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September 16, 2014

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Wholesome meets crave-worthy at Greens & Proteins

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Beverly Poppe

Some health food tastes like sacrifice. The bison cheesesteak at Greens & Proteins tastes like deliciousness.

Greens & Proteins

The Details

Greens & Proteins
8975 S. Eastern Ave., 541-7800.
Daily, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

A friend said the soup would change my life. That’s what finally got me to Greens & Proteins—not the astonishing Yelp rating of 4.5 stars, or the free wi-fi, or the promise of special selections for vegans, raw foodies and HCG Dieters.

I’d been meaning to go for months, ever since the restaurant opened last fall. I wanted to know if, finally, a “health food” joint could find a balance between those two words. So often the wholesomeness comes with the aftertaste of sacrifice, such that even a decent meal is more about calories and carbs than flavors and textures. But after that endorsement, I resolved to try this life-changing Thai ginger soup ($4.99).

I inhaled it. Wonderfully creamy and studded with shreds of whole ginger softened in vegetable stock, it tasted like the kind of splurge you put on an otherwise guilt-free menu. But when executive chef Murray Young ran through the list of ingredients, cream was not among them. “Cashews,” he said with a knowing smile.

Young’s chef title is legit. With experience in busy kitchens on the Strip, he’s accustomed to the pressure of a mad rush and the demands of prep and scheduling. But the Greens & Proteins environment—with its open, California-style kitchen and walk-up counter, hydroponic water features (soon to include fresh herbs for the menu) and non-stop Vitamix blenders—is new.

“Coming from Rumjungle and Red Square and stuff like that, I brought the ability to cook healthy food with good flavors,” Young said. “Most people think they can’t add seasoning, but it’s what seasoning you add. You can cut out the salts and you can add just herbs, you can add citrus, olive oil. … The simple spices actually go a lot further. You have to find a balance.”

For the five partners behind Greens & Proteins, spending time there has brought balance to more than the flavor of lunch. I can’t speak for Patrick Haggerty, Greg Jarmolowich and John Kinney, but over a freshly made smoothie, Jeff Kovatch and Frank Tucker told me they’ve both lost close to 15 pounds since G&P opened.

“We found a need, a void in this area, for healthy food,” said Kovatch, adding that he had grown tired of searching for affordable options where both he and his extremely health-conscious girlfriend could find something satisfying. The G&P menu is designed on a foundation of nutrient-rich raw materials that can be mixed and matched across many dishes at many different levels of indulgence, almost like a great wardrobe. If you don’t care for a protein shake with kale and pulverized avocado pit, get the extra-lean Angus burger with low-fat cheese.

On the plate, G&P categories include soups, salads, pizzas (served on pita, thin crust or a vegan lavash), burgers (with lettuce wrap or a whole wheat bun), wraps/sandwiches, small pickings and a build-your-own menu offering proteins from salmon to ostrich, greens from asparagus to wakame, grains from quinoa to mashed sweet potato, and sauces from pinot noir reduction to pine nut and cilantro pesto. In the glass, there is a menu of custom juices, smoothies and caffeinated beverages. Everything is made fresh to order, though the turnaround is quick for those on the run.

“I travel a lot. And if I travel, I’m always looking for a place to eat healthy. You do one of two things when you travel: Either you eat at someplace that’s bad for you or you don’t eat. And really, not eating is worse for you. Now I don’t have an excuse,” said Tucker, laughing about his twice-a-day addiction to the teriyaki grilled chicken. “But if you look at our guests that are here, what I’m most proud of is people eat and they stay. It’s a fun environment to hang out in. … It’s everything we wanted it to be.”

The décor is spotless and breezy, with pops of spring green color. There are outlets along the entire back wall for people who want to plug in mobile devices, but without good food, none of this matters. So I dove into the menu. Tucker said the chocolate avocado peanut butter banana shake often throws people for a loop, until they taste it. For $7.50, you get a fine blend of cacao powder, dark chocolate chips, green cabbage, banana, avocado (including the nutrient-rich pit), kale, spinach, zucchini, flax and chia seeds, peanut butter, honey, vanilla, agave nectar, soy or almond milk and ice. It’s a liquefied pantry, but the texture is surprisingly light, and the flavor is mildly sweet, nutty and refreshing.

For an equally refreshing lunch without the straw, the summer berry salad ($6.99 for a small) is on the money. So many berry salads are paired with sweet dressings that drown the peppery taste of the greens and the tart complexity of the fruit. But this one wisely features aged balsamic vinaigrette that honors the plentiful blackberries, raspberries and blueberries tossed with frisée, spinach and goat cheese. It’s full of flavor, fiber and antioxidants, and you can always add a chicken breast or shrimp for a protein kick.

Kovatch, a New Jersey transplant, swears by the brick-oven pizzas. I tried the basic margherita ($7.99), with Roma tomatoes, low-fat buffalo mozzarella, roasted garlic, house-made marinara and micro-basil, with oregano and a brush of olive oil baked into the thin crust. The entire thing is less than 400 calories, and while it lacks some of the charms of traditional pizza, it satisfies the craving.

The ultimate crowd-pleaser is the bison cheesesteak ($10.99). The juicy lean meat is kicked up with lemon, paprika, a tap of Mrs. Dash, grilled red onions and peppers and melted low-fat mozzarella in a spinach wrap, perfect with a split side of “fries”—half spice-encrusted, baked tofu, half raw jicama. Nothing is seasoned or sauced with a heavy hand, not even the chicken satay ($7.99). The peanut glaze is subtle, not sticky, mingling coconut milk, lemongrass, hot sriracha and sweet chili. Sprinkled with black sesame and served on fine ribbons of cucumber-carrot slaw, the dish is elegant, even on a paper plate.

The satay wasn’t always served with the slaw. It was one of those tweaks Young made after customers gave feedback. They weren’t so into the cabbage, so he came up with something that was truer to the ethnic influences of the dish, something that would be part of the meal instead of just garnish.

“We look at it as, if it’s not something that we’d want to eat ourselves, we wouldn’t expect anybody else to eat it. That’s one thing I know all of us have always felt,” Young said.

That's why the partners take turns being at the restaurant and keeping track of daily posts to Yelp. “You have to listen to the public,” Tucker said. “Too many places open and they just have it in their mind that it’s only this way, and either you eat it my way or you’re not getting it. Typically you say that just as you’re turning off the lights for the last time.”

And you can’t just stand around being the owner. Sometimes you have to carry furniture; sometimes you have to jump on the line; sometimes you have to bus tables and bring food to people’s cars. You’ve got to joke with the chefs when an order for 60 to-go meals comes in during the lunch rush. And you have to know your regulars, because they are the ones who will keep your lights on. Tucker and Kovatch said that a guy named Josh gets a bison patty with mashed sweet potato, broccoli and peanut sauce each time he visits. Shirley is really into the smoothies. And Larry comes all the way from Summerlin every single night at 7:30 for two beef patties with cabbage and mustard. On the celebrity side, G&P has served Holly Madison, Mike Tyson, Randy Couture, Jason Giambi and Joey Fatone, contributing to the success that has pushed the partners to look into two more locations in Summerlin and Centennial Hills.

“I think anybody can be good for a few months, I really do. But what I’d be most happy with is if you came back in two years and we were talking about store 20 and everywhere along the way that people have said the quality hasn’t slipped,” Tucker said. “I’d like to say if all we did was make ham sandwiches here, it would be the best ham sandwich you ever had.”

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