Take-away tempeh

"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou," was all the poet required, and for an impromptu picnic, east-siders could do a lot worse than stopping by Lynn Beckett's venerable Sprout House for a hunk of (Avalon Bakery) bread, a chunk of tangy goat's milk cheese from Quebec, and … sorry, no wine, jugged or otherwise — this is a health food store.

In addition to the usual ginseng drinks, nutri-bars and carob goodies ("it's not supposed to taste like chocolate"), the Sprout House does a thriving carryout business in sandwiches, refrigerated prepared dishes such as sesame noodles and tempeh salad, and hot and cold soups.

Here's a picnic-ready shopping list of my favorites: a round of Rustic Italian bread (or Country Italian, Wheaty Wheat, Olive, Raisin, Leelanau Cherry or brioche); a triangle of the excellent aforementioned goat's milk cheese, firm and pale yellow; a box of cold and spicy sesame noodles; and for a cold soup, either gazpacho or a coconut-corn-celery-dried cranberry concoction that's loaded with cilantro. Top it off with caffeine-free "Ginseng Up," which tastes just like Coke — or make a stop elsewhere for a bottle of your favorite red or white — and you're on your way. Spoons and forks provided.

Another possibility is homemade hummus with, instead of pita, sprouted-wheat tortillas. The latter are midway in flavor intensity between regular white flour tortillas (none) and corn tortillas.

The Sprout House's offerings are thoughtfully color-coded: green for vegan, orange for organic dairy, red for organic chicken, yellow for soy cheese, and blue for vegetarian with possible eggs. The closest you'll get to meat is an orzo-chicken salad. A tofu Reuben sandwich, for example, does manage to approximate a Reuben minus its distinguishing ingredient, corned beef. The tuna salad is so full of veggies that the tuna taste is mostly lost.

If you're carrying food home to a microwave rather than off to Belle Isle, the onion soup is spicy, with lots of firm corn kernels. Eggplant-peanut butter, with a sour taste, is less successful. The rice-stuffed cabbage rolls are bland, but the bulgur and lentil dish is excellent, largely because of the smoky fried onions that top it.

I liked the sweetish tempeh salad, which includes dried cherries, but found the Asian green beans and tofu unpalatable.

Like other health food stores, Sprout House carries plenty of candy or granola bars and other sweet snacks that seem dubious for the "health" designation. Cocoa Marble Fudge Frozen Rice Dream non-dairy dessert (read: ice cream wannabe), for example, is made with carob and chocolate. Although the main ingredients are brown rice and rice syrup, and there's no cholesterol, it still gets a third of its calories from fat, with 12 grams per cup. That's more than Breyers Light. I found the texture and taste pretty decent — for ice milk — but my daughter swore it tasted like rice.

All of the above are ready-made for you, but if you're willing to prepare food yourself, Maple Creek Farm in Yale, Mich., picks and delivers organic produce to the Sprout House the same day. Certified organic farmer Danny Lutz brings corn, squash, eggplant, salad greens, tomatoes, lettuces, shallots, kale, collards, onions, garlic and herbs.

About The Author

Jane Slaughter

When she's not reviewing restaurants, Jane Slaughter also writes about labor affairs, having co-founding the labor magazine Labor Notes. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, Monthly Review, and In These Times.
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