Breakfast, people say, is the most important meal of the day, but if you ask me I’ll tell you it’s all about lunch. My devotion to the midday meal began during a college semester spent studying in Spain. In between an almost non-existent breakfast and a light dinner, the Spanish lunch is a drawn out multi-course affair that merits driving home for and requires a digestion siesta immediately afterward. While my stateside lunches aren’t nearly as grand, the meal is still the culinary anchor of my day. Said plainly, I like to do lunch right.
Doing lunch right generally means eating well and eating cheap, so when a friend promised we could eat like kings for under $30 at Venetian Village’s Artichoke and Co. I was eager to give it a try.
Located within the Northern cluster of shops at the open-air waterside mall, Artichoke and Co. isn’t exactly a restaurant. It’s two parts deli and one part gourmet market – a homey kind of place where you can pick up all the fixings for an upscale picnic: a bottle of wine, some hefty sandwiches, a variety of pasta salads and even a basket to carry them all away in.
My friend and I decided to skip the mosquitoes and sunburns and eat our lunch at the restaurant instead. Browsing the brief menu accented with enticing ingredients like homemade bread, hickory smoked bacon, buffalo mozzarella and roasted garlic aioli, we settled on a pair of sandwiches to share, a medium cup of pasta salad and two fresh baked cookies for dessert.
A few minutes later our feast began. A server delivered our sandwiches in cute straw baskets alongside potato chips and a pickle spear, and with our mouths beginning to water we dug right in. My cordon bleu sandwich ($6.95) was a thick cut of grilled chicken breast topped with honey ham, Swiss cheese and slathered with Honey Cup honey mustard on homemade ciabatta bread. The flavors of salty and sweet mingled deliciously, and the moist chicken breast offered the needed bit of balance to the intensity of other tastes. If this was an indication of the dishes to come, I was sure we were in for a treat.
Our other pick proved equally wise. The Tuscany sandwich ($7.95) combined a tall stack of ribbony prosciutto di Parma, imported mozzarella, roasted red peppers and sun dried tomatoes with a fresh basil puree and piled it all onto thick slices of balsamic-stained bread. With its blend of scrumptious Italian ingredients, the sandwich was enormous and outstanding, just the way I like my lunch.
After eating as much as we could of our sandwiches (read: coming nowhere near cleaning our plates) we turned our attention to the pasta salad and cookies. The salad was a light and refreshing mix of ziti, mozzarella, fresh basil and tomato. Its clean Italian flavors made it a fitting accompaniment to our Tuscany sandwich and a lovely way to finish off the savory portion of our meal.
Despite already being in the groaning stages of fullness, we couldn’t pass up our dessert, and like the rest of Artichoke and Co.’s offerings, the cookies did not disappoint. The chocolate chip cookie was thick and crunchy with still gooey chunks of chocolate and our peanut butter was so moist is elicited a breathless “oh my god” from my friend.
For a gentle $27.40, Artichoke and Co. had delivered a satisfying multi-course lunch that left me grinning, stuffed and safely under budget. Thought I couldn’t help but wonder, “With a lunch this good, who needs breakfast?”