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By Lisa Browdy
Not so many years ago, eating out at a restaurant was a special occasion. Now that we tend to do it regularly (most Americans eat out 4 or 5 times a week), it helps to be cognizant that restaurant food is quite high in calories, fat and sodium. The simple fact that restaurants are businesses to make money leads many (especially the big chains) to layer their food with salt, sugar and fat to make us crave it and want to buy more. Portion sizes have grown enormous over time too.
I once virtuously ordered a salad for lunch at a restaurant that shall remain nameless (but whose initials are C.P.K.) and later, looking up the meal online, found that it registered 1,100 calories! A woman of my size and activity level needs about 1,600 calories in a whole day. I've since learned to do my research before I order. Other alternatives are to split an entrée with a friend, or take half the portion and wrap it up for the next day's lunch.
You won't get calorie counts on the menu at Oak Park's new vegetarian restaurant, Munch, but you can be pretty certain that you won't be overdoing it on the fat and calories. Though still omnivorous, I'm always trying to get more veggies, beans and whole grains in my diet. Preparing such meals at home isn't difficult, really, but grains, beans and vegetables aren't conducive to being whipped together in 30 minutes on a busy weeknight. My fruits and vegetables have a tricky habit of being not ripe enough or brown at the edges when I want to use them. A cook can slap a steak on the grill with almost no prep, but a vegetarian meal is going to involve a bit of washing and chopping.
So for all us disorganized home chefs as well as the growing population of vegetarians and vegans, Munch is a godsend. I recently had lunch there with OakPark.com's dining blogger, David Hammond, so we could each lend our own perspective on this three-month-old eatery.
The menu items include a soup, several salads, and some sandwiches made with faux meat and/or real veggies. My favorite dish is the Arugula Goat Cheese salad (they can leave the goat cheese off if you are vegan) with mangos, onions, and walnuts. It has a marvelous interplay of flavors and textures, and the fruit (they use pears instead of mangoes when in season) lends a sweetness that balances out the peppery arugula.
For a change of pace, on this visit I tried the Chopped Quinoa Salad. It was completely vegan, with a base of red quinoa (which seems like a grain but is actually protein) with chickpeas, veggies, avocado and lime-chipotle dressing. It had a nice south-of-the-border taste, though I might consider swapping out the chickpeas for black beans to fit better with the Southwestern theme.
David had the "Amazing Black Bean Burger," and kindly offered me a taste. I haven't put enough veggie burgers under my belt to compare, but the flavor and texture were very good, and I liked how it was served on a healthy oatmeal roll.
The Munch menu is friendly to those who are following a gluten-free diet as well as vegan or vegetarian. Every item's "status" is clearly labeled. I have to give the restaurant props for not having a TV set in it (my dining pet peeve) and I enjoyed how the walls of the dining room and even the bathroom are so colorfully decorated.
Find out more about Munch at www.Munchrestaurant.net. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11:00 am to 9:00 p.m. If you're observing Meatless Mondays (www.meatlessmonday.com) you're on your own.
Editor's note: Dining and food blogger, David Hammond, also features Munch in his First Bites series and acknowledges the restaurant's challenge of satisfying the diner without resorting to serving meat. Read more…
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