Healthy food has got a bad rap in the past as a domain of frail flavors and underseasoned ingredients. That stigma may be fading as an increasing number of single-site and multisite restaurants emerge that apply invention and initiative to make healthy food desirable food.
At a media event I sampled the food of one such recent entry, Dallas’ unleavened Fresh Kitchen (they were out of capital letter ‘u’s when they put the sign up), the first in what the two founders hope will be a multi-site concept. Tom Dynan came through the Marriott corporation’s school of hard knocks, being in the opening kitchen crew of the Dallas Ritz-Carlton in the last decade. Scott Piland’s background is in real estate and private equity. They teamed up because they each wanted to get into the restaurant business with someone of complementary skills.
It was Scott’s background that made possible the judicious choice of a corner in Lakewood with great road frontage, parking and a patio. The demographic here fits what they see as their likely customer: a woman between the early twenties and mid-fifties who will bring her other half in. Also, mothers looking for healthier food for their children. During my visit they seemed have hit paydirt as lots of families, some with toddlers and babies, arrived while I ate.
Tom developed the menu, which is centered around wraps (with a choice of flour or spinach flavored tortillas) that are served with a “complement” of a soup, salad or vegetable. The wrap and complement are served together, so because the wrap is made fresh when you order at the counter it can take a few minutes to arrive. The theory is that you can assuage your hunger on something from the ‘dips’ section of the menu where tasty sounding dips like hummus, cucumber dill, spicy avocado, roasted eggplant and smoky garlic crema are served with a choice of chips, raw veggies or grilled flatbread. The problem was, I did not know this, so I wasted away to an emaciated shadow of my former self waiting for my wrap. I wonder if they could offer the complement on ordering when it is something pre-prepared (like my soup) and the wrap when ready?
The wraps are worth waiting for, however. I tried the Havana ($10.25), at the suggestion of the server at the register, with a complement of broccoli cheese soup. The plump wrap was guava-glazed pulled pork, ham, chopped horseradish pickle (chopped batonnet style), sliced red cabbage, Swiss cheese, and a gorgeous creamy yellow salsa that lent just the right amount of moisture. This was one of the best wraps I have had, anywhere, and substantial enough for the heartiest appetite. The elaborate and complex choice of ingredients produced as complex a nexus of flavors in the mouth. A theme with all the wraps here seems to be to make the vegetables, which span the spectrum from the prosaic to the precious, as much a star as the meat. And the meat is much tastier than a lot of the “white noise meat” that seems to dominate sandwich bar food. Consider the West Coast ($12.50). Shrimp fried in corn starch is paired with mâche, iceberg lettuce, scallions, cilantro, shaved carrot and spicy avocado lubricated with sweet Thai chili aioli. It is a long but not arbitrary list, as these many gentle flavors and textures serve as facets that enhance the delicate shrimp.
Drinks consist of the usual soft drinks, a rotating list of local beers (including Lakewood Brewing Company beers), and by-the-glass keg wines of much higher quality than expected. When I visited, there was Tablas Creek Red and White Blends ($10) and Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.50). Before Dynan and Piland arrived, the manager had explained that they were proud to serve local beer but “good Texas wine is hard to find”. I told Dynan and Piland that I will be sending them some Texas wine representatives all of whom will be delighted to help in that area. They say that they are enthusiastic.
The menu identifies gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items with symbols and it was clear that non-meat eaters can eat well here. unleavened also emphasizes local sourcing. And there is also a breakfast menu with steel-cut oatmeal, muesli and the like. Both the breakfast and the main menu have kiddie compartments.
As I left, walking outside into the typical Dallas 70০ December evening, the patio was already half full with large families. unleavened has taken what other healthy eating places do and put their own spin - counter service, superior adult beverages, local sourcing and elaborate well-conceived wraps on it and this may be what it takes to successfully go multi-site in the modern day restaurant business.