Some yummy fixings from yuppie heaven

THE BALTIMORE SUN

On a recent frigid evening, I ventured into yuppie heaven -- the Whole Foods Market in the Inner Harbor East.

Whole Foods began life as a natural-food store in Austin, Texas, but now has become a 166-store international behemoth, albeit a socially responsible behemoth, focused on organic, high-quality foodstuffs and friendly, competent service.

Maryland has seven markets, including ones in Mount Washington and Annapolis. The one downtown occupies an expansive space with high ceilings and a concrete floor. During my visit, smooth jazz played over the intercom.

Whole Foods is a full supermarket, but I was there for the carryout and there's plenty of it.

First stop was the seafood counter, where three different seafood soups were available. You can sample just about anything you want at Whole Foods, so I gave the seafood gumbo a try. Bingo. The gumbo ($3.99 for 16 ounces) had a rich tomato flavor, pieces of fish and plenty of okra.

I perused but passed by what may have been the world's most beautiful salad bar -- row after row of colorful veggies and salad fixings.

I did make a stop at the hot bar, which had a Southern-themed medley of foods at $5.99 per pound. Pulled pork barbecue was both tangy and fiery. Yummy chicken adobo featured spicy chunks of meat, smoked peppers and corn. Mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese both were quite traditional and comforting.

On to the enormous prepared-foods counter. Egg rolls ($1.29 each) were so-so after being reheated back home but three pieces of fried chicken ($5.99 a pound) were perfectly respectable.

We enjoyed a grilled chicken Caesar wrap ($4.99), although it had little Caesar tang. A peppered-beef sandwich ($5.99) came dressed with a saffron aioli that was doubtless the best saffron aioli I have ever had.

Finally, the dessert counter beckoned. Sophisticated and elegant concoctions nestled up against the more prosaic. We tried the "chocolate trilogy" ($3.99), which was three different chocolate mousses stacked daintily together, all delicious, and a brownie ($1.89), which was suitably greasy and incredibly sweet.

There are parking meters on the street, although competition is usually tough. Whole Foods shoppers also can park free in a garage that sits above the market. Enter on Aliceanna Street.

Whole Foods Market

Food: ***

Service: ***1/2

Waiting area: ***

Parking: **1/2

Where: 1001 Fleet St., Inner Harbor East

Phone: 410-528-1640

Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; coffee bar opens daily at 7 a.m.

Prices: Wide array of soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta, sushi, hot dishes and desserts, most under $10; credit cards accepted

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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