As an undergraduate, I had a very serious love affair with my school’s cafeteria. It was the perfect place to gossip and watch the rotation of meals from breakfast to lunch and from lunch to dinner. Often I would make my way through several full days at Kline Commons, starting with the make-your-own Belgium waffles and troughs of molded eggs, and moving on to the iceberg lettuce salad bar and burgers, finishing with a plate of nachos or re-creating the morning with the ever-popular breakfast for dinner. Since then, I have often dreamed of spending the day at a restaurant in this fashion.
Recently the Internet in my apartment went out, and I felt this was the perfect time to try my experiment. There were two requirements - one, the restaurant had to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and two, there had to be Internet access available.
The two places around the corner from my house competing as healthy and healthier were the obvious choices. Let me start by saying that I have the same concerns about the word “healthy” in my eating as I do a PG-13 rating in most movies: good, maybe; great, not likely. In order to find out once and for all, I put down my Cheetos and went to work.
Day 1 – Ziggy’s Healthy Grill
Everyone in Ziggy’s Healthy Grill on Monday morning seems to have just come from marathon training. All around me are people stretching and hiking up their gym shorts to reveal perfectly tanned and toned thighs. It’s certainly a good ad for the place. The guy behind the counter enhances this image by wearing an Abercrombie shirt that boasts, “Damn I’m chiseled.” And damn, he is, so when he tells me, “Go with the Santa Fe breakfast burrito,” I listen.
Filled with scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, fresh vegetables, potatoes and black beans, Ziggy’s Santa Fe breakfast burrito is mammoth, and one should certainly not attempt to pick it up, as it is as well constructed as a parking lot Ferris wheel. Three small plastic cups with queso (low fat), sour cream (fat free) and salsa (nothing to remove) sit to the side of the beast. Without them, it is a hardy but dry affair; with them, it is better, offering both variety (was that a piece of broccoli?) and nourishment for your morning meal.
When I look up from my computer at 12:40 p.m., the line for lunch is almost to the door. Feeling quite at home, I leave my bag at the table and head towards the pile of menus at the back. I decide to skip the buffalo burger, even though Muscles behind the counter says, “It’s really, really good,” and go with the pizza. To be fair, as a native New Yorker, healthy pizza doesn’t really stand a chance in my world, but I was there to work, and work I did. The cheese on Ziggy’s personal pie hardened by the time I was done swallowing the first bite. Why Ziggy’s doesn’t offer the turkey sausage that I had with breakfast as a pizza topping is beyond me. Turkey pepperoni, for those of you who couldn’t guess, doesn’t live up to the real thing, and frankly, the place was cheap with the olives. To be fair, if I didn’t think about it as pizza, it was slightly more edible.
While I chewed through the pie, business meetings began all around me. After an hour of this, I decided to head to the back room where a younger crowd, consisting of what looked like med-students and hipsters, converged with their computers ready to study. I’m not sure if Ziggy’s is trying to conserve energy, or if healthy people are just less interested in lighting, but the back room is lit like a bat cave. This actually did not bother me, and instead made for a quite serene environment.
At 2:30 p.m., less than satisfied from lunch, I decided to go back for a snack. Ziggy’s veggie platter gives you a choice of three sides, and for eight dollars, is divine for a mid-afternoon treat. The butternut squash with pecans, apples and honey is beautifully plated and significantly sweeter than many desserts. A bowl of edamame and some pita chips with Ziggy’s distinctive top-notch hummus are perfect to split with friends.
By 3:00 p.m. the back room where I was hiding started filling up with other people looking for a place to sit with their computers. The next three hours felt like some kind of study session, and with the “work vibe” in full effect, I was able to get a remarkable amount done. At around 5:00 p.m. the doors to the back room started to shut. “We’re actually having a meeting back here,” said an employee. “Do you think you could move?” I grabbed my computer, Styrofoam cup and crumbs and headed back to the main room for dinner.
Since the décor at Ziggy’s looks closer to a hospital cafeteria than any restaurant I’d ever want to eat in, I wouldn’t recommend it for a night out. On top of that, the only thing that had changed since lunch was the staff, and so I asked the new guy at the front what he suggested for dinner. He assured me that the veggie loaf was the way to go. “It’s even better than the meat loaf, and I eat meat,” he confessed. Along with that came my choice of salads, “Spa or regular.” Always ready to be pampered, I went with spa. The salad – complete with mandarin oranges, feta, apples, pine nuts and a mango raspberry dressing – was supposed to be refreshing, but instead translated as cheap. The veggie loaf came out smelling like something that had been sitting in a locker room, but once I got past that, I found it to be tremendously flavorful, and wholly satisfying. On the side were steamed veggies, which were bland but tolerable.
The desserts at Ziggy’s sit unappetizingly wrapped in cellophane in a basket at the front counter. Had I not seen them sitting there throughout the day, I might have been more excited to give them a try. “Everyone loves the carrot cake cookie,” I was told. This seemed hard to believe, looking at the misshapen orange mass with some sort of white goo sandwiched inside it. Instead I opted for the simpler, “low-fat brownie.” Although it was nowhere near as delicious as any actual brownie I’ve ever eaten, the chocolate flavor was there and the nuts sprinkled throughout were a nice touch. After polishing off a second brownie (I’ll teach them to take away fat…), I even felt slightly satisfied.
Day 2 – Field of Greens
The cover of the menu at Field of Greens shows a heart made entirely of fruits and veggies. Beneath that it shouts, “So good….and so good for you! Vegan!! Raw!! Organic!!” I needed to be cheered on, since I am not accustomed to eating in any of these ways. My dietary cheer is more along the lines of “Sugar!! Fried!! Steak!!”
For breakfast, Field of Greens offers a small variety of veggie add-ins for the omelets, putting cheese in its own category for an additional 75 cents. I went with “the works,” and was happily surprised by the flavor and quality of the eggs. The veggies and cheese also had that fresh from the farm taste, and I didn’t even feel that healthy until I started in on my Ezekiel toast, which needed to be dipped in water to choke down. For a mere 50 cents, Field of Greens will slap down a multigrain pancake, but those two quarters might be better spent at the arcade, since the flavorless cakes leave a lot to be desired, especially when paired with the “syrup,” which had the consistency of skim milk; hardly Vermont’s finest.
In order to access the Internet, you will have to ask one of the Field of Greens employees to print out a receipt out with the code on it. Although it’s a strip of paper no bigger than a box of matches, it was still a bit of a shock coming from a place that has a sign above the napkins asking you not to waste paper. Why not just write the code on the wall, or just allow codeless access as most places seem to?
By noon I am starving, and get up to ask the tattooed girl behind the counter what people here normally get for lunch. “The tabouli avocado sandwich is a favorite, especially if you love avocado,” she assures me. For sides I have my choice of soup, salad or fries. I immediately say fries, but then reality hits. “Are they made from some kind of tofu?”
“Actually,” she said, “We have both. But the tofu fries are super good.”
I wonder what that means about the regular fries, but, trying my best to assimilate, go with tofu.
“Good for you!” she says, cheering me on.
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I sit down feeling proud and wait for my food.
The sandwich is gorgeous. A hunk of perfectly ripe avocado rests on each half of bread. The tofu fries are as salty as any I’ve had from McDonald’s, but the middle is juicy, helping to balance everything out. The tabouli could have used a dash more lemon (vegans eat that, right?), but was otherwise uncomplicated and delicious and I could almost tune out the constant chatter of save-the-planet discussions that surrounded me.
Dinner was more of a challenge. By 6:30 p.m. I was starting to lose it. I could not get used to the green walls, dispassionate art and half-fake greenery, but I took a cleansing breath and ordered the tofu quiche and salad. For some reason the salad at Field of Greens is chopped beyond an inch of its life, leaving you with a pile of lettuce that looks better suited for filling a piñata, or for use as fake grass in an Easter basket. That said, the quiche, which came in ball form and sat a top the greens, was eggy and rich.
Even the sound of chocolate tofu pie made my brain hurt, but because the place was out of the slightly more appetizing sounding vegan chocolate cake, I ordered a slice. Out it came, simply presented on a small black plate. Its density was a bit daunting. The consistency was closer to fudge than any other chocolate pie I ever had, but the chocolate still translated as creamy. I was impressed. – Sophie Rosenblum