Have you been to the café in the Mustard Seed Natural Market on Arsenal Street?
I invited several Watertown friends to join me for lunch there recently. One hadnt been there in years. Another didnt even know that the Mustard Seed had a café!
The Mustard Seed first opened its doors in the late 1980s and moved several of times before it was taken over by its current owners in 1997, when it was at what is now Kinney Drugs on Washington Street. The owners increased the offerings and soon moved to the larger current premises on Arsenal Street.
The store has continued to grow. It stocks a wide assortment of natural, organic and vegetarian foods, dietary supplements and natural body-care products. In recent years they also added a café in an extension at the rear of the store, offering both made-to-order breakfast and lunch items and a wide variety of self-serve items that are available whenever the store is open.
The Mustard Seed café sells a wide variety of sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads for lunch. All fresh fruits and vegetables are certified organic; some are sourced locally, in season. All meat and dairy used are antibiotic free and hormone free and are from humanely raised animals. They offer a number of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
The café can be entered directly from the rear parking lot. Its a separate space more or less a wide hallway with six or so small tables with wrought iron chairs that opens to the bustle of the store at the far end. The walls are lined with display cases filled with tempting sandwiches and wraps, cookies and scones and other treats, and a cooler full of bottled juices, teas and natural sodas.
I arrived first. It must have been delivery day, because most of the tables were covered with incoming products, packing lists and broken down boxes. As I pushed two tables together to arrange for our party of four, the help were quick to finish their work and make the area ready for the lunch hour.
Theres a big staff here! There must have been a half-dozen employees stocking and working the store in addition to three cooks visible through the kitchen window. They were upbeat and friendly, quick to answer questions about the food and recommend their favorite dishes.
Soups are made fresh daily and vary each day. You help yourself to a large ($4.25) or small portion ($2.25) from the soup warmers by the kitchen counter.
Lentil soup was very different. The lentils were pureed, giving it a thicker texture. A dash of curry gave it a mildly spicy flavor without too much heat. But despite the curry, it still was a little bland for our palates.
Hearty vegetable soup was pleasant, with large chunks of veggies that still retained some crunch, in a tomato base. But this soup seemed to be lacking something as well, some herbs or some bolder seasoning perhaps.
The German potato salad was better, warm with the distinctive vinegar flavor associated with it. The bacon substitute they used was tempeh, and it worked surprisingly well.
Vegetarian chili is available most days this time of year. Its a boxed product from a company called Fantastic Foods (available in their bulk section) that wasnt too bad, but still lacked pizzazz. The vegetarian protein appeared to be textured vegetable protein. TVP mimics meat well in texture but is far from a whole food.
You carnivores still with me?
Next we ordered three sandwiches and a salad.
Turkey sandwich with cheese sounds pretty straightforward, but this was a really good version of the old standby. Thick slices of organic wheat bread from Rudis Bakery in Boulder, Colo., were spread with garlic vegan mayonnaise, then loaded with organic greens, sliced provolone and lots of Applegate Farms natural sliced turkey.
The turkey was firm and moist, the provolone full of flavor, the greens fresh and the tomatoes tasted like it was the middle of August. This was a lot of sandwich for $5.
The chick-un salad sandwich ($4) paled in comparison, and I dont think its just because it was made with soy protein rather than real meat. Well maybe it was. It looked like a chicken salad sandwich, but it didnt taste like much. The organic greens and more of Rudis bread saved the day.
Maybe we should have eaten the fake chicken sandwich before we had the real turkey sandwich.
Grilled tomato, cheese and pesto was a wonderful sandwich combination, and another great lunch value at $4. It consisted of organic tomato slices, provolone cheese and tangy basil pesto on olive oil-brushed organic bread, grilled until the bread was crunchy and the cheese melted. A perfect lunch choice.
Build your own salad is a neat option. You get to choose from just about everything in the kitchens fridge: greens, meats, cheeses, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fresh or dried fruits.
Our salad consisted of organic greens, tomatoes, shredded carrots, goat cheese, avocado, sliced turkey and sunflower seeds with oil and vinegar dressing on the side. It was fresh as could be and large enough for two people to share for lunch. Priced according to ingredient choices, it cost us $8.
Finally we had to sample at least a couple of the many baked treats available.
A large ginger molasses cookie ($1.50) was so much nicer than a commercial cookie would have been, not too sweet, with a chewy consistency and just a hint of ginger.
The help and the customers had been raving about the fresh-baked-that-morning lemon blueberry scones ($1.50), so one of those was a must. It was light and fresh-tasting and filled with whole blueberries, a great way to end lunch.
And the best part: lunch for four cost $42.45, and we all left more than satisfied. (I do have to admit, a couple of us had thought wed have to hit McDonalds on the way home, but that wasnt the case).
Even more impressive the honor system. A hand-written check came with our food from the kitchen. To pay, you go to the checkout counter in the store, hand over the check and tell the staff member what you had for self-serve soups, beverages and desserts. The Mustard Seed accepts credit cards.
And while they specialize in vegetarian and vegan options, there are also sandwiches and wraps available made with roast beef, ham, chicken, turkey and tuna and their organic bread, greens and veggies.
The seating area was a bit cramped, but we do know that the café expands out onto the back deck with its southern exposure in the summertime.
The Mustard Seed has come a long way since its hole-in-the-wall beginnings two decades ago. Weve come a long way in 20 years as well, understanding much more about what we put in our bodies today than we did back then.
We should all take the time to explore what the Mustard Seed has to offer, and make sure this locally owned business continues to prosper and we stay healthy and fit.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mustard Seed
969 Arsenal St.
Watertowns original health food store has a café, offering fresh and healthy made-to-order, packaged and self-serve foods.
Self-serve items available:
8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday
Made-to-order items available:
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
OUR PICKS: German potato salad, turkey sandwich, grilled tomato, cheese and pesto sandwich, build your own salad, lemon blueberry scone