Buy Out, Eat In 

At Fresh Market, prepared foods rescue moms from resorting to concession stand fare

At Fresh Market, prepared foods rescue moms from resorting to concession stand fare

The Fresh Market

235 Franklin Road. 373-9402

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sun.

Ask any mother in this hyper-paced, over-scheduled, fast food nation, and she'll say it's a challenge to serve your children a healthful, nutritionally sound and balanced diet. When you have two hours between hook-up line at school and soccer practice across town, the lure of the drive-through is undeniable. While Super Moms might have had the forethought to get something in the crock pot for dinner while serving breakfast and assembling lunches, most of us are standing in the kitchen at 5:30, desperately seeking the answer to the burning question, "Mom, what's for dinner?"

It's hard enough at home, but take this show on the road, and you might as well just give up any pretense of responsible feeding. Like millions of other parents with athletically inclined offspring, I spend a considerable amount of time in speck-on-the-map towns that somehow secure the privilege of hosting sports tournaments. While the kids rest up for the day's game, and the dads look for a golf course, the moms are responsible for the care and feeding of not only the team, but also team siblings. Breakfast is typically cobbled together from the contents of a cooler (juice, milk, fruit, yogurt), and Subway gets the lunch nod for its non-fried fare. Dinner usually comes from the ballpark concession stand. How many hot dogs can you consume without suffering serious threats to your projected life span?

Thus, wherever we go, I always keep an eye out for something, anything, that might offer an alternative. Two years ago, in Greenville, S.C., for the Cal Ripken Little League Regional Tournament, I hit pay dirt on my way to the Wishy-Washy for uniform duty. A big sign in front of a store announced something I feared was too good to be true: "The Fresh Market."

But inside, I indeed found nirvana, in the form of an artfully arranged, aesthetically pleasing, thoughtfully serviced market with a bounty of gourmet foods that promised deliverance from our culinary purgatory. That night, I offered the grown-ups a fabulous spread of cheeses, olives, breads, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, dips, sushi, spring rolls, boiled shrimp and smoked salmon. During the rest of the tournament, the moms made a daily beeline for Fresh Market, a soothing alternative to chaperoning the team at the nearby bowling alley.

When I got home, I looked up its Web site and found that Fresh Market was a family-owned business founded more than 20 years before in Greensboro, N.C., "on one simple idea: to bring neighbors, family and friends products they would savor and enjoy." Its goal is "to be the food destination store for people who enjoy cooking and good eating."

When I called headquarters to implore them to put this idea and goal into practice in Nashville, I found out about their plans to open a Fresh Market in the well-heeled suburb south of us, Brentwood. I was already hurt to discover that, of the company's 40-some stores, there were two in the Knoxville area, two in the Memphis area and one in Chattanooga. Now I was saddened to find out that, while the company was indeed finally coming to Middle Tennessee, it would not be in Davidson County, but along that teeming strip of Franklin Road that feeds into the McMansioned subdivisions of Williamson County.

On Oct.13, Fresh Market opened in the former H.G. Hill store at 235 Franklin Road, and shoppers thronged inside, strolling happily from one sample station to another.

I returned a couple of weeks after the grand opening for a more typical look at the new store. Outside, a blackboard on an easel announced weekly specials. Inside, the store was as striking as I'd remembered—terra cotta-tiled floors, brick walls, lots of wood, soft lighting and the faint soundtrack of classical music. Proceeding counterclockwise around the perimeter of the store, I saw an orderly arrangement of floral, produce, seafood, meat, dairy, frozen and, finally, bulk items. In the center of the store is the deli and prepared foods station, where more than a dozen white-coated employees stand by to pack up rotisserie-roasted chicken, pork or salmon, salads, entrées, sushi, soups and sandwiches.

Though nearly every department seems slightly smaller than the super-sized Cool Springs Wild Oats, quantity does not necessarily suffer, and quality is clearly valued. While there isn't as much cheese variety as Wild Oats has in its Green Hills store, I would venture to say that most consumers get a little dizzy when confronted with 20 types of goat cheese, anyway. The seafood case is likewise more minimal, but does offer lobster lovers the opportunity to order (for a 24- to 48-hour delivery) live Maine lobsters, sized from one to over two pounds, and a nice selection of caviar. The meat department—with a good assortment of lamb and veal cuts—is particularly appealing with its impressive array of ready-to-cook steak pinwheels, stuffed pork chops and skinless, boneless chicken breasts prepared with spinach and feta, portobello and mozzarella, gouda and roasted red pepper, or spinach and ricotta.

Extremely time-pressed or kitchen-challenged family feeders will no doubt avail themselves of the many options available in the store's core, where an entire dinner can be created beginning at the rotisserie section, moving along to prepared soups, salads and sides. You can grab a loaf of bread from one of the several freestanding display units, pick out a six-pack of imported beer (unfortunately, Tennessee's unfathomable liquor laws prevent Fresh Market from maintaining the wine departments present in their stores in other states), then choose dessert from the bakery and coffee from the barrels of beans close by the checkout stands.

Two blocks of shelving units stock packaged items more common to conventional grocery stores, such as cereal, crackers, sauces, condiments, pasta and canned goods. There are—just like at Kroger, Harris-Teeter and Wild Oats—a significant number of Fresh Market brand products, everything from cheese straws to marinara sauce.

Though my previous Fresh Market exposure was limited to a week's worth of daily visits to its Greenville store, I don't recall that store carrying cleaning supplies and paper goods, as the Brentwood one does. In fact, I had understood that Fresh Markets did not carry those items, thus the name Fresh Market. I was also a little surprised to see the box of Jiffy corn muffin mix near more distinguished bread mixes, and the bottle of Mazola corn oil a couple of shelves below the black truffle oil.

Whether that's specific to Brentwood or a companywide practice is unclear. Still, it's clear that Fresh Market is overall a worthy "food destination store for people who enjoy cooking and good eating." So Brentwood residents have another shopping option in their already overflowing basket, and it's certainly worth the drive for culinarily curious Davidson County residents.

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