› Where: Whole Foods, 301 Manufacturer’s Road
› Hours: 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
› Prices: $3.25-$14 for pizza, $7 vegetarian sandwich, $8 sandwich with meat
› Alcohol: Yes
› For more information: 423-702-7300
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of reviews featuring our staff's favorite places to dine. They are either go-to spots we frequent for good service and conversation, the favorite dishes we order over and over or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga dives that make us love our Scenic City that much more.
Whole Foods stands as my lunch-time hunger solution. I know the hype about how expensive it is. It's true. But there are ways around it.
I've previously written about the four for $5 meal, which allows customers to choose four food items from the deli for $5. The catch is that Whole Foods determines the foods from which the customer chooses. It's called their "Health Starts Here" menu. It includes no meat nor food with added sugar, salt or oil. But I promise it's not bad.
I like the sweet potatoes with nuts. I like garlicky kale, quinoa with mango and the sweet and spicy Kale Pad Thai Salad. Choices also sometimes include beets with oranges, lime quinoa and sesame kale.
I want to recognize two other lunch alternatives from the deli area, each under $10: the Athenian Vegetable Sandwich ($7) and the three-bean chili ($3.50).
At Whole Foods, sandwich meat comes in layers as thick as the bread, so it's possible to stretch one sandwich into two meals. Sandwiches with meat are $8.
But I recommend the Athenian vegetable sandwich. It comes on a hearty ciabatta roll made with organic wheat flour. It's stuffed with tangy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, hummus made with chickpeas and sesame seeds and feta cheese. I like to add onions. I promise it's good.
The feta cheese makes a creamy paste that holds everything together. Cucumbers, onions and tomatoes add bursts of flavor. Because the ciabatta roll is so thick, I usually get a spinach wrap instead of the bread. And sometimes, instead of getting hummus alone, I get one-half of the sandwich with garlic aioli. I pair the sandwich with a small bowl of spicy, three-bean chili. It's filled with tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, corn, onions and red peppers.
Another money-saving lunch option is to order $3 worth of food in the deli section. At $3 a serving, you can choose your own three deli selections and hold lunch to $9. Because kale is really light on the scales, $3 of it is pretty filling when paired with two other items. I like the spinach orzo and sweet chili soy nuggets.
The key is to be mindful of dense foods, because Whole Foods charges by weight. At $8.99 a pound it's possible to spend more than $10 on a plate of beans off the food bar.
Whole Foods is a grocery store, eatery and hangout. It's the place where co-workers and parents gather to grab lunch or grocery items before going home. And it's a place where you can try different seasonal foods, such as Cotton Candy grapes in summer or black Moon Drop grapes in the fall.
My son and I prefer to sit upstairs, where we scan the colorful produce while watching people shop, or sometimes we'll sit outdoors and watch birds. Whole Foods hosts live music some weeknights and the store holds cookouts called The Giving Grill, when the staff grills burgers or hot dogs to serve at a really good price and proceeds are donated to charity.
I usually get super-friendly service at Whole Foods, even on days when I've complained because there were only two items available for the four for $5 deal. I also appreciate that workers give honest opinions about food and offer taste samples.
Service is pretty fast. You stand at the deli and wait for an employee to serve the food you select. For sandwiches, you write what you want on a card placed near the sandwich window, put your name on the card and set it on the counter. A worker calls you when the sandwich is made. It usually doesn't take long.
I've already been lots of times, but I'll be back. It's where you get good food that's good for you. And you learn how to get it within a good price range.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.