If you’re trying to eat healthy, the company cafeteria can be your worst enemy. This has even proved to be the case at hospitals.
If you do not want to eat healthy, our cafeteria is happy to accommodate you. On pasta day alone, there’s a long line and the portions are immense. You can get burgers and fries, fried vegetables, Chinese food, Philly cheesesteaks and big Mexican bowls.
But every day — every single day — there are at least two varieties of simply grilled fish and at least six choices of vegetables. At breakfast, you can have your omelet made with whole egg, egg white or half-and-half.
Our cafeteria is run by the institutional food giant, Sodexo. A quick survey of its website suggests it has gotten the memo that not everybody wants indulge at lunch to salve their work stresses. In October 2018, it announced that it was adding 200 new recipes to its menus that are plant-based.
Unless something on the daily menu really, really calls to me, I pretty much always get the grilled salmon and two vegetables. It’s a safe bet that tastes good and balances out whatever damage was done or will be done soon.
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants evoke thoughts of healthful plant foods and grains, if not Birkenstocks and skinny people whose thighs are no bigger than my wrist. If you’re watching your weight and looking for that kind of vegetarian restaurant, Cafe Sunflower, with locations in Atlanta and Sandy Springs, is probably not for you.
My first visit to the Atlanta location was on an unseasonably warm day after Christmas. It was nice enough to sit outside on the narrow patio. It was late in the day for lunch and the hostess was firm: “We close in 10 minutes.”
“Does that mean that I can order?”
“Yes, but quickly.”
OK, not the best welcome, but I learned later from the server that the cooks do indeed hightail it out after the end of the lunch service at 2:30 p.m. Dinner begins at 5 p.m., presumably with a second crew of cooks.
Their hasty departure did not prevent them from serving me a lunch that, while vegan, was sumptuous. Just imagine: those two words together in the same sentence.
Beet carpaccio with cashew cheese and olive pesto
The starter was a beet carpaccio. Thin raw slices were arranged on a long, rectangular plate with squiggles of superfluous sauce on either side. On top of each beet slice was a dollop of cashew cheese. The combination was wonderfully rich and didn’t seem affected one way or another by a smear of the sauces, described as olive pesto. I couldn’t find a listing for cashew cheese, so I assessed 6 Weight Watchers SmartPoints for 2 tablespoons of cashew butter.
The entree was filling enough that a starter wasn’t really needed at all. A large spinach wrap was stuffed to capacity with quinoa, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, mashed sweet potato and avocado. It nudged the edge of pool of chipolte aioli, and the small dish of a vegan cheese came on the side, as requested. It was accompanied by a small cup of earthy butternut squash soup and a green salad with a bright, ginger dressing.
Even without the cheese, the burrito was thick and rich. It didn’t look shiny, as if the vegetables had been bathed in an olive oil. But what was inside felt undoubtedly substantial. This clocked in at 6 smartpoints for a cup of quinoa, 5 for a half an avocado, 6 for the spinach wrap. Even with no visible fat, it seemed wise to throw in another 3-4 smartpoints to cover that potential plus the couple of times the burrito hit the chipolte aioli.
Quinoa avocado burrito with butternut squash soup and green salad
For lunch, 26 is a substantial expenditure of points. Too much, really. Half the burrito would have sufficed. The Restaurant Dieter paid for it, too.
The whole affair called for a nap that ended with heartburn — a rare event when I’m eating light and healthy. All the contributing factors were probably at play: the position of the lower esophageal sphincter when laying down, too much food, meals high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable) and likely, garlic and onions somewere in the preparation.
But I couldn’t stop.
On my second visit, I resolved to consume fewer calories and ordered a decent squash soup and the warm quinoa veg plate. On the latter, the name proved as accurate and boring as the dish itself. I’m sure the chef would say it was my own fault.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts
Meanwhile, my companions reveled in the menu’s delights: excellent steamed dumplings with cabbage, carrot, tofu and black mushrooms; crispy (read: deep fried) brussels sprouts; the sunflower burger; and the Kabocha squash ravioli.
I felt so deprived that I wound up ordering a slice of their rich, dense, coconut cake and eating every crumb.
Getting lunch delivered sounds good, doesn’t it? In the way that Uber has disrupted taxi and limo service, UberEats hopes to do so with lunch delivery. For folks on Weight Watchers or other dieters, there’s nothing to celebrate just yet.
The service is available only in the most moneyed part of Atlanta — basically just south of downtown, up the Downtown Connector, and then up either Ga. 400 to Buckhead and I-85 almost to the Lindbergh area. So if you work in Decatur, you are plain out of luck.
Uber says ordering is “just as easy as requesting a ride.”
Open the Uber app and select the meal icon at the top.
Enter your location and tap VIEW MENU.
Place order and your meal will be curbside in minutes.
For those trying to eat healthy, the menu choices are limited. For example, nothing listed for Feb. 10 was particularly diet-friendly; for Feb. 12, there was an Asian salad that would be OK with the fried won tons removed and only a modest amount of the sesame dressing.
Naturally, there is no fiddling with the menu or the way a dish is prepared. All you can do is watch the weekly offerings and hope for the best.
The restaurant’s signature image, from a time when a fuller-figured gal was just as sexy.
Cafe Luxembourg is French, with all the steak and frites that implies, but lunch still has great options for a person on Weight Watchers. That shouldn’t have surprised The Restaurant Dieter; it’s an Upper West Side place that celebrities apparently love. And you know how they are about their weight.
On my first visit some years ago, tucked into a booth surrounded by what looked like a gaggle of gay men sat the diminutive Broadway queen Kristin Chenoweth. Yesterday, it was Broadway, film and television actor, Michael McKean and his wife, actress Annette O’Toole. McKean sat close enough for me to lean over and say something stupid like: “I loved you in ‘Laverne and Shirley.'”
Cafe Luxembourg tuna burger
Instead, following appropriate New York protocol, I read the menu and pretended I had not noticed him. The lunch menu has suitably low-fat classics like roasted autumn vegetables, steak tartare, salmon tartare, Cobb salad and even steak (assuming one holds the frites and gets the green salad instead).
I was in a mood for something substantial and went for the tuna burger, green salad on the side. I counted the SmartPoints as 1 for a tablespoon of salad dressing; 4 for the tuna burger (no breadcrumbs, our server said); and 5 for a sesame bun.
The Restaurant Dieter typically does not really rely on Yelp for recommendations. One reason is the ying-yang nature of the crowd: “it’s the best place ever” co-exists with “They served me fried rat and the host was so rude to me!” Another is the potential for a business to work the system with fake reviews.
But in an unfamiliar area, I do open the app up from time to time just to see what is close by. And I do glance at the reviews. It’s hard not to. I just temper my expectations.
When the claim is “the best turkey sandwich ever,” one has to wonder. I don’t know if I can support that claim, but it was good.
The turkey is not Dietz and Watson or Boarshead or anything else from the deli case. It’s fresh and apparently roasted in the kitchen and sliced to order.
Imagine the surprise of being asked this follow-up question after ordering the dieter staple: “White, dark or both?”
What arrived on the cheapest paper plate was slices of seasoned, but not salty, meat, so juicy it threatened to soak the bread. This kitchen spends the money on what counts.
With a banana, it brought lunch to 6 Weight Watcher points.
If you’re in the village, stop by for a higher quality turkey sandwich than you’re most likely to find anywhere — except your own home perhaps.
But I will give you some grief because I can’t think of a better corporate example of the studies concluding that healthy food costs more. Once only the rich could afford to be fat; nowadays only the rich can afford to be thin.
Today I needed a salad chock full of fresh ingredients. Where better to get one than Whole Foods? The company’s salad bars are great. They almost always have three types of greens, plus lots of items you won’t find everywhere: plant-rich proteins like tofu and edamame; shredded radish; green, red and yellow bell pepper; carrot; beet; broccoli and cauliflower. There are prepared salads using kale and great gains such as quinoa and wheatberry. They have a wide variety of dressings, some low in fat, ranging from a balsamic vinaigrette to Asian sesame, miso and Ranch. For protein, there’s eggs, mock crab and big chunks of grilled white meat chicken.
Uh, scratch that.
The chicken is where lunch started to cross from whole-some to Whole Paycheck, the company’s unflattering nickname.
Turkey chunks: real food?
The salad bar didn’t have any chicken; just some perfectly rectangular chunks of deli turkey. Those chunks never look appealing.
So I asked an employee at the deli counter if they might be putting some chicken out. After checking in the back, the employee said said the kitchen was all out. But the employee offered to chop up one of the breasts in the deli case. Great.
Then the employee put it in a deli box and weighed it and added the sales sticker.
“How much is that chicken?” I asked.
“$12.99 a pound,” the employee said.
“And how much is the salad bar?”
“$7.99 a pound,” the employee said sheepishly. “It’s different chicken. The salad bar chicken comes from the rotisserie.”
“So it’s $5 better a pound chicken?”
Recognizing how ridiculous that sounded, the employee opened the deli box, dumped the chicken on my salad and threw the box away.
“Yeah,” the employee said, “even I sometimes can’t afford to buy food here.”
So in the end I paid $11.81 for the salad. Count me virtuous and lucky, but still twelve bucks poorer.