Creative take on healthy dining
Fast-fine LYFE wants good food served with style
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:
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.
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.