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The Food You Crave, Ready When You Are

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By Bruce Collier

 

Everyday Gourmet to Go is located just off Racetrack Road in Fort Walton Beach. The storefront is mostly window—the better to peek at the goodies inside—and there are plants and a small cafe-style table just outside the door. At first glance you might think it’s a gift shop—and there are gifts—but the real draw is in the display cases.

 

Owner Sherie Montalto opened Everyday Gourmet to Go eight months ago. Prior to that, she and her late husband owned and ran Pandora’s, two of the area’s best-known and loved steakhouses. Looking for something smaller and less time-consuming, Montalto took inspiration from her youth in Canada and first experiences in the restaurant business, a field in which she has worked for 38 years.

 

Montalto started out working at a luncheonette—Mary Jo’s—with its owner and chef, her grandmother. She cooked with her grandmother and worked behind the counter. She held on to her grandmother’s recipes, collected others from friends, and eventually compiled them into a cookbook called Recipes Without Reservations.

 

The concept behind Everyday Gourmet to Go is simple and appealing—salads, soups, main dishes, sides, and desserts are prepared fresh daily, then sold by weight or in meal-sized portions. Reheating instructions (time and temperature) are included. Customers can see what is on the daily menu (or order ahead), assemble their meal from start to finish, and get it to go. There is no dine-in service, but everything is only a few minutes from being table-ready at home.

 

“I had the idea,” says Montalto, “that in a hectic world, people needed an alternative to fast food.” She figured that people wanted home-cooked fare, but it had to be the kind that could go “from oven to table in less than one hour.”

 

The plan is working, but Montalto discovered an unforeseen clientele. She assumed that she would get a lot of her business from younger families and people stopping on the way home from work. She noticed she was also getting a good trade from older people, who buy several days’ worth of food at a time. “They want food they are used to,” she says.

 

Montalto’s culinary background, in Canada and in south Florida, included her family’s traditions (Italian), and exposure to Polish, Hungarian and other ethnic cooking styles. There are glimpses of this on the menu at Everyday Gourmet to Go.

 

The shop (formerly a pizza place) has shelves on one side displaying oils, vinegars, sauces, honey, pickles and crackers. There’s also beer and wine, some kitchen-themed gifts, and boxed foods and mixes. The other side is devoted to cases of prepared food.

 

Behind the cases is a blackboard of what’s available. In the rear of the shop is a tiny office, the kitchen, fridge and walk-in freezer. Maximum use is made of the space, for Montalto and her staff of around six to prepare and box the food. Montalto said her day usually begins around 8 a.m., when she arrives just as the cleaning person is leaving. Her organization is informal—“more like family”—and staff members do a multitude of tasks. She still cooks.

 

Selection varies daily, and there are also holiday specials. The day of this interview, the cold case was stocked with crab cakes, cabbage rolls, stuffed baked potatoes, lasagna, meatloaf, enchiladas, Brussels sprouts, glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, shepherd’s pie, crunchy garlic shrimp, a reuben braid, and assorted salads, sandwiches and sides. A separate blackboard listed additional entrees including jambalaya, beef stroganoff, sherried shrimp, and turkey, and a long list of sides. The desserts got a separate space.

 

Montalto gifted me with a sampler selection to go—a cabbage roll, meatball, spinach lasagna rollup, kale and quinoa salad, bread pudding, and berry tart. She carefully packed and boxed everything—including a hard sauce for the pudding—attaching reheating instruction stickers on each oven-ready foil box.

 

The meaty cabbage roll reminded me of food I used to get growing up in Dayton, Ohio. The meatball was big enough to share, and rollups are a great way to serve lasagna. The salad was pleasantly bittersweet, with tangy pomegranate seeds and candied nuts. The bread pudding was enough for three people.

 

“We’ve steadily been growing,” says Montalto, “seeing where the niches are.”

 

Everyday Gourmet to Go is located at 421-A Racetrack Road NE in Fort Walton Beach. The phone number is 850-737-2080. Hours are Monday through Friday from 11.a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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