Neighborhood Joints

Top Five Prepared-Dinner Spots for Back to School

It's that time of the year again --backpacks, books, and traffic fill the days. With school now in session, many people mindlessly fall back into the old, familiar pattern of fast and frozen food. To help save you from gaining 15 pounds, a sugar-addicted 5-year-old, and boredom from your dinner routine, Short Order has compiled a list of the top five places to grab a quick and easy dinner for those busy school days.

The best way to begin the school week is with a meal that will produce leftovers for lunches throughout the week. Blue Sky Marketplace on 71st Street can easily feed five people for under $30 with its roast pork served with yuca and morros. The shop sells dozens of entrées, soups, salads, pastries, and wine -- everything you need to get your week off with a full belly.

Head to midtown's salami shop and neighborhood trattoria, Salumeria 104, where the cured meats (prosciutto, speck, bresaola, soppressata), fresh pastas (fetuccine al pesto, tagliatelle bolognese, gnocci alla romana), and cheeses (Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, bufala) are ready to go. To round out your meal, the shop offers homemade breads ($3), soups ($5), and salads ($7 to 12). Tuesdays at Salumeria 104 come with a bonus: half off wines. If you want to take the bottle home, though, the store's license requires shoppers to open the wine at the shop. So while you wait for your dinner to be packaged, pop the cork and have a small glass -- it's the law.

Joanna's Marketplace offers a bounty of prepared foods for a quick, healthful meal, perfect for busy weekdays. Wednesday nights, a warm brick oven and staff greet shoppers immediately while hungry families wait for the fresh homemade pizza ($11.50 per pie). A little farther on, the prepared foods section lights up about 30 pristine premade salads and has a new hot menu every week, posted on the shop's website. For $11.95, you get two sides and one protein from the prepared foods hot menu, which offers everything from grilled churrasco to London broil. The prepared foods section also has homemade soups available in three sizes: small, $3.50; medium, $4.25; and large $7.95.

The Fifth Street Publix offers exactly what you think a Publix in South Beach would sell: fresh, healthful, and inexpensive (compared to Fresh Market and Epicure) options. The Fifth Street Publix comes complete with a soup bar, a prepared food section -- which has fresh quinoa salads ready to go -- and a sub station that serves turkey-and-Brie panini to go. Best of all, there's an express, five-items-or-fewer check-out lane so you can get in and out in a flash.

After a long week, nothing beats Italian soul food with friends. If you can't spare the hours in the kitchen, let Sandra Stefani and Ines Chattas do the work for you. Open Kitchen in Bal Harbour has a daily menu of prepared foods that you can take away to feed six of your closest buds. Items include homemade turkey meat loaf, roasted garlic-tomato-basil sauce, and rosemary-garlic roasted potatoes, all for $60. That's just ten bucks a person. All the food at Open Kitchen is made to order, so give six hours' notice for family-style meals.

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Jen Mangham
Contact: Jen Mangham