Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's on the Menu Tonight?

Reading menus is the best. Sometimes I just go online and look at menus for hours. Once in awhile I pretend to browse the germ infested pages of a restaurant menu when I am actually sitting at the table, but we all know I am not that normal. Anyone who knows me is completely aware of that fact that I can recite the full menu of any restaurant I go to 15 times blindfolded before I walk through the door. I know there are other people out there who do this. My cousin, Meg (Hi Meg!) is probably a worse offender than I am. But, while others may judge you for studying a menu like there is going to be some sort of exam later on, I feel that this is an incredibly smart habit to adopt. You get a preview for a movie, you should get one for a restaurant! And, now that you are just so into your new healthy lifestyle, you need to know how to go out to eat and have a great meal without any guilt. I have been living a Paleo lifestyle for six months, and in those six months I have gone out to dinner at some of the finest, as well as some of the most terrifying, restaurants in America. In today's post, I will share with you my insight on making healthful Paleo choices while face to face with some of the most tempting foods knows to man. (Sidenote: I have never been to any of the finest restaurants in America.)

There are a handful of articles out there claiming that it is hard to stick to a Paleo diet while dining at a restaurant. I think that the people who wrote these articles were drunk. The truth is, eating Paleo at a restaurant is remarkably easy if you know whats up (and I will tell you whats up, homey.) It is a lot simpler for me to walk into a restaurant and order meat and vegetables than to whip out that weird Weight Watchers cardboard points calculator and start crunching numbers so I can eat two potato skins. That's embarrassing. Nobody wants to be the jackwagon at the table with the calculator. Besides, even if you do lose weight on Weight Watchers, you are still permitted to eat foods that are harmful to your body as long as you stay within your “points.” With the Paleo diet, everything you eat is natural, good for you, and best of all, NO MATH REQUIRED!

OK. So now that we are clear on the fact that you can eat Paleo at a restaurant, lets talk about your options. Essentially, we need to create a satisfying meal out of meat, cheese (if you want), and veggies based off a menu overrun with pasta, french fries, and sandwiches. At some more upscale restaurants, this is not a challenge at all. You order up your salad, a giant steak, and a side of broccoli (try Stoneforge in Raynham's steak tips with broccoli) and you are good to go. But what do you do when you find yourself in a Paleo Panic at your local Chili's, seconds away from demolishing one of those humungo deep fried onions? This, is when you whip out your “customer is always right” card and make your server want to punch you right in the face. This, little caveman, is the time when you start demanding substitutions.

Maybe I am being a little dramatic, but I HAVE had a waiter tell me I couldn't make any substitutions once before. I hated that guy. But overall most places are cool about subbing for sides, so go wild! One of my favorite things to do is to take a grilled chicken sandwich or a burger and substitute the fries for broccoli. Then I ditch the bread and eat the sandwich with a knife and fork. Cheesecake Factory has about 20 million sandwiches and they are massive, so this is a good spot to try out this new bread-free sandwich strategy. I like to do this with sandwiches because I am a cheap ass and ordering a chicken or steak dinner could very easily result in me overdrawing my bank account. I don't even ask for the sandwich with no bread, I just quietly remove it on my own and move on with my life. I find that the more detailed your order is, the more likely it will get screwed up, so I take the sandwich disassembling duties upon myself. If you don't like wasting food, rip the bread up into little pieces, march yourself out to the parking lot and launch it at a seagull. Nobody cares if a seagull is fat.

While sandwiches are cheap, delicious, and easily modified into a protein packed delight, they certainly are not your only option. Salad is always a safe fall back that almost all restaurants offer. However, I would advise you to tread carefully, as the recent restaurant trend of topping salads like an ice cream sundae can make it hard to know if you are ordering a Paleo meal or the equivalent of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles. As a general rule, avoid any salad with breaded chicken, wontons, croutons, (if it ends in TON you will weigh a TON) or those little crunchy brown worm things they throw on Asian salads. Also, while fruit is your friend, Craisins are neither a fruit nor a friend. So if the salad contains dried cranberries ask for it without them. Finally, always get the dressing on the side and daintily dip each forkful into it. You will find that some salads, like a nice Greek with tons of feta cheese, barely need to be dressed. And the same will go for you when your new Paleo lifestyle gives you the slammin' body you deserve! Hooty hoo!!!

All in all, I think its pretty obvious that eating Paleo at a restaurant is not that difficult. If ordering in front of a group of people makes you nervous and you think you might panic and make a dumb ass decision, check out the online menu first. Then, when you get to the restaurant, pretend to browse the menu until the server shows up and then scream out your order before they can say a word. If that doesn't stop you from ordering something unhealthy, I don't know what will. Anyways, in a bizarre and shocking turn of events, I am actually going out to dinner tonight myself. Thus, I must end this post as I will be spending the rest of my time at work staring at the online menu sweating and salivating. Best of luck to you on your next (or first) Paleo restaurant adventure. I hope its the best, carb-free, guilt-free, and most importantly cardboard calculator free, meal you ever had!

Here are a few suggestions of meals from different restaurants I have tried. I love food, so if you want to tell me about a delicious Paleo dinner you had out at a restaurant please do! :)

Chili's – Sizzlin Chicken or Steak Fajitas. Hold the tortillas. It comes on a sizzling skillet with a side plate of cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa. I mix it all together with the peppers, onions, and meat and I love it. Chili's in Braintree has really generous portions, so I would recommend going to that one if you are going to try this out.

Stoneforge – Steak tips with mushrooms and onions with a side of broccoli. The best part is, you get a big salad with this meal. Try the Parmesan Peppercorn dressing, its the best. Also, the Prime Rib is huge and really salty which I love. I think they might only have it on special on certain days of the week, so you might want to call ahead.

99 – Steak tips with broccoli AND green beans. This was a pleasant surprise for me. Everything was really great. They also have a Mediterranean chicken dish that is awesome, but I think it might be a limited time menu item.

Cheesecake Factory – Lettuce Wraps!!! These are UNREAL! They are on the appetizer menu, but I get them as my meal. You make them yourself, so don't use the little noodles they give you. But these are a must try in my book.

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