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The Pub at Wegmans
600 Commerce Drive
Collegeville, Pennsylvania
(484) 902-1520

The Date: April 15th; The Time: 11:45 p.m.; The Place: the main branch of the Philadelphia Post Office. Imagine the scenario - the pushing, the shoving, the cacophonous caterwauling, the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of the teeth, the unmitigated bedlam -- as invading hordes of procrastinating tax filers scramble to have their returns postmarked before the dreaded midnight hour&

Now you have some idea of what to expect should you wander into Wegmans Market Café on a free-for-all weekend evening. Do I exaggerate...? But of course. Only slightly, however. The place is - and I do not hyperbolize - an utter mob scene. Everyone, or so it seems, comes to Wegmans. Is there a spectacular giveaway in the offing, a rock star waiting in the wings... or, to paraphrase the immortal words of Popeye Doyle in the film The French Connection: Is somebody "spreading it around like the Russians are in Jersey"?

None of the above. The Market Café has become something of a community food court happening. You may belly up to the burrito bar, avail yourself of the Asian wokery, secure a sub, purchase a pizza, etc., etc., etc., and then snare a vacant table in the spacious - and usually bustling - dining area.

But there is, in my opinion, a more pleasant alternative. Separated from the hubbub of the café by curlicues of wrought iron, The Pub represents a comparative island of calm in a seething, undulating sea of humanity. You present yourself at the entrance and wait to be escorted to a table or plop down at the comfortable bar. Safe at last!

The menu, as you might expect, is a casual, compact affair, replete with a number of excellent pizzas presented on crispy Indian-style naan bread ($5.99-$6.99), sandwiches ($7.99-$9.99), and pan-seared mini entrées ($7.99-$11.99). Along with prices, the menu also lists the caloric damage. Topping the gastronomic Richter scale, the rib eye steak sandwich smothered in mushrooms and caramelized onions: worth every last one of the 910 calories. The 8-ounce cheeseburger is also a winner, served up with Adams Reserve cheddar and Thousand Island dressing (900 calories).

For somewhat lighter fare, I also highly recommend a number of the pan-seared piscatorial items. The farm-raised tilapia is beautifully prepared and consummated with a luscious lemon butter sauce; and the Atlantic salmon, adorned with a zippy horseradish sauce, is just as tasty. Other variations on the thalassic theme include day boat sea scallops with citrus soy and black tiger shrimp companioned by bouillabaisse sauce.

For dessert ($2.99) there's a rich chocolate mousse and white cake with decadent vanilla butter cream icing. However, I'd definitely opt for one of the seasonal scratch pies - most recently sampled: cherry - all of which sport exceptionally textured crusts.

Food prices are more than reasonable& ditto the tariffs for liquid libations. Scotch and bourbon go for $8.00, cordials for $7.00, draft beer for $3.50-$4.00, domestic brews for $3.25, and imports for $3.75-$4.00.

There is also a modest wine list, with vintages by the glass going for $5.00-$10.00. In the white wine department, check out the always reliable Hess Select Chardonnay (see the "Wine of the Month") or eminently quaffable Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. Among the reds, the Ravenswood Cabernet and Italy's Monte Antico Rosso are equally good bets.

The Pub at Wegmans is a great spot for a spur-of-the-moment casual meal or late afternoon liquid libation (after bowling perhaps?). Just one caveat: If you want to avoid the maddening crowd, come early in the week.

The Artful Diner
April 2010