Quick food fix

Posted: July 11, 2014 at 6 a.m.

AMBER STANLEY-KRUTH/NWA MEDIA Housemade tuna cakes and baguettes with White River Creamery 6-pepper chevre

There is a growing consciousness in the food and restaurant industry that is leading many businesses to make healthier decisions about the foods they prepare for their customers. Current marketing trends emphasize food that is fresh, made from scratch and baked in house. Even fast-food restaurants are targeting the health-conscious consumer, which shows that convenience, quickness and price are also priorities for dining out.

At A la Carte deli, customers can get a quick, convenient meal made by a local business with local ingredients and largely organic products. The dynamic selection of dishes are priced comparable to other quick-meal restaurants, and nearly all items are self-serve and ready-to-go for added convenience.

"We provide healthy food and are also providing the convenience ... plus, everything is extremely fresh," said deli manager Rachel McDonald.

A la Carte is set within Ozark Natural Foods, located in Evelyn Hills Shopping Center off North College Avenue in Fayetteville. Ozark Natural Foods is a cooperative grocery store, meaning that it is owned and controlled by individual members, however services are available to the general public. Owners are privy to certain discounts, but anyone can access their diverse supply of goods. (For an interesting backstory on this grass-roots grown grocery, visit ozarknaturalfoods.com/about/our-history).

A la Carte is a full-service deli, bakery and catering department that offers a large selection of ready-to-eat meals made with fresh, primarily local and organic, ingredients.

"We offer healthy options, on-the-go, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can mix and match your meal experience through our options -- hence the name A la Carte," McDonald said.

Offerings include breakfast biscuits or burritos; coffee and espresso; fresh baked goods; house-made soups; hot lunch bar; salad bar; sandwiches; pizza; and salads.

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AMBER STANLEY-KRUTH/NWA MEDIA Turkey and mozzarella grab-and-go sandwich on housemade ciabatta

In addition to consistent staple dishes, seasonal items are featured and a few new items are added to the menu to engage customers' interest. Whenever farmers' markets are in season, the deli sources a variety of product from the local farmers.

New items on the summer menu include tuna cakes, maple-bacon scones and grab-and-go sandwiches, such as chicken salad; ham and swiss; or turkey and mozzarella.

The grab-and-go section is quick and convenient for putting together a picnic or grabbing lunch and heading back to the office. Plus, the healthier meals make people feel better throughout the day, McDonald said.

The bakers arrive at 5 a.m. to start muffins, scones and bread for the day. Shortly after, the morning kitchen crew filters in to start cooking the breakfast biscuits and burritos.

"We actually scramble and bake our eggs, so they come out fluffy, like a souffle," McDonald said.

A pastry case displays fresh baked muffins, scones and cookies. A rotating schedule for the scones and muffins is featured at ozarknaturalfoods.com/departments/alacarte. Most varieties appear once a week or make a second appearance as a vegan spelt variety. The new and popular maple-bacon scone is an exception with availability on Mondays and Fridays.

The coffee and tea bar has self-service coffee and hot tea or full-service espresso drinks and herbal infusions. Local roaster Onyx Coffee Lab provides a custom blend of hand-crafted beans and a variety of Harney & Sons teas also are served.

The deli also prepares artisan breads including baguette and ciabatta. The bread is made from scratch with War Eagle Mill flour, and the ciabatta loaves are used for the grab-and-go sandwiches.

The loaves of bread are situated in a self-serve case, next to a selection of local and European cheeses. Local farmstead White River Creamery supplies feta and several varieties of fromage blanc, and goat cheese when in season (which it is, currently).

Individual dishes are boxed and ready in the grab-and-go section. There are plated salads, grilled paninis, fresh wraps and quick snacks from hummus to chicken salad. House-made dressings accompany the plated salads, such as the lemon vinaigrette with the Greek salad or the sesame ginger dressing with the Asian Ginger salad.

Customers can also have some items made fresh to their preference, with or without certain ingredients.

"We have several ready-made sandwiches, but we can definitely custom-make a sandwich," McDonald said.

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AMBER STANLEY-KRUTH/NWA MEDIA Housemade tuna cakes and baguettes with White River Creamery 6-pepper chevre

A hot bar is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. daily and offers a weekly rotation of items priced at $8.79 per pound. Limited amounts are made daily, so items may vary based upon availability. There is also a salad bar set up on the opposite side of the hot bar.

Daily soup selections include a vegan soup and either a vegetarian soup or meat-based soup. The soups are $2.99 for a 8 ounces and $3.69 for a 12 ounces.

Hand-tossed pizzas feature housemade sauce, mozzarella cheese and a crust made with organic, whole-wheat flour or gluten free. Following the virtues of convenience, the pizza can be picked up hot and ready, as take-and-bake or by the slice. Customers can call (479) 521-7558 to place an order. Pricing starts at $11.99 for a pizza with one meat and two vegetable toppings.

A la Carte in Ozark Natural Foods is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays.

NAN Dining Guide Cover on 07/11/2014

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