Yes, Lawrence restaurants really do have healthier options available

Here are 6 dishes from around town that will fill you up without clogging your arteries

The city of Lawrence boasts a bevy of homegrown restaurants that can tempt all but the most stout-hearted from the path. Calories! Carbs! Salt! It’s all there in abundance, if you want it. But not everybody does. Are there options for them? The short answer: Yes.

It’s a month into the New Year, and for many Lawrencians it’s probably time to stop and take stock: How are your 2018 resolutions doing?

The likely answer? So-so. Studies show that just 64 percent of resolution-makers are sticking with their plans by the time February rolls around, and that losing weight is the most commonly adopted resolution.

It might be especially difficult to keep on track when you live in Lawrence: Never mind the chicken-based restaurants that seem to have popped up on every other block in town; the city boasts a bevy of homegrown restaurants that can tempt all but the most stout-hearted from the path. Calories! Carbs! Salt! It’s all there in abundance, if you want it.

But not everybody does. Are there options for them?

The short answer: Yes. Turns out the city’s best chefs, cooks and bakers aren’t immune to the need to look good and feel good. Poke around the menus of even the most opulent establishments in town and you’re likely to find something that delights the taste buds without overly testing your blood pressure.

“We’re conscious cookers,” said Kate Gonzalez, owner of Global Cafe in downtown Lawrence. “We don’t use a lot of fats and oils, and we cook everything from scratch. You’re not getting anything processed or frozen.”

To test the theory, the Journal-World contacted a half-dozen restaurants in town and asked a simple question: Can you name one healthy item on your menu?

The answers brought forth an array of meals: Some vegetarian, some not, some familiar comfort foods and some that might be new to your palate.

One note: Local restaurants aren’t subject to the same calorie disclosure requirements as national chains, and they vary in how much work they’ve done to calculate the back-of-the-label nutritional measurements.

“Restaurant cooking is not like a package of noodles,” said Subarna Bhattachan, co-owner of La Parrilla, Zen Zero, and Genovese. “It’s a little bit of an art and a little bit of a science.”

The dishes

For when you want a spicy breakfast:

A rough estimate suggests the ham and white bean soup from Leeway Franks is packed with 47 grams of protein.

Avocado toast with kimchi and eggs

Ladybird Diner, 721 Massachusetts St.

Here’s a dish that will clear out your sinuses to start the day. The meal is built on a foundation of sourdough toast — the bread sourced locally from WheatFields Bakery — topped with an avocado spread. On top of that goes a layer of spicy Korean kimchi, which is produced in-house, a pair of eggs made to order, and a garnish of pea shoots.

The whole thing is a whopping 700 calories, but Ladybird owner Meg Heriford said those calories are packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, protein, and — thanks to the kimchi — lactobacilli that helps keep your gut in good working order. But it is, she acknowledges, “a love-it or hate-it dish.”

“When I put this dish down in front of people I usually say, ‘You’re going to feel like a million bucks,'” she said. “It’s sustaining. If I eat this in the morning, I don’t get hungry. I don’t get cravings.”

A little bit of comfort food:

The acai bowl at Luckyberry is filled with rolled oats, a layer of bananas and Kansas-produced honey, after which two big scoops of acai pulp are added. It can be garnished with yogurt from a Topeka dairy, as well as fresh seasonal fruits.

Ham and white bean soup

Leeway Franks, 935 Iowa St.

Lee Meisel admits that most people can’t live on a diet only of the sausages, hamburgers, poutines and other creations available on his restaurant’s menu. If you’re looking for something healthy, try this soup — a frequent special on the board during the year’s cooler months.

“I eat a lot of soup,” he said. “I eat soup all year round.”

The soup process starts when Meisel butchers his meat: Bones from the animal are set aside to make stock, which is chilled and then stripped of the “fat cap.” That leaves a bone broth rich in nutrients but relatively low in fat. Meisel throws in the ham, locally sourced beans and mirepoix, letting everything simmer a few hours. The result — like the kimchi toast — comes in at about 700 calories a bowl. But it’s a big bowl, and a rough estimate suggests it’s packed with 47 grams of protein.

Meisel definitely has a philosophy about beans. “I think dried beans are superior,” he said. “You don’t have to (use dried), but it changes the texture, changes the flavor, and when you rehydrate beans they have this wonderful structure and more flavor.”

For the pescatarians:

Cedar plank salmon

RND Corner Grille, 801 Massachusetts St.

“My thought process when coming up with this dish was for it to be healthy,” said Jonathan Londer, RND’s executive chef.

The dish features roasted cauliflower, asparagus, heirloom cherry tomatoes and Atlantic salmon. According to Londer, it’s a careful balancing of nutrients and flavors, all done very simply.

“I chose the cauliflower to act as the starch on the dish, which is just prepared with olive oil, salt and pepper,” he said. “Then I chose the grilled asparagus, because of the classic pairing with salmon — and grilling the asparagus adds a bit of smoke to the dish as well.” The tomatoes, he said, offers a bit of acid to balance the salmon’s flavor.

And that centerpiece salmon: Very simple. It’s seasoned with salt and pepper, then placed on a cedar plank with a mixture of white wine and water — and sent into the oven.

“The water and white wine mixture steam under the cedar plank,” Londer said, “and penetrate the fish to add more flavor.”

For the vegetarians:

Fried tofu and veggie rice bowl

La Parrilla, 724 Massachusetts St.

This is an oldie-but-a-goodie fixture on the Lawrence restaurant scene.

“First of all, the tofu is local and organic — made with Central Soy tofu. It’s high in protein,” Bhattachan said. The dish also contains red onion, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers and black beans. The rice is even vegetarian — prepared in water instead of chicken stock, like the rest of La Parrilla’s rice bowls.

“It makes me feel healthier,” Bhattachan said. “It’s lighter, and you don’t fall asleep after you eat it.”

For vegetarians who want some heat:

New Mexican enchiladas

Global Cafe, 820 Massachusetts St.

This dish can come with chicken, but Gonzalez likes the veggie-only version. Three corn tortillas are layered with vegetables — zucchini, caramelized onion, roasted red pepper, spinach and portobello mushrooms — then cooked with Monterey Jack cheese and smothered in your choice of green or red sauce, both made in-house. The dish is served with black beans and tumeric-flavored yellow rice at the side.

The result weighs in at around 400 calories for the serving, Gonzalez said.

“It’s super delicious and really flavorful and filling,” Gonzalez said. “I think foods can get complicated and weighed down when they’re processed — they have all these additives. If you’re cooking fresh food and adding your own spices, you know exactly what’s going into the meal.”

When you want breakfast with everything:

Acai bowl

Luckyberry, 845 Massachusetts St.

“It’s probably our most popular item outside of cold-pressed juice,” said Luckyberry co-owner Shantel Grace.

This meal is loaded: It’s made with acai pulp blended with cold-pressed beet juice and frozen bananas. The bowl is filled with rolled oats, a layer of bananas and Kansas-produced honey, after which two big scoops of acai pulp are added. The bowl can be garnished with yogurt from a Topeka dairy, as well as fresh strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and other seasonal fruits.

Throw some local organic bee pollen and some chia seeds on top, and the final result is dense with antioxidants — but weighs in at just 327 calories. The dish is gluten-free, and a vegan version is available.

“It’s incredibly beautiful,” Grace said of the acai bowl. “It’s packed with dense nutrition, and (is) a fun exploration into healthy eating.”

The acai bowl at Luckyberry is filled with rolled oats, a layer of bananas and Kansas-produced honey, after which two big scoops of acai pulp are added. It can be garnished with yogurt from a Topeka dairy, as well as fresh seasonal fruits.