Well, 2022 kicked off with a bang, didn't it? And possibly a cough, wheeze and a sneeze? Such was the case in our household — and every household in the country this holiday season, it seems — so health has been at the forefront of my mind. I'm not really one for resolutions, but after all those heavy December feasts, a little healthy eating can feel mighty good.
It certainly did at Clean Eatz, the fast-casual franchise conceived by bodybuilding husband-and-wife duo Don and Evonne Varady. They want to pump (cough) you up, so don't expect to find foods cooked in any oils or butter — you won't. Refined sugars are also used sparingly, and there's a "No Salt in the Kitchen" rule across Clean Eatz's network of cafes, meaning no added sodium in any of the products they offer. In fact, they make it a point for customers to know exactly what and how much they're ingesting. Calorie counts, posted next to menu items and labeled on the bevy of frozen grab-and-go meals, are as revealing as a Miley Cyrus wardrobe malfunction.
But just because the food is a bit skimpy on salts and fats doesn't mean there isn't plenty of bite and sizzle in the flavors. Boneless wingz ($5.99) with a light rice flour–and–tapioca starch breading looked like pallid balls of baked drab, but their crisp texture and flavor proved awakening. The house Buffalo sauce was duly employed to finish them off, but of note was the chicken itself. It's been certified by the American Heart Association, meaning the poultry meets stringent sodium, cholesterol, saturated and trans-fat requirements. The brown rice bowl ($10.55), with said chicken and my choice of broccoli, zucchini and asparagus, was easily the healthiest meal I've had all year, and likely will be for the remainder of 2022. Even the accompanying teriyaki sauce, sweetened with fresh pineapple juice and ginger puree, avoids the use of high-fructose corn syrup or refined sugar. The bowl comes with a drink too — no, not Dr. Pepper but your choice of iced citrus or mint tea (unsweetened of course). You could always upgrade to one of their protein-powdered smoothies, like the passion fruit-orange-guava ($5.99), which will add 258 calories to your meal.
There are burgers offered in a quartet of calorie-limiting protein options — turkey, salmon, black bean or bison. We opted for the latter prepared in the "Clean Eatz" style, that is, with turkey bacon, romaine, tomato and low-fat American cheese. With no goop of condiments to adulterate the burger, the flavor of the bison ($10.79) — clean! — really came through. The burger is served on a pillowy bun made with Greek yogurt and, along with a side of sweet potato waffle fries, amounted to a 699-calorie meal. Not bad.
We also shared the four-square Philly flatbread ($8.79) with shreds of beef, peppers, onions, mozz and spicy ranch. The squares of the flatbread were folded atop one another to create a pizza sandwich of sorts.
April Gavin, owner of this particular Clean Eatz franchise in SoDo, knows a thing or two about pizza. She served as managing partner of the original Pizzeria Uno for 17 years before shifting focus. "I served a lot of people a lot of unhealthy food in the past, so it's nice to be able to offer them something on the opposite end of the health spectrum," she says. Indeed, Pizzeria Uno once served a heart-crimping "Whole Hog Burger" that came in at 2,850 calories. No such ridiculousness here.
In fact, not all who pop by the café come here to eat. We saw folks stockpiling microwaveable frozen meals for the week (I quite enjoyed the Buffalo mac and cheese) and some picking up their customized meal plans (they start at $41 for 5 meals). It's a three-pronged approach to healthy eating that's made Clean Eatz one of the more successful franchises in the nation and, dare I say, winners out of, cough, reso-losers.