Last-minute party planning doesn't have to be stressful. For the past two years, the Simple Gourmet has been a foodie respite, located just south of the Northwestern University campus.
"A lot of my cooking is very simple. I want to know, you shouldn't have to have more than five ingredients in a marinara. The antipasto salad is like getting the best Italian grinder with all the vegetables from the garden included in one bite. It's dinner in a bowl," said Debbie Karhanek, owner of Simple Gourmet.
For the truly time-pressed, dinner can be as easy as a fancy sandwich or salad from the grab-and-go case, or a frozen, homemade soup that will heat up in minutes. But the two glass cases up front - overloaded with daily offerings - present a bevy of options.
"We have fried chicken every single Wednesday. It is my favorite food group. So, I love it and I'm happy to see that other people love it," Karhanek said.
Plus, Mediterranean salads, heaped with tabbouleh, hummus and grape leaves. Jalapeno-jack cheese is the star of the homemade pork quesadillas - another fast option for a party.
But then you look closer at the case, and you start to see little gems, like tomato pie, fabulous tarragon chicken salad and another salad featuring butternut squash.
In the other case, it's all about the sweets: bundt cakes, brownies, chocolate chunk cakes and blueberry pie. There's even something called a potato chip cookie.
"It's a pecan shortbread with potato chips. It's a unique kind of vanilla-y cookie that you might not ordinarily find. We hope that if they see one of the desserts, they can't leave without it," said Karhanek.
Now, even if you're like food reporter Steve Dolinsky and procrastinate, it's not a big deal. Simple Gourmet always has something in the case, including lots of impulse items at the register, like the homemade Rice Krispie treats, which I'm definitely eating on the car ride home.
Simple Gourmet also prepares party platters. They can even supply staff to help serve, as long as you give them enough notice ahead of time.
1459 Elmwood Ave., Evanston