Dinner entrées come with a cup of soup or a house tossed salad. One of the day's soups was a chili-bean beef, and it was super, thick with veggies, pinto and black beans and, best of all, honest diced beef (not hamburger meat), just like real Texas chili. The seasoning was good, too. A bowl at lunchtime could be...lunch. Another soup du jour was cream of mushroom. It was soothing and pleasant and included the needed splash of cream. The salad (red-leaf lettuce, cuke, tomato) came with a balsamic vinaigrette of a grayish cast, thanks to apple juice and Dijon mustard. To my palate (I want nothing sweet on my raw rabbit food), the apple juice spoiled it. But if you ask, they'll bring you straight vinegar and olive oil to make your own mixture.
My partner's entrée, a pasta-free vegetable lasagna, turned out terrific. Layers of eggplant, zucchini, tomato, yellow squash, onion, mushroom, and roasted garlic were topped with Parmesan, provolone cheese, and pesto cream sauce -- a fluffy emulsion of cream, basil, and oil. Light on the garlic, it was still delicious -- although it lost its looks as it cooled, when the oil separated out from the sauce. But we enjoyed the veggies' lush textures, the tickling froth of pesto, and the varying flavors of the cheeses. It ain't mamma mia's, but it'll do just fine.
Barbecue sauce is usually a no-no on restricted-carb diets. Most versions include ketchup -- verboten because it's loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. Not Smokin' Joe Jones's sugar-free sauce, served here with your choice of house-cooked chicken or salmon, or sandwiches of Joe's own smoked beef brisket or pulled pork. The sauce, surprisingly pleasant, is light-textured, smooth, and smoky and noticeably less cloying than supermarket brands. The pulled pork isn't actually pulled but sliced, and it's a little fatty -- as it should be. (That's the haps with pork shoulder butt, any good barbecuer's favorite piece of pig.) The sandwich is served open-faced, with meat on one half of a hamburger bun, lettuce and tomato on the other, and a side of coleslaw to spoon on -- all pure Memphis-style. What kept me from making a sandwich of it was the whole- wheat--sunflower seed hamburger bun -- as dry and chewy as hardtack. That's a carb I'll gladly skip. The sour coleslaw (vinegar, sesame oil, and caraway seed) is sweetened with fructose, but I'd prefer the shredded raw carrots I've enjoyed in Memphis -- sweeter and more interesting. ('Course, many Memphis cooks put raisins in, too -- banned from low-glycemic diets.) Also along were a heap of baked sweet potato "fries."
Hank, ever virtuous, went for the curried steamed/wokked veggies, to which you can add grilled chicken breast, tofu, or salmon for a few extra dollars. Hank chose salmon. A scoop of brown rice pilaf sits in the middle of the plate, to mix in or shun as your diet indicates. The sauce is a stab at Thai-style green curry, which the menu calls "medium" and I call "where's the curry?" I wasn't impressed by the farm-raised salmon either. Hank sorta-kinda liked it, but I found the flavors over-sweet and muddy -- bad old days' hippie chow.
Soon after this first visit, my partner and I popped in for a late lunch. I was tempted by a breakfast called "Create Your Own Eggs," which offers three scrambled eggs (or whites or Egg Beaters) with your choice of one protein, two veggies, a cheese, and a bread. Instead, I chose chicken satay -- two skewers of breast, not overcooked (thank you!), and glazed with a smooth, spicy peanut sauce. The chicken is served alongside a sparkling salad of red bell pepper, cuke, and cilantro. The brown rice pilaf works well in this faux Southeast Asian context -- its chewy texture recalls the sticky rice of northern Thailand.
My partner got the "Bistro steak" sandwich -- Meyers Angus Prime roasted tri-tip, sliced thin and reheated on the grill (so you can't get it rare). A little dry solo, it's moistened by sweet caramelized onions, melted provolone, chopped lettuce, and diced tomato. Wary of the bread, we chose a reduced-carb tortilla wrap -- way to go! The thin, high-quality whole-wheat flour tortilla has a richer flavor than the more common white-flour types.
But dessert, above all, is what you come here for. Indulgence bakes a full range of chiffon cakes (low-flour soufflé cakes raised by beaten egg whites), pies, cookies, muffins, bars, brownies, and cobblers. Almost every item in the bakery case is annotated by a small card giving complete nutritional information. Despite their lowered carbs, most sweets here are high in calories -- they're treats, not daily sustenance.
I was knocked out by the virtuous Key lime bar -- an alluring fluff of citrus curd atop a soft, toothsome whole-wheat cookie. (With only 8 carb grams and about 200 calories -- like buttered whole-wheat toast -- it'd be a dynamite breakfast for dieters dying for a Danish.) I liked it much better than its cousin, Key lime pie, which had that hippie-dippie crust and was further besmirched by a pouf of dead-bland unsweetened meringue. A fudge brownie (low-carb but 400 calories) was dry but had a decent chocolate flavor. The chocolate chiffon cake, too, proved dry and grainy with whole-wheat flour. I took home a rightly named "tower" of Atkins-friendly cheesecake, with just one carb gram but an ungodly amount of fat and 500 calories. The crumbly texture resembles a New York Jewish cheesecake with a tang of sour cream. Barely sweet, it's topped with whipped cream and set atop a ground-walnut crust. At second bite, I feared instant addiction, but a single portion stretched into three days' breakfasts -- you fill up fast on fat.
One of the hardest losses for dieters is chocolate. But it turns out that a little dark chocolate is actually good for you -- it's just the sugar in it that piles on the pounds. Indulgence's outsourced sugar-free chocolate truffles are the chocoholic's relief, at just 15 calories and 1.5 carb grams each. They'd be fantastic if only their chocolate were better. It's dark enough, but not a premium growth: The quality resembles See's, hinting of gums or waxes. The blending of flavors is masterful, though, and I was taken with the mocha version. If you're more chocolate addict than snob, you'll love these confections.