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Capitol Market is a good place for lunch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the question arises of where to go for lunch, the answer for an increasing number of people is Capitol Market. Longtime favorite SoHo's anchors one end of the market with sit-down meals of plated salads, pizzas, sandwiches and Italian-leaning entrees while two women dish a rotating menu of soups and salads from a small glass-walled cubicle of a kitchen in the Purple Onion at the other end.

 In between, lunchtime customers line up at Fresh Seafood Company for his famous Big Fish Sandwich or a cup of chowder or bisque, order custom-made sandwiches and salads from Johnnies Meat Market, or grab a wrap or panini at Capitol Roasters Café. They might pick up a fine chocolate or two at Holl's Swiss Chocolates for a sweet treat after their meals.

If they're not in SoHo's contemporary dining room, they enjoy their lunches at metal table and chairs placed around the market or dine alfresco at outdoor tables. The hurried, less fortunate diners take their lunches back to their offices.

Trish Fenneken and Karen Rider work in well-orchestrated tandem in The Purple Onion's tight, sparkling kitchen. They hand chop all the vegetables, freshly plucked from produce store's shelves, for the four soups they make daily and a variety of salads.

Regulars know to stop by early or call ahead on days that the menu lists popular soups such as Stuffed Pepper, French Chicken Soup, Pinto Beans, Cornbread and Kale or Vegetarian Potato Soup. Owner Allan Hathaway sends daily emails listing the soups du jour. Email him at purpleonionco@aol.com to receive the listings.

"We feature something different every day," said Fenneken, who's cooked there for four years. "Customers know we have our Fiesta Black Bean Bowl on Wednesday. They always line up for that one."

The vegetarian bean dish, based on a recipe from Hathaway's aunt in Panama, is served over seasoned rice, and topped with Fenneken's homemade lime tomato salsa, sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. They serve the Loaded Potato Soup, "just like a loaded baked potato, but better," on Fridays.

The current soup menu of 35 soups from which Hathaway selects four daily continues to evolve as customers make requests or bring in recipes.

"One customer said any dish can be made into a soup if it's thinned out," Hathaway said. Soups are served Monday through Friday and usually run out by 1:30 p.m., but chilled, prepared salads last longer.

Made from Purple Onion ingredients, salads include chicken and Bleu cheese, Buffalo chicken, antipasti, seven-layer, fruit, and potato.

A favorite meeting place of both business people and friends, SoHo's owner Bill Sohovich and his team make lots of thin-crusted pizzas fired in the stone oven and prep many vegetables for their signature Chicken & Artichoke Salad and other salads.

The Reuben sandwich and Italian wrap are big sellers, according to a staff member. Margherita and mushroom and caramelized onion pizzas sell well. A bowl of SoHo's chopped salad of crunchy Romaine, tomato, onion, olives, cucumber and gorgonzola or minestrone or escarole and white bean soup satisfies lighter appetites.

"I eat here about three times a week," said Charleston accountant Chuck Smith, who hosts frequent client lunches. "I usually have one of the soups."

Tony Cerrulo serves "The World's Largest Fish Sandwich," a generous portion of battered white fish on an oversized croissant, crab cakes, New England clam chowder and seasonal crab bisque at Fresh Seafood Company Market. He covers landlubbers' preference with hot dogs served with macaroni salad and chips.

Customers also like the soup and half-sandwich (tuna salad, fried fish or seafood salad) combination, Cerrulo said. Heartier diners go for market dinners of fish, shrimp, scallops, shrimp and oysters served with fries, coleslaw and hushpuppies.

After perusing the cases filled with beef, pork, lamb, poultry, veal and sausage, Johnnie's Meat Market's lunchtime customers step around the corner to order sandwiches and salads custom made with a quarter-pound of Boar's Head meats and cheeses. Roasted turkey and Tavern ham are customer favorites, but more adventurous sandwich makers choose Buffalo chicken, pesto-parm ham, Cajun turkey, or Sausalito turkey paired with horseradish cheddar cheese.

Add chips and a drink for just $1 more.

Best known for coffee and espresso beverages, Capitol Roasters Café also serves wraps and paninis. The Cuban panini, made with pulled pork, ham, cheese, pickles and chipotle mayo, and cranberry chicken salad wrap are the two most popular items.

Capitol Roasters blends lots of lunchtime smoothies as the weather improves in the spring.

Warm, sunny days are perhaps as welcome to indoor lunch makers as they are to the vendors in the pavilion when they sell brightly colored flowers and promising vegetables and plants.

"We always do a pretty good lunch crowd," said a SoHo's staff member. "When it's warmer, it's definitely better, especially when it's 75 degrees and people can eat outdoors."

Capitol Market, 800 Smith St., is open from 9 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Food service hours vary. Call 304-344-1905 or visit capitolmarket.net.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.

 


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