Like many things they do, Hy-Vee is upping the ante on the grocery store restaurant.
Not just a spot for a cardboard slice of pizza or a tank of soda to fuel more shopping, the Market Grille can stand in for a dining trip on its own. It's also not a bad tactic for nourishing noisy kids or spouses while tackling a hefty grocery list.
See also: Ranked: The 10 weirdest foods at Hy-Vee
The interior – and exterior patio – are stylishly decorated with muted tones, relaxing lighting, and and mod design, so you almost forget you're dining in a grocery store. (I visited the Eagan and Oakdale stores.)
Portion size & value
Like most things at Hy-Vee, value is at the apex of what they do. Since Market Grille is a service boosted by the grocery business, they can afford to slash prices. We're talking $6 glasses of thoroughly quauffable Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc ($9-$11 per glass elsewhere), virtually everything for lunch under $10, big salads for $7, pastas for $8, and all-day breakfast for $9-$11. At dinner, entrees hover around $15, higher for more elaborate preparations.
There's a bar
If you drink, the charms of imbibing at a grocery story are obvious:
1. Because you can.
2. You can banish an unwilling participant (21+, natch) to the bar while you take care of business. Win-win.
3.Because Hy-Vee does their bar game well. A tall, frosty, perfectly spicy and balanced Bloody Mary was the most agreeable item we sampled on our visits. Daily happy hours include specials like half-price wine and sushi nights on Wednesdays.
Hospitality is first-rate
One of the things Hy-Vee is most known for is its folksy, helpful staff. “A smile in every aisle,” may seem like a hokey tagline until you shop and realize the truth in advertising. The restaurant is no different, and the trying-very-hard staff seems to genuinely care about your experience. Enthusiastic coffee drinkers receive a whole pot at the table. Long wait times (see below) are met with acknowledgment and concern.
Timing could be better
No matter where you’re dining, acceptable “ticket times” as they’re called in the industry, are 20 minutes or less. Meaning, no more than 20 minutes should pass from the time you order until the time a hot plate lands on the table. Obviously, lunch should take less time, and cocktails less time still. That was not our experience at Market Grille. Kitchens across the metro are dealing with a staffing shortage issue right now, and Market Grille seems to be no exception, even when the restaurant is mostly empty.
What you order matters
The overall quality of the food varies. Something of a signature item, the hulking pork tenderloin sandwich will undoubtedly win the hearts of any hardy eaters at the table. Also available in the deli to grab and go, this product showcases Hy-Vee's Iowan roots in spades. (At any given time, about 20 million pigs are being raised in Iowa, more than six times the state's human population.) Next to hand-cut fries it’s a satisfying plate.
But something a simple as nachos was a no-go, with scant quantities of cheese goo (cheese goo should always be served in copious quantities) and inexplicably, wilted handfuls of lettuce. Flatbreads are good, but plain – probably better for kids' appetites. Skillet breakfasts are serviceable fuel, but not dream-about-it great. A club sandwich was big, filling and good.
So, should you should you go?
Probably. Because the hell of grocery store parking lots can drive any mortal to drink. Because the promise of pancakes ($5) will make any child behave at least 83 percent better. Because life is short and rushed, and a civilized meal should be everyone’s birthright, and not just the ones that happen at the kitchen table at home. Keep your expectations in check, get a sky-high bloody, and park your cart outside the door.
The grocery list will wait.