Push open the front door to Fork It Over Gourmet Market in Cooper-Young, and the place feels like home. Whimsical animal paintings hang on warm gold walls, and the oak floors are clean and glossy.
Walk past the fireplace to the next room, and the bungalow gets even better: Dinner is waiting — not just one choice, but a delicious assortment of entrées, side dishes, and desserts. Cod poached in spicy tomato broth with green olives? (It's yours.) Gouda mashed potatoes or baked fennel with Parmesan? (They're vegetables. They must be healthy.) Dark chocolate cake with lime curd? (Go ahead. Live a little.)
While Fork It Over is new to the neighborhood, dozens of families already know about Michelle Campbell's home-cooked meals. She's been catering for two years, as well as preparing and delivering dinners ordered online from an eclectic menu that changes weekly. Last month, Campbell opened her retail location on Young Avenue, selling hostess gifts, picnic accessories, frozen soups, and gourmet dinners to go.
"I'm trying to offer food that people recognize but with a new twist, like chipotle mac and cheese," Campbell says. "I want to provide a solution for dinner that is healthy and affordable."
Day to day, the market schedule works like this: On Sunday, Campbell e-mails her new menu to customers and posts it online. Typically, she offers four entrées, six side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. An entrée and two sides cost $12.50 per person.
On Mondays, Campbell cooks like crazy in a refurbished commercial kitchen provided, in part, by the Thomas Boggs family. "My stove and refrigerator came from their catering kitchen," says Campbell, who worked for Huey's as a part-time bookkeeper during college at CBU. "I can't say enough about how generous the family has been to me."
By Tuesdays, the freshly prepared food is ready for purchase at Fork It Over or delivery to homes and businesses. On Friday, any food left in the case is sold for half-price because the business is closed Saturday and Sunday.
"We clean out the case by the end of the week," Campbell says, "and, usually, we end up feeding our neighbors."
Fork It Over Gourmet Market, 2299 Young, Tuesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to
6:30 p.m., forkitovercatering.com
Farther east, on Wheelis Drive, another young entrepreneur is whipping together meals for people who are too busy to cook.
With help from four part-timers, Bradford Williams prepares dozens of casseroles that are then frozen and sold on Tuesdays and Thursdays. "We make family-friendly food, and we have a drive-through window," says Williams, owner of Curb Side Casseroles. "It can't get any easier than that."
Although Williams has been cooking since she was a youngster (her dad owned a small restaurant in Millington called the Pampered Pig), her fondness for casseroles came about by a catering request to make Christmas gifts for the faculty at Hutchison School.
"They wanted to send casseroles home with each teacher, so I agreed to make three or four different kinds," Williams recalls. "After that, people wouldn't stop calling asking for more."
At first, Williams cooked from her home but later moved to a church kitchen as demand for her casseroles grew. By mid-summer, she was converting a garage near the Racquet Club into a commercial kitchen, where she now cooks six different casseroles, garlic French bread, spaghetti sauce, and homemade sweet pickles.
So why are casseroles so popular? "Convenience and taste," Williams says. "They are an easy alternative to going out to eat."
William's casseroles (in three sizes) are an updated spin on classic favorites: black bean and spinach enchiladas, chicken spaghetti, and breakfast combo with sausage and egg. She mixes up her menu with holiday surprises (blueberry French toast casserole for Christmas morning!) and a weekly special.
"Last week, our special was chicken pot pies made with sweet potatoes," Williams says. "We were sold out by 2 o'clock."
Curb Side Casseroles, 5130 Wheelis,
Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,