Health food. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Here’s the deal: I love eating healthy things until you say I am not allowed to eat unhealthy things. Tell me I can’t and I will prove you wrong. It’s how I’m wired. I don’t mean to do it. I can feel myself getting the urge to go against the grain. This is one of my many notable character flaws.
So when my friend Lissa Watkins told me I should put Airport Boulevard’s Balance restaurant on my radar I was, well, not exactly hesitant but inclined to wait until the mood hit me. I’ve had a nibble or two from the fine folks at Balance and was impressed with their loyalty to unprocessed carbohydrates, lean proteins and organic veggies in their weekly planned meals and to-go items from the cooler. But Lissa informed me they are now serving lunch in their building as a restaurant.
Rob and I were meeting for lunch and in search of a new spot. When I told Beth and Catherine about Balance, they were all-in. Rob didn’t seem too thrilled and suggested we find something deliberately unhealthier, but you know how the story ends. Girls win, so we headed to the former Little House Bistro/Osman’s Midtown building for a quick bite.
The actual lunch menu made to order is small. It’s a no-hassle, no-haggle menu of nothing but bowls. Balance Bowls ($8.95), they call them. A selection of four styles creates a base followed by a choice of protein including chicken ($3), shrimp ($4), steak ($4) or salmon ($5). Diners then have the option to make it paleo by either substituting sweet potatoes or cauliflower rice for the standard brown rice.
It’s a little intimidating at first if you are not quite sure what constitutes a “paleo” diet. Think of it as caveman food. Now you’re excited, right? Cavemen didn’t process grains or make cheese and butter. They probably didn’t eat much rice, either. I could be full-time paleo if it weren’t for the cheese and the rice, and I am uncertain if grits would be on this list but that would be the real deal-breaker.
So there we were, two guys wishing to be unhealthy with two girls prodding us to give it a go. We knew we had to ease into this, so Beth broke the ice by grabbing a tub of chicken salad ($8) from the cooler. Darker in color, this salad was definitely above average with either raisins or craisins in the mix for a little sweetness. The color may be the clue that this was the curry chicken salad they serve on Mondays, though the flavor was subtle. We left the container bone dry.
Catherine was our lead-off batter and predictably ordered the El Chapo. This is a nod to all things south of the border, and this girl eats Mexican food until she Mexican’t. Peppers, onions, pico de gallo, avocado, corn, black beans and chipotle sauce with romaine lettuce was too much to resist as was the addition of chicken. The paleo version of this comes with roasted sweet potatoes, which she doesn’t care for and opted for cauliflower rice as a substitute.
Of course dumb luck would have it come out with the sweet potatoes, but the error was corrected in just a couple of minutes with no cause for alarm nor ruffled tail feathers. It was extremely good with the sweet potatoes on the side.
Rob chose steak atop his Santorini. This is a Mediterranean flavor combination with yellow and zucchini squash, onion, bell pepper, garlic, Greek pico and romaine lettuce with green onion, under tzatziki and sambol (pepper) sauces. He kept his brown rice and added a dash of hot sauce.
Beth went the same direction but added chicken instead of beef. To be honest, I can’t say which was better. Maybe the beef would win if I had to choose but the chicken version was excellent.
For me, I was Samurai all the way. The same romaine lettuce is in all of these but my Asian-inspired dish had carrots, green onion, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, garlic, teriyaki and yum yum sauce. I did opt for the cauliflower rice and added shrimp for what I believe was the best dish of the day.
It was surprising how filling these meals were. I licked my bowl clean, full disclosure, but I was stuffed with pretty healthy food which eased a bit of the guilt.
The only thing missing at our table was the Jamaican-style bowl named the Bob Marley. A mix of bell peppers, garlic, pineapple mango salsa, cilantro, green onion, coconut jerk aioli, brown rice and black beans, it was shamefully not picked for this kickball team but sounds like it could be a star on its own. I’ll be back for it.
Also absent from our table was salmon. When the pressure is on as you order, it’s hard to choose a protein. There’s another reason to return, and I assure you I’ll have a plan when I do.
As we were all finishing our meal our waitress came out with samples of Grack (normally $4.95 per order) in a couple of plastic dressing-sized cups. This is their house granola named for its addictive qualities and I’ll say it was pretty good. I’m guessing this is their dessert although they offer do something called the “best ever bar” in original, chocolate coconut and apple pie flavors that might more readily soothe the sweet tooth.
Balance Bowls are only served Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday as dine-in and carryout from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or can be ordered as an a la carte option to any meal plan.
With a lot going on, a friendly staff and immense flavor, it may not be so hard to get two Neanderthals to eat in a place that evokes adjectives like “healthier,” “cleaner” and “near the house.” Thank you, Lissa, for the recommendation.
Run, don’t walk to get your Balance.
2351 Airport Blvd.
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