Offering fresh and healthy food is a no-brainer these days for restaurants of all types. Even fast food giants are packing their menus with salads and lighter options. But some restaurateurs are basing their entire concepts on that foundation — and hoping theirs will become your go-to place for healthy-food-I-don’t-have-to-cook. Below are descriptions of a few such places Chicagoans can take advantage of: LYFE Kitchen healthy sit-down (or takeout), Snap Kitchen healthy takeout, and Sprig super-fast healthy meal delivery service.
LYFE Kitchen (stands for Love Your Food Evereday) has multiple locations in Chicago and is expanding further soon. At the Streeterville location, 259 E. Erie, lighting is comfortably bright. Seating is modern and not crowded. Lots of natural light from the window-walls. Brinker Wolf, general manager here, who comes from a background in fine dining with J. Alexander, briefly explained the story behind LYFE.
This fresh-and-healthy concept restaurant, he said, was created by three executives, including the then-soon-to-be CEO, who left McDonald’s because they wanted to create a fresh-food, fast-casual restaurant chain and bring their extensive knowledge of food and beverage operations to LYFE. One of their trademarks is that every dish is marked with symbols for almost any dietary restriction you could need: gluten free, vegan, Paleo, sodium conscious, and more. Another is that you get your food fast — no doubt converting their McDonald’s experience to their unique menu.
LYFE menu items include healthy flatbreads (gluten free base), sandwiches and wraps (Quinoa Crunch Wrap), salads, plates and bowls (Chili Ginger and Veggie Stir Fry). The Buffalo Chicken Salad was a nice combination of healthy ingredients (black beans, corn, avocado, romaine and cilantro) with a tasty buttermilk ranch dressing.
Wolf spoke about the special “ovention” oven that LYFE uses to create crispy outer crusts on dishes without frying in fat. It works well with their Art’s Unfried Chicken, a panko-breadcrumb-crisped chicken breast served with crisp-cooked Brussels sprouts and a buttery-sweet butternut squash/cranberry combo, all accented with cashew cream sauce and Dijon vinaigrette. The roasted salmon comes with a melange of cooked-til-just-tender fennel, red onion and broccoli along with a lightly spiced tomato sauce.
The menu also features several creatively original and healthy drinks, such as Orange Ginger Chia, pink Ginger Pomegranate Lemonade and Cucumber Mint. Plus your can choose from local craft brews and wines on tap, or enjoy one of their signature smoothies: Kale Banana, Mango Cucumber Lime or Banilla Date (bananas, soy milk, fresh dates and vanilla).
You’ll notice the presence of ginger in a number of LYFE’s drinks and dishes. That’s because they brew up a special proprietary ginger-spiked base that’s used in multiple menu items. “Ginger is refreshing and contributes a lot of flavor without calories or fat,” said Wolf. He said their house-made hot sauce is so popular at their River North location, they sell it in bottles.
Prices are affordable for fresh, healthy food. Quantities are reasonable. Service is friendly and quick. Eat in or take out. Eat the calories you want and meet your nutrition needs. What’s not to like at LYFE?
Snap Kitchen recently opened in Chicago, including downtown, Near North, and 621 W. Diversey in Lakeview, an area teeming with singles and dual-income couples who are often too busy to cook. Whereas LYFE Kitchen offers seating or takeout, Snap Kitchen is all about taking food out — meals, snacks, and cold-pressed juices that are made fresh daily, portion controlled, and nutritionally balanced. They feature a program called Snap Commit, in which you select a 21-day meal plan — choose from breakfast, signature salads, juices, snacks and sides, lunch, dinner, and desserts — and pick up your food every three days. If you’re not up for such a long-term relationship, you can try their three-day Quickstart program.
Dishes include such items as seared, sushi-grade ahi tuna Nicoise salad, made with fresh, wild-caught tuna. Every item for sale is marked with a symbol for its dietary specialty(ies): carb conscious, non-dairy, gluten free, sodium conscious, plant powered, vegan, Paleo and Paleo style. Portions come small, medium, or large, and all are marked with calorie ranges — the highest being about 500. Take your food home in reusable BPA-free and microwave-safe containers.
Sprig delivery — chef-made meals for super-fast home delivery — has expanded to Chicago from its original San Francisco and Palo Alto. Can you imagine getting dinner — locally sourced, organic, sustainable, seasonal meals fresh-made daily by local chefs — delivered to your door 15 minutes after you order it? That’s the promise of Sprig. Think healthy, as in “Hearty pork & beef lasagna bolognese with organic kale and ricotta, & topped with mozzarella. Served warm with zucchini & red peppers and a strawberry arugula salad with balsamic dressing on side.” So far Sprig delivers in limited areas only and is open evenings, 5 to 10 pm. Check the Sprig Chicago website for more info.
Quickie bonus just for June: Chicago’s Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins fame, teamed up with Farm To People to curate their June Tasting Box. It contains a tea from Corgan’s Madame Zuzu’s Tea House, and is filled with small-batch food products he hand picked. Visit the website for more info.