Chain restaurant. Two dirty words — at least in some circles.
For some, chain restaurants offer familiarity and consistency. For others, they reek of passionless mediocrity.
No matter where you fall on that continuum, there’s a new chain in town that’s worth a look: True Food Kitchen. This is not your standard clone restaurant serving gluttonous comfort food in a dark space cluttered with tchotchkes. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. At True Food Kitchen, located at Lenox Square mall, the fare is anything but gluttonous.
True Food Kitchen implements the teachings of health and lifestyle guru Dr. Andrew Weil, a partner in the restaurant group. The menu stems from his anti-inflammatory diet food pyramid and is inspired by the recipes in his cookbook, “True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure,” which are featured prominently (and for sale) in stacks throughout the restaurant. Options abound for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free guests, but traditional diners won’t be disappointed. The idea is to cement the notion that food can be simultaneously healthy and tasty. And for the most part, they do just that.
In keeping with the healthy lifestyle angle, the restaurant features a light and airy dining room outfitted with trendy, minimalist sensibilities and a stunning windowed wall overlooking Buckhead. Relaxed servers sport gray tees paired with scrub-style yoga pants, representative of the yoga classes offered at some of the True Food locations in off-hours.
Veggies are the name of the game at True Food Kitchen, where at any moment you’ll see cooks in the open kitchen prepping produce like the 24 some odd bunches of kale or the 75 to 100 pounds of butternut squash used each day.
You’ll find that kale used in many dishes, even the beverages. Instead of traditional sodas, True Food Kitchen whips up custom refreshers like the kale-aid, a beguiling cucumber-y, V-8-like mixture of kale, apple, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger. Or you can get your antioxidant blast from a tartly sweet concoction known as the Medicine Man, a harmonious medley of sea buckthorn, pomegranate, cranberry and black tea.
Order the vegetable crudites and you’ll receive bowls of creamy tzatziki and black olive dip with a dazzling display of vibrant veggies. An oversized bowl packed with ice sprouts long stems of rapini, crisp cucumber sticks, stubby scrubbed carrots, tufts of purple cauliflower and baby bell pepper halves, making you feel as though you’re devouring the day’s harvest.
As you would expect, salads factor prominently into the menu. Add juicy grilled chicken to the large harvest chopped salad peppered with pomegranate seeds, cubes of roasted butternut squash and tangy pops of goat cheese. Or, try something a little more funky like the Thai green papaya salad made with thin kelp noodles and seasoned with a red chili-sesame dressing.
My favorites here include the garlicky (and a little salty) butternut squash pizza. Unless you order the gluten-free version, the pizza is made from a flaxseed crust and topped with smoked mozzarella, Vidalia onions and toasted walnuts. The same house-made dough rolled thin provides a crispy base for the caramelized onion tart studded with sweet black fig slices and Gorgonzola. Get one of each.
Follow up with a quinoa burger, another of True Food’s greatest hits. This “inside-out” burger makes use of the red quinoa-tabbouleh patties as buns, stuffing a wealth of cukes, avocado slices, hummus and tzatziki in between.
And as much as I revel in the perceived healthfulness of my veggie-packed meals here, a few items underperformed. Take the tandoori chicken, which seemed to have such promise. Nearly unseasoned and undercooked, the grilled bird pinked in comparison to the rich, black Beluga lentils on the side.
Ditto that for the street tacos, a bland compilation of unseasoned grass-fed steak, avocado, cotija cheese and a bare touch of tomatillo salsa. I quickly discovered that I could give the tacos a salty punch by topping them with the accompanying, stewy anasazi beans.
I almost convinced myself that dessert was healthy here, too. Well, why not? My dessert was made with squash. I’ll take a slice of that pumpkin-pie-spiced squash topped with a fluffy coconut whipped cream for a “healthy” dessert any day.
I can tell you this for sure, if my holiday shopping takes me to Lenox Square, I’ll take my midday respite at True Food Kitchen. Chain restaurant or not.