It’s the question on every diner’s lips: where can I get a reasonably priced, dependably tasty three-course meal and a 60-ounce jug of Pine-Sol? A satisfying plate of tuna with lemon pesto and a can of Lemon Pledge? A marble fudge blondie and a box of L’Oreal Superior Preference Golden Blonde Mousse Absolue?
The answer, my friends, is the new H-E-B in Tanglewood, which—in addition to a bright and cheerful ambience, a living wall of greenery and aisle after gleaming aisle stocked with everything a home cook demands—boasts something called Table 57, a sit-down restaurant, also known as the avowed enemy of every home cook. One imagines the supermarket eatery, which happens to be named for its 77057 zip code (median income: $53,000), tangling up untold numbers of Tanglewood residents, leaving them lost in “Who’s on First?” befuddlement:
“I’d really like to eat out tonight.”
“How about the supermarket?”
“I said eat out.”
“At a restaurant.”
“So where should we go?”
But really, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Grocery stores, with their ever-expanding prepared food sections, have been blurring the distinction between eating in and eating out for years. As it happens, in-store dining has become one of the industry’s hottest trends, yet one more stab at one-upmanship in the hyper-competitive supermarket business. So you can expect to see more of these fast-casual outgrowths colonizing ever-larger swaths of store real estate in the years ahead, especially if they succeed.
They will, if the crowds at Table 57 are any indication, and with good reason. The menu—partly the work of celebrated H-Town chef Randy Evans—is vast enough to accommodate every taste and budget, from a grilled rib-eye special with sautéed bok choy and roasted potatoes to a fried oyster tostada, from a tangy lobster roll to pork chop Milanese, to a bounteous side order of cheese grits. And while there are inevitably some clunkers on a menu so huge, most dishes are more delicious than you’d expect, and the experience miles away from the microwave-and-condiments set-up that passes for a café in most supermarkets. The time between placing your order at the counter and the kitchen runners delivering it to your table seems to pass in an instant. And even if it doesn’t, there’s lots to do while you wait, from lip-reading the cooks in Table 57’s large, glass-walled kitchen, to letting the kids play on a compact but thoughtful playground to enjoying a concert on the patio, by which I mean a young woman singing Adele songs on the ukulele (some nights, that is).
During one visit, while waiting for take-out at Table 57’s sleekly handsome bar (beer, wine and wine-based cocktails only), I found myself one stool over from what appeared to me an exhausted-looking soccer mom, her fatigue apparently born of endless hours spent carting various and sundry family members hither and yon. Over time, however, I noticed that her mood seemed to brighten, her good fortune slowly dawning on her. She’d come to H-E-B bereft, expecting to wander the aisles endlessly and aimlessly in search of dinner ideas. And instead, here she was, nursing a glass of Chardonnay while the cooks in the glass-walled kitchen did all the work for her. Did she feel the tiniest bit guilty for having taken the easy way out? Perhaps, but the Chardonnay was slowly taking care of that.