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Gourmet to go 

GOURMET TO-GO: The Market at Capers.
  • GOURMET TO-GO: The Market at Capers.

For those of us who can’t cook or don’t have time to cook, the Market at Capers makes to-go meals to answer the everyday query: “What’s for dinner?” If you’re only familiar with Capers as a fine dine-in destination in Little Rock, you’ve been missing out. Since November 2005, Marilyn Greene and staff have been offering gourmet to-go dinners, soups, salads and desserts along with a full range of delivery and catering services through the Market at Capers adjacent to Capers restaurant.

The gourmet market prepares a different heat-and-eat meal each night. Seafood dinners – pan-sautéed tilapia, grilled grouper, pecan-crusted salmon and shrimp enchiladas – are $10.95. Pasta dishes, including tortellini alfredo, fettuccine with grilled chicken and pasta rustica, and meat entrées – pork tenderloin, stuffed chicken and chicken cordon blue – are $9.95.

Sampling three dinners on three different occasions, the single serving portions filled us up each time. (We even had a little bit left over for a late-evening, straight-from-the-fridge snacking.)

For our first Market experience, we picked proscuitto-stuffed tortellini Alfredo with artichoke hearts ($9.95), roasted garlic and brie soup ($4.95 for 16 oz.) and Caesar salad ($2.95). Smooth, creamy and packing a flavorful punch against the bland pasta, the soup stood out among the evening fare. While the tangy dressing made the salad a delightful addition to dinner, it could’ve used a handful of crunchy croutons for texture and variety. Served with a sugary sweet citrus icing, the vanilla cheesecake ($2.95) was unexpectedly fluffy, almost custard-like.

The next night’s special was pasta rustica ($9.95), pesto-based S-shaped pasta (called Casarecci) topped with four jumbo shrimp, sliced Italian sausages and grated parmesan. The pesto pasta itself bordered on boring, but the spicy sausage saved the subtle dish. The large shrimp – tails on – gave the entrée a fishy aroma that my dinner guest – a Louisiana native raised on crawfish and gumbo – didn’t appreciate. We shared the “house” tomato basil soup ($3.95 for 16 oz.), which we dubbed “pizza soup” for its simple cheese flavor at the front and spicy tomato finish. The “house” salad ($2.95), which included a hunk of tomato, onion and mushrooms and light, sweet champagne vinaigrette, proved perfect for summertime. The dense double chocolate cheesecake with tart raspberry preserve sauce was tasty but heavy.

The final dish was grilled salmon with black bean salsa and chipotle-tangerine vinaigrette ($10.95) served with rice. The large fish fillet was well-seasoned with a hint of pepper, and the black bean salsa with pineapple chunks accompanied by spiced citrus vinaigrette brought excitement to the meal. This was, by far, the best-looking, best-tasting dish of the three. The coconut crème pie ($2.95) was a good dessert choice as well. The thick, pudding-based pie had a buttery, crumbly graham cracker crust on the outside and just the right amount of shredded coconut on the inside.

The market makes about 20 dinners each night, so it’s best to call ahead and make a reservation for pick-up. After 3 p.m., call 868-1182, and check out the monthly menu online at www.marketatcapers.com.

While picking up your to-go dinner, you’ll notice shelves upon shelves of specialty items for creating your own meals at home: jarred pesto of interesting varieties, such as sweet pumpkin and sweet onion, imported olive oil ($24-$38 for a big bottle), sea-salted capers from Sicily, dyed pastas (striped bowties and rainbow linguine), fig orange spread and other jams and jellies, packets of powdered hot chocolate, chai tea and flavored coffees. Arkansas-based products include Maumelle-made Otis & Betty’s Snack Pretzel Mix and Esther’s Sauce, a Little Rock concoction. While shopping, you can snack on pimento cheese spread from the Capers kitchen and something called Ritzy Glitzy Trash, a cereal-pretzel-nut mixture dusted in white chocolate flavoring. All specialty items can be purchased and made into gift baskets.

In the deli case, the Market has three or four salads for sale: chicken salad (made with mayonnaise and chopped red and yellow peppers, onions and celery), an Indonesian salad (a mayo-based noodle salad with chopped red and yellow peppers, onions, water chestnuts and peanuts), and a green bean and red onion salad with feta cheese. They also have a solid selection of cheeses, including St. Andres.

On July 16, Market at Capers president Mary Beth Ringgold will open Copper Grill & Grocery, a 6,800-square-foot restaurant and market in the 300 Third building in downtown Little Rock. Initially at least, Ringgold says the restaurant and grocery will offer similar fare as Capers and the Market at Capers.

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