The recession poses particular problems for the restaurant trade. Before it arrived, many of us were eating dinner out several times a week. At the same time, we’d become sensitive to the health effects of what we eat and come to appreciate a “green” perspective in a restaurant’s management.
The problem, as anyone who's seen McDonald’s sales figures knows, is that eating healthy and worrying about the environmental impact of a restaurant’s takeout containers is a lot easier when you’ve got plenty of disposable income. It isn’t lack of willpower that so often makes poor people obese. The simple fact is that the unhealthier food is, as a general rule, the more affordable it is.
So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a sudden spurt of fast-food restaurants offering healthier choices. These restaurants frequently offer vegetarian alternatives, along with the chemical-free meat of humanely raised animals. They also operate as green businesses, mindful of their effect on the environment.
Two such restaurants are Evos, a chain out of Tampa, and Sprouts Green Café, an independent in Emory Village with all the look of a franchise in the offing.
Sprouts Green Café (1579 N. Decatur Road, 404-474-2207) is definitely the homier of the two. Owner Keith Gross, a San Francisco transplant, has included some features that are completely new to my eyes. One is a long counter carved from a maple tree that fell in Cabbagetown during the hurricane a couple of years back. The exposed, polished wood here and there gives away to bark.
The other unusual feature is a greenhouse room for growing herbs — no, not those kind — under artificial light. I’m not sure how well this is working. During my first visit, everything looked quite healthy. During my second about a week later, definite yellowing had set in.
The menu is a bit bewildering. It's almost entirely wraps, salads and sandwiches (including panini). There are a few breakfast items, and only three entrées — bowls of brown rice or spinach topped with veggies. Diners may add tofu, chicken or turkey to just about any dish here.
I say the menu is bewildering because there aren't more entrées. It seems better suited to lunch. Both times I’ve been to the restaurant, I’ve heard customers grousing a bit about the portions, too. Besides hummus and guacamole, there are no appetizers and I didn’t see anything sweet available for dessert. I guess not overeating is part of eating healthy, but you may well leave hungry.
The food was a mixed success for me. By far my favorite dish was the raw hummus plate. It’s made with freshly sprouted garbanzo beans and is served with celery and cucumber slices to scoop up the lightly seasoned puree. Traditional hummus is also available with pita bread, but you don’t want to miss the “living” stuff.
My next favorite dish was the “signature rice bowl.” Like so much American vegetarian cuisine, it features Mexican flavors — salsa and Monterrey Jack cheese combined with vegetables and black beans over brown rice. We added some tofu, which even the tofu-loving Wayne regarded as overcooked. But generally, the bowl was tasty if something of a cliché.
I haven’t cared much for the wraps. Yes, whole wheat tortillas are better for you than refined flour ones, but Wayne’s tofu wrap was stiff and chewy. I found the tofu once again tasteless and dry. The chicken, which I had in another wrap, was better.
My favorite sandwich was the turkey panino. It featured house-roasted turkey, spinach, cheese of some sort, avocado and a honey-mustard spread. Flavor was good, but the turkey seemed oddly crumbled instead of layered on the bread.
The vibe here is pleasant — good music and a wide variety of clients, most of whom seem to do takeout. The menu needs finessing, but considering the low costs, imperfection is tolerable.
In Sandy Springs
Meanwhile, Evos (5590 Roswell Road, Suite 140, 404-252-4022) has opened in the newly huge, made-over Prado. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Sandy Springs, where I lived as a child. When we moved there — and I’m not exaggerating — there were two restaurants on Roswell Road. One was a typical Southern place. The other was Bella Pizza.
Evos, which takes its name from the word evolved, according to press material, has been around a while in Florida, where it’s popular. And there’s good reason for that. The restaurant’s food is low-fat, having about half the calories of your usual artery-clogging fast food, and there is no frying.
Indeed, its fries aren’t fried at all. They are “air-baked” and they are really quite good. A clever feature of the restaurant is a bar with five or so differently flavored ketchups. Whether or not they have ketchup’s usual sugar content, I don’t know.
Our sandwiches were less satisfying. I ordered the steak burger, so named to indicate that the patties are made with decent cuts of beef instead of the scrap meat unhealthy chains apparently use. The beef is humanely raised and hormone- and preservative-free.
But, honestly, I found the flavor flat and the texture weirdly fine. I ordered mine with two of the slim patties and the usual fixings. Wayne ordered a burger made with herb-crusted trout (air-baked, not fried). I found the taste overwhelmingly obnoxious but he liked it. The better choice here, according to a Florida friend, is the Thai-seasoned trout wrap.
Milkshakes made with organic milk are on the menu, along with fruit shakes. Wayne ordered one of the latter with mango chunks and guava-passion fruit juice. A chromium picolinate fat burner was added for less than a dollar.
“Did they, um, offer you the supplement without your asking about it?” I asked.
“Oh my God! They wouldn’t dare!” he replied.
Whatever. It’s all a bit cloying to me. Sipping my diet Coke, I noticed my cup was imprinted with this message:
“The contents of this cup contain a way of life that is inspired, energetic, real, philanthropic, culturally plugged in, adventurous, respectful, fresh, forward thinking mixed with an attitude that says ‘I refuse to follow the herd like some lemming off the side of a cliff. Of course, you could just say it’s a drink that makes you feel great, which is fine by us too.”
Ah, the marketing of the greenly correct.