Published November 17. 2011 4:00AM
There are many things I appreciate in this life: among them, a roof over my head; pretty much everything AMC has put on television, and, above all, someone who is willing to cook a meal for me. It's doubly special when that someone offers the full gamut of comfort foods and several dozen more dressed up for company - and homemade desserts.
Enter Ivy's Simply Homemade, a relatively new gourmet-food-to-go shop on Route 1 in Waterford, where dinners, lunch items, and tempting snacks will satisfy the weariest non-cook who loves good food.
Beyond the many meal bases covered - from soups, salads and sides to wraps, desserts and casseroles - the selection of all of the above presents a happy challenge to the dinner planner on the way home. Sure, you could grab a turkey-bacon-cranberry stuffing wrap, with a side of Ivy's Smashed Red Potatoes with a Little Garlic and call it done, but then you'd miss out on items like Pumpkin Bread Stuffed Chicken with Calvados Cream Sauce, Pepper and Balsamic Marinated Flank Steak or Roasted Red Pepper and Pesto Stuffed Shells (more on that in a minute). But then you've got comfort food faves like Shepherd's Pie (very basic, certainly satisfying), Lobster Mac and Cheese and Eggplant Parm to consider, too.
Facing serious sensory overload, I selected four very different items for round 1 at Ivy's (the chocolate chunk cookie I grabbed for dessert did not survive the ride home; it was exquisite); choice #1 was the Roasted Red Pepper and Pesto Stuffed Shells (they had me at "pesto"). Beyond the intriguing description, the dish simply looked fabulous: it's a generous pan of six shells basking in - not drowning in - a fantastic tomato sauce and topped with bright green dollops of pesto and some actual roasted peppers. Come dinnertime, my husband and I were thrilled with stop 1 on our Food Tour de Ivy's. The shells were infused with lovely fire-roasted-pepper smokiness throughout, which blended beautifully with the accompanying cheeses. It tasted fresh and summery and, most important, like real food.
We followed up with a complete 360 in Ivy's Thai Chicken with Coconut Rice, a very nice dish albeit filling. A pan-full provided three meals, and I'd most definitely get it again. Where it might sound like a rich meal, Ivy's manages to keep it relatively light; the rice isn't drowning in milky sauce, the chicken is very lean, and with the lime wedge provided in the pan, a citrus burst will keep the palate from getting overrun by coconut.
For kicks, I picked up a small pan of pulled pork, too, which comes with a cup of coleslaw and barbecue sauce. (Larger pans of pulled pork are available as well). For starters, I appreciate that Ivy's lets the eater manage how much sauce they'd like on their pork. Not everyone digs a Sloppy-Joe-style pulled pork sammy, thank you very much. What's more, the pork was tender and flavorful, the sauce tangy and smoky. I would've been nicely filled by the small-size pan-full had my cat not elected to sample it (read: gobble it down like the Rapture was on) when my back was turned. I suppose that's its own endorsement.
Our one disappointment of the night was the Chopped Pasta salad, a mix of greens, macaroni, chicken, tomatoes, bacon and bleu cheese. It sounded like a winner to me, but it truly came off flat. Each ingredient seemed to suffer from a bit of blandness - even the bacon. Perhaps it had lived in the refrigerator too long. I suspect with some tweaks (maybe more olive oil?) this salad could be a nice, hearty lunch item.
However, we managed a big rebound with tasting tour two: an evening of Penne alla Vodka (another very generous portion) and a spectacular side of Champagne Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto. The vodka sauce was like a warm blanket on a cool night, with a richness that engaged the whole palate - it might've benefitted from a little more salt or pungent spice, but the tomato flavor marries so well with the cream, you're soon caught up in its velvety depth. As for the risotto, I'm content with plain old risotto, but when you add texture boosters like crisp salty prosciutto and chopped asparagus, proportioned perfectly to the risotto, you have fine food, indeed. This dish is rich, rich, rich, so make it a meal unto itself or have it with salad and not a heap of creamy pasta.
Naturally, I couldn't forgo dessert when a case-full of house-made goodies beckons right by the checkout counter. On this evening, I brought home a pack of two chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, and I'm here to tell you Ivy knows her way around a cupcake. Thick fudgy chocolate cake meets with a generous dollop of peanut-butter infused chocolate frosting. It was decadent and delicious.
There are good things happening at Ivy's. More than reliably enjoyable fresh meals, on both visits to the storefront, I was greeted warmly coming in and bidden farewell in the same manner. Plus, there's a decent selection of fun foodie snacks and other gourmet groceries throughout the shop, and good music floating out from the kitchen. But then again, with a name like Ivy's Simply Homemade, it seems just right that its owner should take such care to make customers feel welcome.