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Healthy dishes that don't sacrifice flavor

By Alex Nunes

Publication: The Day

Published October 25. 2012 4:00AM   Updated October 25. 2012 11:23AM
Alex Nunes/The Day
Seitan sliders at Kate's Café in Mystic.

When I was in high school, my friends and I spoke in our own specific language - Immature 16-year-old Male American English you could call it.

A large, greasy sandwich or another indulgent menu item was called a "tank." Consuming one of these "tanks" was called "tanking-out."

Now, food reviewer is a position with few downsides. But one is that it requires a considerable amount of tanking-out from time to time. So this go-around I've decided to break from the typical restaurant review format and go with something I wouldn't be afraid to show my primary care doctor.

I've prepared a list of some good natural or health food dining options I've tried recently in the area. Read on and enjoy. And here's to your health!

Kate's Café

27 Broadway Ave., Mystic

(860) 345-5832

This small gem of a restaurant just opened in August and is located next to the CVS at the rotary in Mystic. The specialty is vegan fare, with breakfast and lunch options available, including a tofu scramble, waffles and French toast for morning diners, and sandwiches, wraps, salads and soups for later in the day. Some of my favorites were the Russian borscht beet soup ($3.95 for a cup, $4.95 for a bowl), which was the soup of the day when I was in; the curry chickpea wrap ($7.95); and the seitan sliders ($9.95) topped with a savory sauce and caramelized onions. Each item was nutritious and thoughtfully prepared but also delicious. Taste is not sacrificed here, and I think eaters of all stripes, not just vegans or vegetarians, will appreciate that.

Saeed's International Market

464 Ocean Ave., New London

(860) 440-3822

Up until recently, I had driven past Saeed's on more than a few occasions but never gone inside. After I tried it for the first time, I was surprised people hadn't told me about it earlier. In addition to a great selection of imported and American market items - from natural soap to Lebanese olive oil - Saeed's offers excellent and very affordable lunch options. My top recommendation is the "Greek Mystique" ($6.99). This tasty wrap comes with a choice of chicken or gyro meat (a beef and lamb blend), black olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, onions and lettuce on a warm Greek pita. I'd also recommend the sweet pepper pie, a blend of sweet red peppers, onion, chopped walnuts and sesame seeds atop a soft warm flat bread ($3) and the vegan chili ($3.99 a cup, $4.99 for a bowl, and $9.99 a quart) for vegetarian diners.

Café Sol

346 Main St., Niantic

(860) 739-2933

You could best describe this place as creative healthy. Several sandwiches came on fresh multi-grain bread and included some very inventive creations. On my trip I went with The Blue ($8.95) - oven roasted turkey, prosciutto, house made fig jam, lettuce and blue cheese cream on multigrain. The sandwich was as good as it sounds, with a delightful sweet and savory balance. My recommendation is to go with the "Ying & Yang" option, a half sandwich and half salad or cup of soup for $8.95. I went with the soup of the day and was also blown away by a roasted red pepper and Gouda cheese creation. The café has been around for a little more than a year now, and, aside from the outstanding food, I think what separates it from other places is the vibe - a quirky ambiance inside and a cute outdoor patio and garden with diverse plantings.

The Pita Spot: A Mediterranean Grill in Mystic

45 Williams Ave., Mystc

(860) 415-4656

There's a lot to like here, particularly the diverse range of starters. The list of appetizers, priced from $6 to $9, is broken into cold and warm items. On the cold side, the options include baba ghanouj, mousakaa (which comes warm too), stuffed grape leaves and shankleesh, a blend of feta cheese, diced tomatoes, grated onion, seasonings and olive oil. For warm starters, there's grilled cilantro pesto pita, falafel and Mediterranean lamb sausage, to name a few. I went with an option that allows you to try several smaller samplers for $4 an item. My choices were the fava beans, meat lover's hummus, and grilled feta and mozzarella cheese flatbread. All were very fresh and featured unique flavor combinations like marinated garlic, pine nuts, lemon and chopped parsley. Throw in a lentil soup with Swiss chard, lemon and spices ($5 for a small bowl, $6.50 for a large bowl), and you've got a great little lunch.

Bean & Leaf

463 Bank St., New London

(860) 701-0000

I had been a regular for a while at Bean & Leaf's old location off State Street in New London, and I was wowed recently when I went inside the new sunny and spacious spot in the Harbor Towers building on Bank Street. This café is probably most known for its organic coffee and teas, but there are definitely some excellent and healthy food options here too. For a while I couldn't stop getting the two eggs, cheese and tomato sandwich on ciabatta bread ($4). There's also an excellent cucumber, tomato and hummus sandwich, but, in my opinion, what Bean & Leaf does best is soup. The options rotate daily, but some of the best varieties I've seen are the carrot ginger, chicken and roasted vegetable and bacon potato.

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