The last bite of a red quinoa salad ($6.95) was about the last thing I thought I'd be fighting over at the lunch spot called Panisuco in Fort Lauderdale.
So maybe we weren't quite fighting, but we were definitely vying to make sure that nothing was left in the big wooden bowl. Along with delightfully chewy quinoa, the vegan mixture includes avocado, cilantro, green onion and a soy-based dressing that gives the salad a distinctive Asian flavor.
"That's why it tastes like sushi," declared my co-diner.
If you go to Panisuco, be sure to order this salad. I can't stop thinking about it.
Otherwise, Panisuco is the kind of ho-hum healthy spot that needs the steady flow of gym goers to make a go of it. There's a Pilates studio in the same plaza and one of the big mega chain gyms down the street.
The menu's simple: 10 sandwiches ($7.95-$9.95) on either whole wheat baguette, white wrap, multigrain baguette, white ciabatta or whole wheat wrap; five salads ($6.50-$6.95) to which you can add chicken ($2.50) or tuna ($2.95); and a selection of smoothies ($4.95-$7.95) and juices ($3.95-$7.95). Food is served on china, instead of plastic or Styrofoam, but there are plastic forks and knives instead of real flatware.
The owner was inspired by her own healthful diet and exercise routine to open Panisuco. She converted a simple storefront into an even simpler restaurant with seating for fewer than 20 and a chalkboard menu above the counter where you order. It seems easiest for the counter person to order by number.
The #1 is a turkey sandwich ($8.95) with goat cheese spread and spinach. But at this so-called healthful restaurant, the turkey is of the anemic-colored, processed and pre-sliced variety. It's strange then, that Panisuco then goes to the trouble of creating a delicious house-made condiment they call onion marmalade. The whole wheat baguette we selected may be too thick for the thinner amount of turkey.
The #8, Sriracha hummus chicken ($7.95), combines Sriracha seasoned white meat chicken, cilantro and romaine. It's spicy, but not so much so that even the heat-averse will find something to like. We ordered it on fresh and chewy white ciabatta.
The #9 vegan burger ($8.95) definitely tasted like something only a vegan could love. Most of the flavor comes from the muddy-flavored lentil patty that can be ordered bun-less or on a whole wheat bun. Order it without a bun and it comes sitting on onion marmalade and avocado. On top of the burger are tomatoes, spinach and two slices of vegan cheese that had all the mouth feel of "real" processed cheese. There are also smoked salmon ($9.95) and prosciutto ($9.50) sandwiches.
Along with the red quinoa salad, which we ordered with a scoop of nicely seasoned tuna salad, there's a Greek salad ($6.95), Caprese ($6.50), arugula ($6.50) and Caesar ($6.50).
Then there are smoothies, made without processed sugars. Indeed, the one we sampled — mixed berries with pineapple, aloe vera and spinach in orange juice — was outstanding. All of its sweetness came from fruit.
With such a limited menu, everything at Panisuco ought to be as good as that smoothie and the red quinoa salad.
4354 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
Cuisine: Sandwiches, salads and smoothies
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Sound level: Quiet
Outside smoking: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot