Food-O-File

What would tempt a very well-traveled and successful executive chef to give up a position with one of the nation's top restaurant companies where he was involved with the hottest new food service concept of the past two years? New Central Market executive chef Adrian Creasey explains his decision to leave Brinker International and the wildly popular Eatzi's like this: "They dangled this store in front of me," he says with a big grin. "A very big part of me taking this job was knowing that I would have the entire store as my walk-in." Creasey was hooked by what visiting chefs from all over the country have told students in Central Market cooking school all along: There is no better grocery store in America. The jovial British-born and European-educated chef came on board at Central Market this past summer and has made serious changes in the operation and the menu at the Cafe.

During a tasting this week, I witnessed many of Creasey's procedural and menu changes. The ordering process at the Cafe has thankfully been streamlined to avoid confusion and make it possible for all food at one table to come out together. The new beepers signal by blinking and are big enough that they can't be placed in a pocket and forgotten until customers have left the store. Breakfast is now served 7-11am, with a weekend brunch from 7am-2pm. Everything on the breakfast menu is under $6.

Creasey is a stickler for freshness and wants everything on the Cafe menu done from scratch, fresh every day. No pre-prepared sauces, hamburger patties, doughs, or dressings. He's determined to use the freshest ingredients possible to build layers of flavor in every dish. The beef for hamburger patties is ground fresh every morning, eliminating the risk of E. coli contamination. The rustic patties are hand-formed and seasoned. It may seem like a small thing, but it should be appreciated by people who like a burger medium rare. The grilled fish portion of the menu features dorado, tuna, catfish, and salmon dishes with flavorful salsas, crusts, and herb butters. What other chef in town can claim that his fish supply is flown in fresh several times a day? Each salad is prepared to order with freshly cut tomatoes. The Greek Salad ($6.49) demonstrates Creasey's concept perfectly: crisp romaine lettuce tossed with cucumbers, lovely red and yellow tomato chunks, the best tangy calamata olives from the olive bar, and salty crumbled feta, dressed in a lemon garlic vinaigrette and garnished with a chiffonade of fresh basil. It beautifully captures the bright, sun-drenched flavors of the Mediterranean in a salad bowl.

In designing the new Cafe menu, Creasey paid special attention to the palates of vegetarian and vegan customers. While the more recognizable garden burger and pasta primavegan will have some fans, the Wild Mushroom Calzone ($7.49) stuffed with the combination of the best mushrooms available, olive oil, garlic, and herbs looks like a winner. There is also a kids menu, offering selections from the four major food groups popular with most kids: pizza, burgers, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.

Adrian Creasey's new menu hit the stands last week, complemented by a wine list featuring special "Chef's selection" wines available for $10.99 per bottle and a larger section of European and domestic wines by the glass and the bottle in the $4.50-$5.50 and $18-$22 range. This is certainly not the first time Central Market has revamped its Cafe lineup, but it should be very interesting. to see if a chef who witnessed both the winning techniques and pitfalls of the Eatzi's can bring some of that concept's success to Central

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