BOOK REVIEW: CLEAN PLATES BROOKLYN
I love meat and don’t feel guilty about eating it. I also love my body and the planet and know that too much of a delicious thing is never good, so I focus on the vegetables in my life. When I do cook meat, I know that the outrageously priced meat I can’t afford is raised ethically, sustainably and locally, and because it’s so pricey I don’t prepare it very often.
But when I go out to eat I feel like I have a deep obligation to order meat, rationalizing that I never make it at home. Why would I make a burger when I can get my favorite burger (with truffle fries) from Five Leaves? Or Chicken Fried Steak from Roebling? Or whatever they scribble down at Diner? The problem here is I usually miss out on fantastic vegetable dishes.
It would be nice to know that when I eat meat out (and veggies), they hold up to my own kitchen standards, especially since the prices always do! That is what I like about Clean Plates Brooklyn: A Guide to the Healthiest Tastiest and Most Sustainable Restaurants. It explicitly says “For Vegetarians and Carnivores” on the cover! Eating meat can be healthy and sustainable, even eating meat out, and now I have a decent pocket guide for Brooklyn.
I don’t know about you but I have eaten at some downright gross vegetarian restaurants, where it seems like they are playing food dress-up rather than serving me a wholesome meal. Just because it’s vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s good for you and Clean Plates recognizes this.
In order to pass the rigorous Clean Plates screening process too much soy or fake meat products are disqualifications. They won me over with that. Too much frying also gets penalized, (sad face) as well as too much dairy, veal and foie gras.
Flipping through I was happy to find that some of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn made the cut: Five Leaves, Eat, Roebling Tea Room, Urban Rustic, Rye, Diner, Egg, Farm on Adderley, Northeast Kingdom, Vinegar Hill House, Buttermilk Channel, Roberta’s, Best Pizza and Prime Meats. I cannot wait to try Beer Table, Momo Sushi Shack, Masten Lake, Al Di La and I am definitely ordering a meatball hero from Best Pizza next time I am all the way over in Williamsburg.
I was disappointed to see that only three of our Greenpoint restaurants made it: Eat, Five Leaves and Manhattan Inn (where I’ve only eaten grilled cheese late night with sloppy cocktails.) This is the first edition, so let’s hope we get a few more in there for 2013! Perhaps even some Polish restaurants will get reviewed.
I appreciate nutritionist/author Jared Koch’s passionate “how-to” approach to healthy eating, with the first 70 pages of his book dedicated to the subject. I learned so many interesting food facts, like lemons actually have an alkalizing effect on your body and vegetable raised without pesticides must develop their own defense systems which benefits our immune systems. I always thought juicing was a bad way to eat a good thing because so much seems lost in the process, but while you lose out on the fiber it’s a really efficient way of getting nutrients into our systems without our teeth and our digestive tracts doing a ton of work. Shame on me for not knowing that although al dente pasta is obviously tastier, it’s healthier because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar level. As far as meat goes, game meat is uber healthy since it eats a varied diet and is less likely to be diseased, while organ meat is the healthiest part of the animal, rather than a steak, which is a muscle. Go liver and hearts!
The second half of the book is dedicated to in-depth reviews from well established food critics (some Brooklyn food critics), all of whom must give each restaurant a thumbs up in order for it to pass the Clean Plates test. Here is where we get the mouthwatering descriptions and a good idea about the vibe of each place. These writers do a good job focusing not only on the taste but the experience, which is such a big part of any good meal, especially a restaurant experience. And while I disagree with the “spotty” service at Five Leaves (they can do no wrong in my eyes) I appreciate how honest and informed about food the reviews are. There is a lot of, “instead of this” it would have been better “like this,” which shows an intense understanding of food preparation and flavor combinations.
Where the reviews are most successful is encouraging me to eat my vegetables. For example, when eat at Egg (which raises money for the Soup Kitchen and the Automotive High School), I only order the heart attack on a plate breakfasts, “a side of bacon with my bacon, please,” but next time I will order the highly recommended “bountiful and tasty” simple salad or the “firm, juicy, flavorful” kale. Clean Plates opens up my eyes to the healthy and delicious vegetable dishes I normally gloss over because I am trying to do my eating meat out justice.
I am glad I have a copy of Clean Plate Brooklyn because when I am in that frustrating “where should we eat?” fog, I can flip through and find something healthy. While a lot of our great Greenpoint establishments aren’t featured, there are many recommended restaurants in Williamsburg and Bushwick, if I want to venture that far! And I suspect by next year, more Greenpoint spots will make the cut.