SouthFlorida.com
Hungry for a good conversation? Join our Facebook group "Let's Eat, South Florida" where our readers and writers share tips about restaurants, recipes and more.

Review: True Food Kitchen in Boca Raton is just what the doctor ordered | Video

 

★★★½

Post-holiday bloat and a first-time bout of gout make for a very grumpy food critic. What to do? Where to review? True Food Kitchen came to the rescue. True Food Kitchen is a chain started in 2008 by Andrew Weil, an Arizona-based physician, author and wellness guru who espouses an anti-inflammatory diet and antioxidant foods. Vegetables, fresh juices, whole grains, herbs and spices have featured roles.

Typically, I am leery of celebrity doctors bearing self-help books, newsletters and lifestyle brands, just as I am leery of dining in malls, particularly in Boca Raton. And I’m not usually a fan of eateries that pepper menus and websites with buzzwords such as “sustainable,” “responsibly sourced” and “conscious nutrition.” But a recent visit to True Food Kitchen, which opened earlier this year at Town Center, upended my thinking. I did not merely like my experience at True Food Kitchen — I loved it. I encountered tasty and satisfying food, helpful and cheerful service and a light and bright atmosphere.

I hobbled into True Food Kitchen skeptical but ready for betterment. A month of eating indulgently and other stressors had left me feeling lousy, with the battle wounds of professional eating piling up. The culmination was an inflamed big-toe joint that felt as if someone had detonated a stick of dynamite between my toes while pouring gasoline and tossing lit matches on my foot.

Trips to doctors brought unwelcome but predictable news. After gaining more than 40 pounds in 2 1/2 years, I was labeled pre-diabetic (happy National Diabetes Awareness Month!) and diagnosed with gout, a painful arthritic condition where flareups cause intense pain. My podiatrist prescribed a powerful anti-inflammatory and rattled off the things I should no longer consume: alcohol, red meat, cheese, organs and shellfish. Au revoir, foie gras — and stone crab, shrimp and lobster. Hello chicken and fish.

And hello, True Food Kitchen. I was surprised to find a bustling, full-service restaurant. For some reason, I expected another fast-casual bowl-and-salad joint. Built into a corner of the mall overlooking a parking lot, the space is attractive and airy, with blond woods, lime-green banquettes, big windows, good lighting, planters lining the dining room, an open kitchen, a spacious bar and lettering on a wall that spells out, “Grow.”

I sat forlornly at the bar (the restaurant serves alcohol, including organic wines and spirits) and explained my predicament to the server, a bright and perky Florida Atlantic University nutrition student. She explained the anti-inflammatory concept and gave me tips and explanations of menu items. She also pointed to copies of Weil’s “True Food” cookbook lining a shelf above the bar and said it contained many good recipes. Thankfully, she did not go the hard-sell route. “You can get it online,” she said.

“All our restaurants are full-service, and we spend a lot of time training our staff to answer questions and address guests’ specific needs,” True Food Kitchen CEO Christine Barone explained later in a follow-up interview..

The menu is big, with 35 items packed on a single page in smallish print. It features soups, starters, salads, bowls, pizzas, sandwiches and entrees, and diners can easily find vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free items. I started with a Medicine Man nonalcoholic refresher ($6, 110 calories). A tall glass came with a purplish mix of heavy-brewed green tea, black-cherry juice, pomegranate, honey and sea buckthorn, a dietary supplement made from the berries of a shrub. Served over ice, it was invigorating and mildly sweet. It had 22 grams of sugar, I later learned from nutritional information posted online. Not exactly sugar-free, but better than the 39 grams of sugar found in a can of Coca-Cola.

Calorie counts are listed on the menu next to prices, and both are pleasingly low. Edamame dumplings ($10, 270 calories) were delicate and delightful in a light broth of dashi, white-truffle oil and Asian herbs. Charred cauliflower ($9, 410 calories) was substantial and flavorful, with harissa, dates, dill, mint and pistachio paste. A cheeseless pizza with arugula and crushed organic DiNapoli tomatoes ($12, 620 calories), was thin and crispy, finished with a vibrant drizzle of lemon and olive oil. I didn’t miss mozzarella at all. I ate half of each item and found myself sated, a meal that came in at less than 800 calories, including the drink.

“We do good things here,” a server said with a knowing wink when I offered compliments after dinner.

True Food Kitchen has tapped into a concept that is ripe for the exploiting, given America’s growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other food-related ailments. Weil developed the menu with Phoenix restaurateur Sam Fox. On its website, the restaurant says it is inspired by the philosophy “that food should make you feel better, not worse.” It has grown from a single eatery in Arizona to 25 outposts in 11 states, with more on the way in Florida. Oprah Winfrey is a fan and investor who sits on the company’s board of directors.

“I get notes and letters every day from people who have eaten at the restaurant while they’re visiting from other cities and they say, ‘When are you coming to my town?’ ” Barone says. “My parents live in Tampa and they keep asking, ‘When are you coming here?’ We show that a health-conscious menu based on an anti-inflammatory diet can still be delicious and creative.”

A look at nutritional information posted online shows that the eatery is health-minded but not exactly healthy, with many items amply flavored with fat, salt and sugar. For example, the ancient-grains bowl ($14, 690 calories), a popular item with miso-glazed sweet potato, farro, quinoa, charred onion, portabello mushrooms, avocado, hemp seed and turmeric, contains 37 grams of fat (60 is the daily recommended allowance) and 1190 milligrams of sodium (2000 recommended daily). Moroccan chicken ($20, 680 calories), which I ordered as part of a takeout package eaten later, was tender and well-spiced, but it contains 38 grams of fat and 2120 milligrams of sodium.

Barone points out that other restaurant chains serve items with “two or three times” the daily recommended intake of salt and sugar. She says that guests can make requests to lower salt or sugar based on dietary needs. To the restaurant’s credit, the protein add-ons available to top bowls and salads are low in salt and sugar, including a perfectly grilled piece of salmon ($9, 260 calories) that topped the Korean noodle salad ($14, 420 calories) with sweet-potato glass noodles, bok choy, kale, spicy kimchi cucumbers and pineapple (roasted in-house daily.)

“We prepare everything from scratch,” Barone says. The restaurants feature a menu that changes with the seasons and recipes developed by a culinary team in Arizona.

At the end of my meal, a server asked me earnestly, “How do you feel?” Light, good and energized, I said. I skipped dessert.

Who knew that I’d leave so happy after eating at a chain restaurant? In a mall? In Boca? Consider me a True Food Kitchen convert. I guess you could say I drank the Dr. Weil Kool-Aid, or actually a Medicine Man. It’s just the elixir I needed.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail. Join the conversation at Facebook/groups/LetsEatSouthFlorida.

True Food Kitchen

6000 Glades Road, Unit 1015A, Boca Raton (in Town Center Mall)

561-419-8105, or TrueFoodKitchen.com/BocaRaton

Cuisine: Modern, health-focused American

Cost: Moderate. Appetizers, pizzas, soups, salads and sandwiches cost $7 to $16, bowls $14 with protein add-ons for $4-$9, entrees $14-$26, desserts $5-$9

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Reservations: Accepted, by phone or online

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full liquor with organic spirits and wines and fresh juices and mixers.

Noise level: Comfortable

Wheelchair access: Ground level

Parking: Free lots and garages or mall valet

Copyright © 2018, South Florida
65°