Cre­ative take on healthy din­ing

Fast-fine LYFE wants good food served with style

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO EAT - By Jen­nifer Biggs

You stand in line to place your or­der, which is brought to your ta­ble, in the man­ner of fast­ca­sual restau­rants all around town. But here’s what is dif­fer­ent about LYFE Kitchen:

It’s fast-fine.

Sure, it’s mar­ket­ing spin, but look around you: The liv­ing wall of fresh herbs, the big win­dows and airy din­ing rooms, the com­fort­able bar with stools, ta­bles and soft seat­ing — th­ese are the trap­pings of a finer place than a build-your-own bur­rito joint.

LYFE is an acro­nym for “love your food ev­ery­day.” The restau­rant was founded in 2011 by two for­mer McDon­ald’s ex­ec­u­tives and an exec from Gardein, a meat-free food com­pany (more to come on that). In 2014, Mem­phis-based Carlisle Corp. bought a stake in LYFE, and Chance Carlisle is now LYFE CEO. The Mem­phis restau­rant is the model for the ones still to open.

The con­cept of lov­ing your food is nice, right? LYFE makes it easy for us to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties we get ev­ery week to nour­ish our bod­ies as we eat, to make them stronger and pro­tect them from dis­ease. It’s fast enough, af­ford­able enough and con­ve­nient enough (at least for folks in East Mem­phis and Ger­man­town) that we can let some­one else pre­pare a few of those meals for us and cut back on ta­que­ria din­ners and mi­crowave pop­corn for lunch. The ques­tion is, of course: How does it taste?

You’ll see kale, edamame, wheat berries and chia seeds on the menu, along with the Gardein prod­ucts men­tioned above. And while quinoa (keen-wah) might still be some­thing new to you, you’re fa­mil­iar with sweet potato fries or the idea of Art’s Unfried Chicken. (Art is Art Smith, LYFE’s ex­ec­u­tive chef, who was Oprah’s per­sonal chef for 10 years. He still cooks for her and other celebri­ties and dig­ni­taries, and him­self shed 100 pounds a few years ago. I met him when he was in town for the LYFE open­ing, and he said he wants the food to be health­ful but it must taste good.)

If you con­sider coun­tryfried steak or fried chicken a

reg­u­lar din­ner in­stead of an in­dul­gence, the An­cient Grain Stir-fry might not hit the spot. Lightly cooked veg­eta­bles and Gardein beef­less tips are mixed with quinoa, black rice, herbs and a sweet chili sauce to make a sat­is­fy­ing lunch or din­ner, if a bit on the bland side. I knew I wasn’t eat­ing beef, but would I have known if I were un­aware it was a sub­sti­tute? I’m not sure. Wit­ness:

Some­one else at my ta­ble or­dered the Spicy Viet­namese Let­tuce Wraps, and when I sam­pled the coarsely ground beef in those, I im­me­di­ately said, “Oh, now I can tell the dif­fer­ence,” sort of like drink­ing a non­al­co­holic beer right af­ter you had a real one. Ex­cept here’s the thing: There was no beef. Both dishes were made with Gardein, which is a plant-based beef sub­sti­tute. In the stir­fry, the tips were served in chunks, like beef tips. In the let­tuce wraps, they were ground and thus smaller and more apt to take on the fla­vor of the dish.

Mahi Fish Ta­cos were quite good, as was the Quinoa Crunch Bowl (quinoa, veg­gies, av­o­cado, arugula, edamame hum­mus, spicy sauces). The fla­vor of the gar­licParme­san sweet potato fries was fine, but they were limp both times I tried them. Flat­breads are a safe bet.

Art’s Unfried Chicken is sim­ple and the way I’ve “fried” chicken at home for years: It’s sea­soned, coated in bread crumbs and baked. A bone­less skin­less breast is used at LYFE, and there’s plenty of fla­vor; if you want to add a dash of salt or a bit of pep­per, go ahead. The 566-calo­rie dish comes with roasted brussels sprouts (so over them), roasted but­ter­nut squash (very good), dried cran­ber­ries and cashew cream sauce. I like the cashew cream sauce — it’s in other things on the menu, too — which is of­ten used in ve­gan cook­ing as a cream sub­sti­tute.

About that salt: Sodium counts and calo­ries are listed on the printed menu. The sweet corn chow­der (ve­gan and gluten free) was creamy (made with cashew cream), had a touch of spici­ness and was sub­stan­tial for 164 calo­ries. But while the menu states a higher sodium count than for any of the en­trées, we found that it needed a bit of salt. Ad­just as you need.

Break­fast at LYFE was a sur­prise. The spinach and av­o­cado frittata, with just 405 calo­ries in­clud­ing a side of chipo­tle potato hash, was rich and sat­is­fy­ing and con­tains 27 grams of pro­tein, as I dis­cov­ered when I went to the web­site.

(Full nu­tri­tional in­for­ma­tion should be eas­ier to find and ac­cess. It’s in a Mi­crosoft Ex­cel for­mat on­line in­stead of an easyto-read chart. But if you are con­cerned about the fat grams in your food, you’ll need to make the ef­fort as some of the dishes are higher in fat and even in sat­u­rated fat than ex­pected.)

The break­fast bur­rito was even bet­ter: A whole wheat tor­tilla filled with LYFE eggs, arugula, av­o­cado, tomato, chipo­tle aioli, ched­dar cheese and salsa fresca. LYFE eggs, by the way, are mixed two egg whites to one yolk.

The car­rot-zuc­chini wal­nut muf­fin was so moist, so ten­der and so big that I asked two peo­ple to be sure that the 190-calo­rie count listed is for the whole muf­fin. It’s a lighter version of the clas­sic and de­li­cious but greasy, heavy morn­ing glory muf­fin; there are a couple in my freezer now. The fresh-squeezed or­ange juice at break­fast was ridicu­lously, al­most com­i­cally pulpy (“Spoon with your juice, ma’am?”). My friend drank it, but I would have sent it back.

There’s still work to be done. Above all, many of the well-pre­pared dishes could just use a lit­tle oomph, a lit­tle spice, a lit­tle wig­gle in the walk.

Salt and pep­per on the ta­ble helps, but how about a LYFE sea­son­ing that could add a bit more nu­ance and could be added to taste? Or a heat scale when or­der­ing?

There’s a nice lit­tle cock­tail pro­gram at the bar, though, and the drinks are pre­pared with fresh in­gre­di­ents and go a lit­tle light on al­co­hol — 1¼-ounce pours in­stead of the typ­i­cal 1½.

PHO­TOS BY MIKE BROWN/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

LYFE Kitchen is at 6201 Po­plar, east of Ridge­way Road.

The Mahi Fish Taco at LYFE Kitchen is gar­nished with chay­ote slaw, av­o­cado, cilantro, chipo­tle aioli, salsa fresca and served on corn tor­tilla. It’s seen here served with a side of gar­lic Parme­san sweet potato fries.

Art’s Unfried Chicken at LYFE Kitchen is a breaded baked chicken breast served over a bed of roasted brussels sprouts, but­ter­nut squash, dried cran­ber­ries with a cashew cream sauce and Di­jon vinai­grette.

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