The city of St. Petersburg wants you to know that healthy eating doesn’t have to mean skimping on flavor, or leaving out the foodies.
As part of Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin’s Virtual Progressive Dinner tours, a campaign that kicked off in April, St. Pete’s choosiest food bloggers were invited to sample menu items on the West St. Pete Central route Wednesday night. Then there was me, a last-minute replacement.
Being a yoga teacher, I'm all about eating healthy, but not in the way most people think of it. Give me a regular gelato over some fat-free (sugar-filled) frozen yogurt concoction any day. Healthy eating comes down to just two things: portion size and taste.
The biggest secret in the diet industry is that food that doesn’t satisfy your taste buds tends to be lower in nutritional content. You eat more to satisfy your body’s cravings, taking in more calories without fulfilling nutritional needs, or your unmet cravings. That’s where sugar comes in.
Sugar adds flavor that's taken out, along with ingredients like fat. Many so-called “healthy” food choices are loaded with sugar. As a rule of thumb, the less processing the better, which is all well and good when eating at home. But when you want to go out, trying to find food that doesn't forego flavor and load up on sugar can be a challenge. As someone fairly new to town, I was interested in learning what these St. Pete eateries could do. Do their options stack up?
Craft Kafé This place wins for being all-around health-conscious, and also offers the most healthful items on its regular gluten-free lineup. In the vegan ricotta beet salad we were served as part of the tour, I might’ve preferred different lettuces and smaller beet chunks. However, the plate's taste and satisfying portion size delivered. Owner Teddy Skiadiotis says he soaks walnuts overnight to make his ricotta, then minces it in a food processor with lemon, nutritional yeast, olive oil, pepper and salt to taste and texture. Truthfully, it tastes nothing like ricotta, yet it was delicious paired with gluten-free toast.
Alésia Restaurant We were treated to a number of selections from this cozy hideaway that serves up French-Vietnamese cuisine, ranging from very healthy to healthy in small doses. My fondness for the food, in order of healthfulness, were don’t-make-me-eat-that (I’m not a fan of bok choy, but for bok choy Alésia's was perfect) and I-need-to-come-back-for-more (the creamy beet soup was divine). The soup was made with cream and chicken stock (no butter), and it worked. According to our waiter, the cup size that the restaurant typically serves the dish in is just a bit larger, making it a yes in my healthy book. But keeping portion control in mind, that helping is also served with two Parmesan gougères — we got one. The shrimp cous cous salad, the bona fide item from our tour, was fine.
O'Bistro The dessert stop was last, but not least. Though sugar makes up most desserts, O’Bistro cleverly minimizes its use while serving reasonable portion sizes. Our chocolate mousse crêpe, made with dark chocolate, was neither too sugary, or greasy, which can happen. The thin French pancake was a mouthful of flavor. About the size of a wonton, this one hit the healthy mark alongside the others. If you like strong coffee, skip the cappuccino.
Tomalin’s Healthy St. Pete initiative also includes putting healthier eats into vending machines and eventually schools. But getting momentum requires demand. It's up to St. Pete eateries to offer excellent-tasting, healthful foods that present a genuine alternative on their menus.
We’d love to know where you’re discovering health-conscious food around St. Pete. Tell us your finds in the comments.