Did you see how Cleveland Clinic (5 million patients a year, 3000 doctors) has kicked McDonald’s out of its hospitals as of September 18? They want to put their money where their mouth is in their much-touted promotion of “wellness.”
About time, I’d say. I mean, how can you spend your life fixing people and then actually help them fill up on the same stuff that clogged their arteries in the first place? In your hospital?
It got me thinking. How about here in San Diego? Are our hospitals joining this food revolution?
250 Prospect Place, Coronado
I get lucky. Mosey into maybe the only place that is: the cafeteria in Sharp Coronado Hospital. And, whoa. What a change from last time I was here. Now it’s called Mindful Café and Healing Garden. And it’s a spare, blond-wood, etched-glass place with greeny granite salad bar in the middle, swirly lampshades, glass tables with water splatters trapped in them, heavy cushioned chairs, mustard walls. Beyond lies the “healing garden,” dominated by a big fountain and a “living wall” of succulents.
Most of the patrons seem to be hospital workers, medical staff, doctors, one or two patients.
I pick out a weekly menu from a basket.
“Can I help?” says this cheery lady behind the counter. Betty. “We have chicken enchiladas today, and a spicy ham and Swiss flatbread melt. And carnitas tacos.”
Sounds kinda normal. The enchiladas are $5.99, and the flatbread melt goes for $6.75. I notice that the flatbread melt is labeled “Mindful.” Guess that means it’s the healthiest. But then “traditional pork carnitas” ($7.49) are labeled “Action,” whatever that means.
Then there are sides such as fresh green beans ($1.39) and a “grilled corn cobbette” ($1.39). Everything comes with counts for calories, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, all the deadly sins of eating.
I go ahead and order. Way too much, of course. For starters, I go to the sin side. The grill menu. But at least items like hamburgers come with warnings.
“Avoid over-consumption,” it says. “Enjoy as a treat.”
Basic burger’s $3.59. Double cheeseburger’s $4.59. Bacon burgers are $4.29. Turkey melt’s $3.90, grilled cheese sandwich is $3.29, onion rings are $2.99.
Right above all this is the “Consume Occasionally: Lower fat options” section. It starts with — hey, this looks interesting — a black-bean burger for $4.29. Also a “free-range grass-fed beef burger,” $4.59, and a grilled chicken breast sandwich, $4.79. And french fries — but they’re baked — go for $1.89. Baked sweet potato fries are $2.09.
So, I order the black-bean burger; as expiation for this sin, I head for the salad bar. It’s 48 cents per ounce. So, heh-heh, go for the light stuff first. Like, a way-big bed of lettuce. I add quinoa, corn, garbanzo beans, brown, yellow, and red mini tomatoes, a few chopped olives and we have ourselves a salad.
That’s supposed to be it, except I run into Sharon, who’s standing behind a chafing plate loaded with grilled corn “cobbettes.”
They’re six-inch lengths of corn on the cob.
“Would you like it dressed the Mexican way?” Sharon says.
Heck, the cobbette’s only $1.39.
“Go for it,” I say.
She takes a cob, slathers mayonnaise on it — the sin meter’s rising already — then sprinkles a dusting of red spice. “Paprika, chili, salt, pepper, oregano,” she says. Then she rains sticks of Parmesan cheese all over it.
Wow, that li’l cobbette is the most deelish, warm, spicy little piece of rabbit food you ever did nibble. It’s the first thing I attack when I sit down next to the window by the courtyard. (I’d go out, except the sun is beating down in that concentrated space like a Klieg light. A fountain takes up most of the space, and three inadequate umbrellas give spots for the lucky few.)
That’s okay. Here inside, I’m in love. With my cobbette. Naughty? For sure, if you’re trying to be “mindful,” but I don’t mind. We’re talking warm, rich, bad.
Salad’s good and refreshing, too. Good combo, if I do say so myself. It weighed 10.5 ounces. I paid $5.04. I pour on some of the olive oil and vinegar they have handy and fork away. It’s the partnership of the quinoa and garbanzo beans that really starts filling out the corners of ye olde gut.
But the big prize? Goes to the black-bean burger. Black beans mixed in with corn give it a dark-brewy profile, helped by the roasty brown bun. This thing is crunchy and totally tasty in a dark, malty way. Man, it would go perfectly with a Hangar 24 Chocolate Porter (from Redlands), my favorite beer of the moment. It’s a vegan burger but you never think wimpy-wimpy, texture or flavor-wise.
What’s great is to burst one of the mini tomatoes in your mouth to freshen things up between burger bites. I keep thinking: $4.29! I mean, it justifies the ferry ticket across the bay on its own.
“This place is about caring for the caretakers,” says Nicole Hoffman, who’s walking through. She runs the food operation here. She’s also a registered dietician. “Eighty percent of the food we serve is mindful. Twenty percent isn’t, especially the desserts. But you’ll find nothing is fried here, not even the french fries. Especially the french fries. And no donuts. Or sodas. And we source locally as much as we can. We also have our own garden. Veggies, herbs. I’ve told our staff we’re starting on a long strange journey to new culinary lands. It’s exciting because we’re unique in this among hospitals in the county. I’m sure the others are watching to see how we do.”
Prices: Mushroom and barley soup, $2.39; chicken enchiladas, $5.99; grilled corn cobbette, $1.39; spicy ham and Swiss flatbread melt, $6.75; pork carnitas, $7.49; BBQ portobello mushroom sandwich, $5.79; white bean chicken chili, $2.79; baked catfish sandwich, $7.49; roasted sesame salmon, $7.49; black-bean burger, $4.29; baked french fries, $1.89; eggplant Parmesan pizzetta, $4.99
Hours: 6:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; 7:00 a.m. –2:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
Nearest bus stop: Outside hospital