TabletalkAt the dawn of each New Year many of us vow to become fitter, happier and more productive. But with an early Mardi Gras peeking over the horizon, it might be just a matter of days before we swap our Kashi bar for a particularly enticing corner-slab of purple frosted King Cake. Still, for those of us willing to give it a shot, here’s a quick look at a few places around town that will sate any principled urges for quinoa and bran. And if you can’t quite sustain it, think about it this way: Instead of a Mardi Gras relapse, consider it a warm-up for Lent.

With a name sounding more like a vague threat than an actual product, it was with some trepidation I approached World’s Healthiest Pizza. While I had been a fan of their grassroots advertising campaign for a long time – enjoying the impassioned polemics extolling the virtues of fiber that periodically appeared under my windshield wipers – I had never been to the restaurant. Until now.

They have two locations: one takeout and delivery only and another with limited seating. This menu is pretty straightforward. They do pizzas in a couple of sizes, breadsticks and simple salads. You can select from a short menu of specialty pies or build your own at $1 per topping. But what makes these pies special, aside from the quality of the toppings, is the crust. The dough is made from more than 10 kinds of whole seeds and grain with no additives, preservatives, butter or shortening.

But how does it taste? Actually, it tastes quite good. The Mediterranean specialty pie comes with artichokes, sun-dried tomato, onion, black olives and feta embedded in a generous blanket of low-fat mozzarella. The crisp brown crust gets a light smear of tasty red sauce more akin to marinara than the gloppy, chemically emulsified sauce used at national chains. The Creole Cajun Throwdown features a bolder mix of toppings including alligator and andouille sausages but those flavors came on a bit too strong for me. I’d stick with the simpler stuff. Those of us willing to try healthy but not wanting to compromise on the toppings can find reassurance that this place offers all the traditional meats. And with a claim that it contains “50 percent fewer calories than the other guys,” it tastes even better. I just have to personally admire a pizza place that sincerely cares about what its customers eat

The West Bank offers up plenty of healthy and delicious Vietnamese fare. Nine Roses is one favorite spot, thanks in part to its sprawling and comfortable dining room that is a marked step up from the tiny pho shops that populate strip malls in the area.
Sprawling describes the menu as well. For appetizers, the Bánh Xèo is a Vietnamese crêpe made from slightly sweet, pan-fried rice flour. Loaded with bean sprouts, onion, lean pork and shrimp, it’s supplemented with a do-it-yourself garnish basket filled with a harvest of fresh cilantro, mint, marinated carrots and cucumber. Traditional nuoc mam sauce comes with it but I prefer to squirt a dollop of admittedly less-healthy Hoisin sauce on it instead. And while the crêpe looks big, it won’t fill you up, which is good because you’ll need room for the entrées.

Cá Hâp Hành Gung or, as I like to call it, Menu Item 18.04, is a steamed whole tilapia topped with shredded ginger and scallions. Served tableside in a simmering chafing dish, this course requires either some expertise at deboning or a willingness to eat around the bones if you lack this particular skill. The broth reduces as it simmers and the resulting concoction is very tasty spooned over rice and fish along with the ginger and scallion. I would eat this any day over fried fish – fish really does cook better on the bone and it shows here.

Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar is a friendly hole in the wall on lower Magazine Street. While not an exclusively “healthy” place (can that be said for any place in this city?) it’s nevertheless a cozy, eclectic and organically focused joint where you can augment whatever you order with an array of freshly pressed juice options, thereby lessening the guilt factor.

Breakfast puts its best foot forward here and there’s plenty from which to choose. For every Tofu Breakfast Platter you can find its Jezebel-temptress doppelganger, such as the Bananas Foster French Toast. Along with the regular menu, which features a slew of healthy sandwiches such as the Roasted Veggie Poor Boy and an Avocado Pesto with cucumber and tomato tossed in a vegan basil pesto, there are lots of daily specials. These can get a little more sophisticated, such as a recent dish of Shrimp and Grits. Specials also include healthy versions of classic sandwiches such as the traditional Club. The version here comes on lightly toasted sourdough with quality bacon, thin slices of tart green apple and soft, spreadable goat cheese in lieu of mayonnaise. Served alongside tangy, light coleslaw, it’s quite good and you can double-down the health quotient with one of their trademark juice blends. The carrot and fresh ginger was nice, as was the Daily Special, a blend of satsuma, pineapple and mango. Note that this is a cash-only place, and their hours are from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Wed.-Sun.

At 13, the odd combination of bar and health food joint finds its niche on this funky stretch of Frenchmen Street. Open until 4 a.m. to cater to the live music and club crowd, it serves up healthier options than the drive-through chalupas offered by other late-night places.

A Roasted Veggies with Goat Cheese plate comes piled with grilled red onion, red and green bell pepper, mushrooms and olives. On one side is a creamy double-scoop of spreadable goat cheese and on the other is a pile of toasty pita triangles. For entrées, a BBQ Tofu Poor Boy is offered. Thick tofu steaks are grilled then slathered with barbecue sauce and served on real poor boy bread dressed with red onion, seasoned mayo, tomato and the like. Lest you feel too healthy, there’s plenty of good beer on tap to go with the eats and delivery is offered as well.