspective) at Seward is not so much “hit or miss” as “hit or nice try.” When entrees fell down, it was generally at least an interesting attempt; a Kung Pao Tofu with overly earthy rice and too little kick, a piece of raspberry pie with a huge real raspberry hit and a little too little sweetness or crust. Mixed successes or noble failures; these represent the price for trying something interesting. An oatmeal pineapple date bar sweetened with organic brown rice syrup was a bit carb-heavy but ultimately sophisticated and tasty, although the size (a half pound!) was absurd.
But the hits are solid. A four cheese lasagna popped and crackled with real cheese flavor, meaning that you could actually pick out three if not four distinct cheeses amid the pasta. A cassoulet (an ambitious French-style duck, pork and beans stew) was a downright heretical inclusion in a hot deli bar, but it was pulled off well, with mild, Provence-inspired herbal flavors, tender beans and competently prepared meat.
A grass fed beef empanada was similarly well-executed, with a perfect filling-to-crust ratio, moist and flavorful meat, and an exterior crust that was neither greasy nor buttery. (Not that buttery is necessarily bad, per se…)
A visit to the “Today’s Menu” section of Seward’s pleasantly navigable site gives a bit of insight into just how varied and ambitious the hot deli offerings actually are:
Thursday, Feb. 19
Rosemary Garlic Chicken
Leek Roast Carrots/Tempeh
Curried Winter Squash & Chicken Stew
Friday, Feb. 20
Curried Mock Chicken Soup
Saturday, Feb. 21
Stratta Milano With Bacon
Baked French Toast/ Apples
Chicken Wild Rice Soup
Stratta? Seriously? Risotto cakes? Tandoori chicken? It’s not clear whether Seward is actually making money on this stuff, or just attracting a loyal following who dig getting varied hot food for a shockingly reasonable per-pound rate. Either way, it warrants a visit.
Learn more about this business in The Heavy Table’s Atlas of Ethical Eating and Drinking.
Various in Seward
2823 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
MANAGER: Billy Williams
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes and Yes
ENTREE RANGE: (under $8)