The biggest lesson I have learned in all my years in the nutrition world: everybody eats.
Sure, that sounds obvious, but it’s so obvious that we overlook it and the real challenge that comes along with it is the struggle of eating well in a fast paced world full of options. While some sadly struggle with food scarcity, others struggle with making healthy choices and portion control. For this reason I am always in search of and sharing ways to make eating well realistic, affordable and delicious.
From my college days in the Pacific Northwest to my return to my home state on the range, Wyoming (it’s real, a state and not in Canada), to the quick minute I stopped over in Phoenix for 20 months to finally finding my forever hometown of Durham, North Carolina and all the places in between, I seek out these food gems.
Eating well is neither eating a diet exclusively of wheat grass, nor something that comes out of a packet. For shame, faux nutrition pushers, for shame! Kidding. Not judging. You do you…but for the love of all things good and kidneys, knock that malarkey off!
Enter Bull Street Gourmet & Market in Durham, North Carolina. I met owner Anne Niemann while conducting an interview for another writing project of mine. I had long since fallen deeply in lust with the food pics on the Bull Street Gourmet & Market Instagram account and was excited to meet the woman behind the magic. Her manager, Victoria Luck, hooked me up with an iced Americano before I even had a chance to fully take in the warm, “everybody’s welcome” vibe. Great food, coffee and genuine people: yeah this place is heaven.
Both in glancing over the menu and meeting with Anne, and okay Instagram food-porn stalking, I was delighted to see that the menu offered the one thing that we really and truly NEED in today’s world: a little bit of everything and something for everyone. YES! There are deli sandwiches, salads, soup, meals-to-go, beef rich eats, vegan delights, gluten free goodness and even beer to go. This place is legit!
Offering meals to go really caught my attention. You can pick up a healthy dinner on the way home at a reasonable price and real, local ingredients. Pick up a fabulous, healthy lunch to enjoy in the park when you stop in for your morning coffee. These are the options the busy world inhabitant’s dreams are made of!
Sheila: Anne I noticed that your menu offers a wide range of options. There are even gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. That’s pretty awesome to see. Why do you offer these options when some proprietors would scoff or be annoyed at even the thought of doing that?
Anne: First off, I admit it, I'm a people-pleaser and always want everyone to feel included and appreciated, so I thought it was critical that we had something for everyone. Our customers have been very vocal about their appreciation for this, especially for the gluten-free bread, the vegan cookie and gluten free cake!
No matter what the dietary preference or restriction, we either have what they need or will go to just about any length to accommodate them. When a group of people come in to enjoy a meal together, there are almost always food allergies and/or specific preferences. It's very gratifying to know that everyone will be able to enjoy what they want and without a big fuss.
Sheila: An important part of eating healthy is variety. Looking at your salads and quinoa/rice bowls, there is such a variety in one dish. How do you get the ideas to combine such a wide variety of ingredients?
Anne: TBH (taking one from Insta-lingo), I start with one key ingredient like brown rice or quinoa and then decide what "influence" I want to give it (Mexican, Asian, all-American) and go from there, one ingredient at a time, i.e. the brown rice salad bowl.
I started with brown rice (for fiber content and flavor) and then decided on an Asian-inspired flavor by adding edamame (again, excellent nutritional value throughout!). After the edamame, I had to add some mild bite with green onion, some crunch with the green apples and carrots, some sweet with the golden raisins, all topped off with sesame teriyaki dressing. Customers can add the protein of their choice, grilled shrimp, chicken, or an egg cooked to their liking. Similarly, on our breakfast menu, I used brown rice adding sautéed mushrooms and green onion, topped with two eggs and sliced avocado. Same base, but a different approach with some of the same healthy ingredients. So simple but, boy oh boy, healthy as can be and so delicious!
Sheila: How do you conceptualize your offerings?
Anne: It’s either something I’ve had that's similar or perhaps seen across a restaurant on someone else's plate! Then I tweak it. Add a little something. I like all my menu items to exude freshness, be crisp and clean – green apple, romaine, toasted walnuts, creamy feta as in The Chappy Salad, etc. Combine different tastes and textures. Creamy, crunchy, salty, sweet.
I always like introducing something new to keep our menu fresh for our customers, like Meg’s Manhattan Eggs for example. I went to London with my daughter, Meg, who, not coincidentally, lives in Manhattan (speaking of my wonderful daughters, don't forget to follow @foodintheair! on Instagram) to visit another daughter who was living there.
We went to this amazing restaurant for brunch. I ordered a dish that was scrambled eggs with a piece of fresh salmon and a “rocket” salad (a very simple arugula salad tossed with oil and salt) along with a piece of crunchy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside farmer’s bread. The dish that Meg ordered had something with avocado on it and I said “give me some of that avocado!” because, let's face it, everything is better with avocado. When I returned to Bull Street Gourmet & Market I wanted to bring a little of London with me because, let's be honest, who in their right mind wants to leave London?
Back to Meg's Eggs...as fresh salmon isn't a staple on our menu, I was going to have to take a few artistic liberties in creating the London dish. We do, however, have other delicious ingredients with which to work. We season and roast grape tomatoes to go on our Mozz sandwich, our New Yorker Bagel is extremely popular (we do our salmon in-house, btw), and we have the best croissants in town thanks to Guglhupf Bakery. Voila! Meg's Manhattan Eggs came to life and has become a top seller. I love when things like that work. I was inspired by one thing, tweaked it, made it "ours" and there you go, it worked.
When it comes to eating out, worrying about what’s in the food – calories, sodium content, toxic food additives, etc. – can really wipe out the enjoyment out of a meal. Look for menu options that have something to offer nutritionally and don’t hesitate to ask questions. If you’re out of town an scanning the internet for the greatest eats in all the land, check to see if the reviews mention menu variety and healthy options. If you’re Yelping it up on a restaurant, be sure to mention the healthy options on the menu to help others.
Other great tips include watching the serving size, assess how much starch is loaded up on your plate and choose foods with the simplest sounding ingredients. When you’re plate is brought out to you, take a second to look it over and see how you feel about the serving sizes. As for those starches (breads, potatoes, croutons, white rice, etc.) keep a very close on them. On average they are going to have 100 calories per half a cup serving and many restaurants will load up 4 cups or more throughout your meal!
Tips from the pros: Make sure to order something that has fruits and vegetables. Eat the fruits and vegetables first. Simmer down on the cheese, that’s were a huge amount of sodium sneaks in. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for adjustments to your entrée. If you think you’re sparing someone’s feelings by picking out what you don’t want or eating something that you don’t want to, you’re wrong. No restaurant owner wants to unnecessarily waste food, nor do they want their patrons to leave feeling ill and unsatisfied with their experience.
Share your favorite restaurant that offers healthy eats in the comments section below.
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