To say Harvest Market’s grab-and-go/ready-to-eat area of the delicatessen is impressive is an understatement. It features many of the same offerings other grocery stores have (salad bar, hot soup, sushi, olive bar, and at least a couple of different coolers from which one can grab a premade sandwich, deli salad, or a refrigerated cup of soup), but they seem to dedicate more floor space to this than most places would. The overall effect is a bit overwhelming. It might take several visits to Harvest Market to get the lay of the land, so to speak, but the effort is well worth it.

When I went to Harvest Market for this review, my goal was to get some sense of their variety, but also to stick to a budget. It would probably be pretty easy to rack up a bill of $50 or more for lunch for my family of 5; a sandwich and a side per person would do it.

I wanted to spend around half that, so my strategy was to focus on shareables. What I ended up with was sushi (a crunchy California roll), a quart of loaded baked potato soup, rotisserie chicken salad, a roast beef and cheddar sandwich, and a small container of cold roasted fall veggies. I’m pretty pleased with how I did; the total for that freshly-prepared bounty was right around $26.

The sushi ($6.49), was fantastic. It must not have sat for very long before we snagged it; it was as close an experience to eating sushi in a restaurant as I’ve had purchasing from a grocery store (which I do with some regularity). The rice had not yet begun to dry out, which made all of the other components of the dish seem that much more fresh.

The roast beef and cheddar sandwich ($3.99) included a packet of mayo and separately-wrapped slices of tomato, which I thought was a nice touch. I didn’t actually try it; my husband and son split it, and they enjoyed it very much.

The self-serve soups can be brought home in 8, 16, or 32 oz. containers, for which you are charged a flat rate per container, regardless of which soup you choose. I opted for the 32 oz. (quart) of loaded baked potato soup for $7.99. I was surprised at just how many times I had to dip the ladle into the vat of soup to get my container filled to the top. It was enough for each of us to have about a mugful.

As the soup cooled ever so slightly, it developed a satisfying slight skin on the top, which I took as an indication that it had a nice high cheese content. The chunks in it were mostly potato, but it definitely had a good bacon flavor. It wasn’t as ooey-gooey as a soup might be in the type of restaurant that serves a complimentary cup of soup with the purchase of a sandwich platter, but it had a lovely homemade taste and texture.

I am the type of person who needs no bread in order to enjoy a good chicken salad, and Harvest Market’s was no exception. I assume they use leftover rotisserie chicken to make it, and I like the thought that they are able to use up unsold food that way. Also, rotisserie chicken is so flavorful by nature that it doesn’t need many crazy additions to turn it into an amazing salad. Their use of a little mayo, a confetti of different bell peppers, green onion tops, and halved grapes complemented the seasoned shredded chicken perfectly.

The fall veggie salad consisted of halved brussels sprouts, squash, walnuts, and dried cranberries. Accented with cinnamon, it certainly delivered on the promise of fall flavors.

I first tried the chicken salad and the veggie salad separately, but by the end I was taking a little forkful of the chicken and spearing some veggies with it to get both in one bite. That was a smart move, if I do say so myself, and I think therein really lies the secret of saving money in the grab-and-go section: buying a few salads and then packaging them together into meals for the week. I may need to make an early New Year’s resolution to do just that.

Harvest Market
2029 S Neil St
Champaign
6 a.m. to midnight daily

Top photo by Jessica Hammie; all other photos by Rachael McMillan