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Food Dude

Hy-Vee Market Café

11/26/2014

Salmon dinner at Hy-Vee Market Cafe.

Salmon dinner at Hy-Vee Market Cafe.

After touring northern Arkansas, I came home with a new appreciation for the basic comforts of our local food scene. For instance, I ate 13 meals in the Delta and Ozarks, and only three places offered butter. Most served cornbread and biscuits. How does one eat those without butter? Two places did not even have milk. One of those was a busy 300-seater that attracted family diners. Razorback children are being raised on Coca-Cola products and sweet tea. Back in Des Moines, I asked several local chefs if the absence of butter was as strange and terrible as it seemed to me. Fifteen out of 15 agreed that it was.

While I was out of town, Dahl’s filed for bankruptcy, something anticipated in local rumor mills for years. Dahl’s has been beaten by Hy-Vee in many of the same markets, much like once mighty Winn Dixie had its butt kicked by Publix in southern markets a decade ago. As a lifelong Dahl’s loyalist, I thought it was time to visit the conqueror, which recently rolled out a brave new restaurant format.

After eating at three different Hy-Vee Market Cafés, I immediately noted a distinguishing factor compared to Dahl’s: Hy-Vees have multiple entrances. When the wind chill is below zero and the parking lot is icy, that’s a customer service that matters. No entrances were “closed because of cold weather” either.

Hy-Vee debuted Market Fresh two years ago as a prototype to upgrading their larger stores’ dining facilities. I was not enthusiastic at the time, thinking it was overpriced and badly integrated with adjoining supermarkets. Their menu was too long for servers to know much about anything. Two years later, I understand why Hy-Vee is a winner. The Market Fresh brand has been scrapped and replaced by Market Grille and Market Café. The former operates in a few megastores. The latter has a shorter menu and about five times as many cafés.

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Breakfast is still a bargain. Two eggs, two bacon strips or sausages and buttered toast ( I am told that Hy-Vee kitchens can use butter or margarine at their discretion, so ask, if it matters) with jam cost $5, an extra $1 adds hashed brown potatoes. A skillet with chicken-fried steak, hash browns, gravy toast and cheese ran $7. Sandwiches with bagels or English muffins ($3-$5), pancakes, burritos and oatmeal rounded out the menu. Sundays, an “all you can eat” eggs Benedict brunch, with endless cocktails, is drawing the largest crowds of the week.

Lunch and dinner menu offerings are simplified from two years ago. Gone is an overpriced sushi menu that bothered me. So are Amana steaks and other more expensive offerings. Flatbread pizza ($8) delighted me with minimal, fresh ingredients. Salmon and sirloin dinners (both $15) were cooked perfectly to order as rare. That’s hard to find. Both were accompanied with excellent grilled vegetable strips that were not even mentioned on the menu. Sides included good macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad and grilled asparagus. A Reuben ($9) was based on well-marbled corned beef. Oddly, the cafes served Caribou coffee, right next door to Starbucks kiosks in the same store. A happy hour after 8 p.m. provided such bargains as $2 pints of Bell’s and Confluence products.

I asked personnel at three stores how customers were reacting to the changes. The consensus was that about 20 percent love it, 20 percent hate it, and the majority don’t seem to care one way or the other. Those who don’t approve mention the end of free coffee refills and the removal of tables from the Starbucks kiosks.

Side Dishes Newly remodeled Machine Shed will provide all Thanksgiving buffet receipts to Wildwood Ranch. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

Hy-Vee Market Café
Seven local locations
www.hy-veemarketcafe.com/locations/

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