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The Beach Gourmet: Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery: Salad Days. Naturally:

Pure, natural, organic foods are rapidly gaining in popularity as people become more and more aware of possible hazards associated with food mass production and the effects of mega-farming upon the environment.

On a corporate level, the Whole Foods chain (can I buy a half a melon there?) has led the way with all-natural produce and organic options, supporting many area family farms, but there are still a number of independent stores offering their own style of natural and organic presentations in a more localized and holistic way.

One of Santa Monica’s most renowned stores of this style is the venerable Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery that boasts two locations, one at 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard and the other at 2450 Colorado Avenue, and it was the first of these that I recently visited to pay homage to what must surely be one of the most comprehensively stocked salad bars in the county.

Part grocery, part deli and part supplement store, Mrs. Winston’s is definitely a temple to nature’s way, with a sprinkling of old- time rustic store added for good measure.

Sharing a common courtyard with a handful of other eateries and stores, Mrs. Winston’s is the epicenter of a communal oasis in a desert of innocuous sameness. With a dozen or so tables, this space is oftentimes a meeting place of locals and visitors alike, lunching, sipping coffee or just taking a well-earned break in a rather Continental way.

Upon entry to this compact store, the first thing I noticed was the extensive salad bar that wraps itself around 50 percent of the circumference of the room. Clean and bright, the bar is an abundance of colors and nutrition with some left-of-center inclusions like fenugreek, mustard and red chard as well as some homemade salads like tofu, mashed potato and a variety of beans.

I chose to take a large cup of vegetarian chile after being enticed by the spicy scent emanating from the cauldron, accompanied by a small side salad from the bar.

With over 50 choices from the salad bar convention went out of the window and my container rapidly filled with tuna (dolphin free), fresh salmon, mashed potato salad, organic tomato, red chard, grated carrots and garbanzo beans.

All of these ingredients were super fresh, and the salmon and tuna a delight. The muskiness of the red chard reminded me that there are just so many wonderful flavors available that I miss out on with routine, perfunctory dining.

The mashed potato salad is to live for, and my only regret is that I did not let my gluttonous side take over the proceedings.

Mrs. Winston’s vegetarian chile is splendid, and with the textured vegetable protein (TVP) substituting for the meat there really is very little difference between a traditional recipe and this one, given that most of the flavor is created by the spices and secret ingredients like burgundy wine, organic sugar and balsamic vinegar, amongst others.

Slightly sweet, and with a hint of spice, it went down smoothly with all the usual suspects present, including onions, black and pinto beans, garlic, red peppers and tomatoes.

At just $6.95 a pound for the chile and the same for the salad bar a healthful and tasty lunch can easily be had for $10-$12.

Mrs. Winston’s is without doubt one of the greenest of groceries around, and with such a capacious salad bar, I imagine that some of the competition could well be green with envy.

Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery, 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard, 310.452.7770

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