Restaurant review: Pocket Produce

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive
Southwest Sunshine from Pocket Produce.

Pocket Produce helps put the "eat" in "healthy" and the "me" in "time."

In deference to the busy, fuss-averse consumers for whom this Clintonville business is clearly designed, here's a CliffsNotes-type description of Pocket Produce: a stylish, salad-centric new entry in the growing number of shops offering a nutritious alternative to conventional fast food. Pocket Produce predominantly sells hefty, straightforward salads that are fresh, filling, flavorful and, except for one with grilled salmon, cost less than $10.

Open since early June, the little operation is sleek and smart, and its head honchos - owner and ex-social worker Natalie Appelbaum and Executive Chef Matt Walton, former executive chef at Cameron's American Bistro - are obviously detail oriented.

From the street, the space that formerly housed Melissa's Incredible Edibles (which moved) now greets customers with an overhead cutting board bearing the new place's name and its logo: a crisp, graphic depiction of a fork bisecting a circular piece of leaved vegetation. Underneath, it says: "Eat awesome. Be awesome."

This minimalist aesthetic continues inside, where the walls are art-gallery white. Among the few decorations are live plants, buzzy culinary books from the likes of Questlove and Yotam Ottolenghi, bright bands of color adorning the exterior of the open kitchen and three pretty pictures that include a "portrait" of one of Pocket Produce's colorful entrée salads piled into a tall plastic container.

Seating is limited to one good-sized table and about a half-dozen stools beneath a counter, so most of the brisk business is of the grab-and-go variety. But eat-in diners can avail themselves to iced Thunderkiss coffee ($2.50), made-to-order $6 smoothies (my Mango Madness was light on mango, so I preferred the refreshing Berry Me), gratis glasses of water - filtered and chilled, of course - and plates on which to pour out and eat their salads.

All of the pre-made "whole meal" salads waiting in the cooler case are ingredient-layered like parfaits. With homemade dressings and balanced components, you can't go wrong with any of them.

The popular Killer Cobb ($9.50) has a moderate amount of rich elements such as "65-degree"-style eggs with just-set yolks, avocado, bacon (limp), plus cubes of sharp cheddar cheese and tender grilled chicken. When combined with the prodigious greens - romaine lettuce interspersed with kale, cilantro and parsley - plus grape tomatoes, corn and the lively "golden Italian"-style dressing with a mustardy kick, it's quite a satisfying meal.

Ditto for the Grilled Salmon Nicoise ($12.50). A similar mix of good greens (enhanced with basil) and more of those splendid eggs and grape tomatoes are joined by a few green beans and red skin potatoes. The headliner is a piece of tender, smoky and herby grill-marked salmon that seems puny at first. But after mixing everything together with the Kalamata olives and red onions (just enough), I wound up with another winning entrée. Because it had been pre-drizzled with olive oil and lemon, the salad didn't need much of the good balsamic dressing packed in a sealed plastic cup.

The three other large salads are meat-free but equally substantial. Firm, soy-marinaded little tofu cubes, seasoned brown rice and edamame lend heft to chopped bok choy and other veggies livened by a bright soy-citrus dressing in the Amazin' Asian ($7.95). The Greek-style Livin' La Vida Opa ($8.50) marries a base of quinoa and chickpeas to an herby vinaigrette, creamy feta cheese, red peppers, sliced cucumber, Kalamata olives, greens, tomatoes and red onion.

These and several good-tasting, nice-priced sides, such as smoky Grilled Chicken ($3.75), zingy Carrot Salad ($3.95) and lemony Cauliflower Quinoa Tabouli ($3.95), show that speedy, health-focused Pocket Produce can bring a lot of appealing food to the table.

Pocket Produce

3496 N. High St.,