Foodies tend to experience bliss regularly: in good coffee or a perfect steak; anything with heirloom tomatoes in it; dinners that are already made; or at any given place that offers fresh cupcakes and cinnamon - among other things.
Bliss Gourmet, a prepared-foods-and-so-much-more-market in Westbrook, however, does the foodies one better and brings lovely things like those into one place, with the added bonus of a deli counter offering responsibly harvested meats and fish; café space to sit and enjoy a freshly made deli sandwich; a gorgeous selection of fresh breads and baked goods; and a fine selection of gourmet groceries, from cheese and flatbread crackers to fancy potato chips and local ice cream. And oysters. And an olive bar.
The stock was so plentiful, we spent at least half an hour just perusing the shelves and cold cases during our first visit. Happily overwhelmed, we started simply with the meatball sandwich, one of a few dozen fresh sandwich options available IF you can move beyond the long, long case of daily specials - more on those in a minute. The meatball sandwich comes topped with roasted red peppers, ricotta, and provolone and marinara sauce; we picked a basic grinder roll as the vehicle for all of the above. Generous portions of big rustic meatball make the sandwich a steal at $8.95 if you choose to share - and you should; it's big, filling and quite flavorful. Savor it.
On another night, we fought the temptation to get another meatball sammie and made some picks from the fresh case o' specials - not to be confused with the OTHER cases of fresh and frozen pre-portioned meals to go. Now, faced with literally dozens of options, it's hard not to leave Bliss with a bag-ful of pasta and potato salads since, indeed, there are typically at least a choice of five of each available. Purists will enjoy the Bacon Potato Salad ($4.99 a pound), which tastes like exactly what ought to be served at a Labor Day picnic: it's creamy and a little pungent from scallions but mellowed by smoky bacon flavor. Next on my list to try is the sweet potato salad.
BUT take your time and cruise the options: past those salads, there are mini frittatas, quesadillas and burritos some days; or intriguing finger-ish foods like ricotta balls (fabulous) and teriyaki dumplings. As for the sesame-seed-speckled dumplings ($9.99 a pound), they are worth every penny and delicious right from the case. Zesty and bright stuffing pairs beautifully with an Asian-style dressing that's more vinegar/citrus-y than soy-dominant.
Luckily, the dumplings aren't super dense, which left plenty of room for pick #2, penne tossed with arugula and chicken at $7.99 a pound. It sounds toothy and filling, but the predominant lemon-herb (we suspected a lot of dill) dressing mix renders the whole dish quite refreshing and takes some of the bite from the arugula. Relatively big pieces of chicken breast take on the herbs and spices nicely, although after a few forkfuls, the herbiness can get a little overwhelming - it's a tasty flavor, but quite strong. Paired with the right accompanying entree, the penne salad makes for a fabulous side dish.
A salad of toasted orzo with broccoli and Parmesan cheese ($6.99) presented a similar experience. The overall flavor is quite strong, but it works, particularly because the Parm and a goodly amount of garlic took the broccoli flavor down a notch, and the resulting alchemy was intriguing - heady and unapologetic, but still impressive. We're also new to toasted orzo, so it could be we were on a learning curve.
Speaking of clever mixes, we also enjoyed the pre-prepped Fuji Salad ($7.95), a mix of mesclun greens, apples, shaved fennel, dried cranberries, walnuts and gorgonzola that comes with a wonderful Dijon shallot vinaigrette. Full disclosure: I had to pick around the walnuts thanks to a mild allergy to them, but the resulting combination was still bold and enjoyable.
We paired the salad with a New York strip steak ($13.99 a pound) from the deli and were smugly satisfied with our choice for the duration of the evening. What started as a nice cut of beef - prepped only with some salt and pepper - flourished under my resident grillmaster's watchful eye.
And true to its maker's name, the blueberry bread pudding we took home for a dessert ($6.95) was heaven on earth. Moist, egg-yolk-rich and well berried, Bliss's bread pudding is highly recommended.
My samplings are mere drops in the bucket of what's available at Bliss Gourmet - a blissful thing in itself. As long as you ascribe to the modified adage that too much of a good thing is wonderful, you'll savor every trip to this creative market.