Thursday, January 17, 2013

Energy Kitchen

Are you tired of your burgers and fries being served with a whopping side of calorie-laden guilt?  We are too. That's why we jumped at the chance to go to a menu tasting at the brand new DC location of Energy Kitchen. Energy Kitchen (a chain with locations in NY, NJ and FL) explains its business model like this:

"We take the guesswork out of eating healthy by offering a completely guilt-free, fail-proof menu. There are no hidden temptations, no hidden calories and, best of all, no regrets. Everything on our menu is grilled, baked or steamed, never fried, and always under 500 calories."

Calorie counts for each item are listed on the menu board.  Unlike at most fast food places, you don't have to cover your eyes or pretend you don't see the calorie count listed next to that burger you're craving.  While other places offer low-cal items, I've never been to a place that only offers low-cal items.
Energy Kitchen is a fast food joint and its simple, no-frills interior reflects that.  They only offer diet sodas in the soda machine to keep you from blowing your caloric wad on 1,000 calories of soda.  I hope they follow through on their stated goal of offering more natural soda options for those of us who don't like chemical Cokes.

Speaking of chemicals, we got a chance to chat with Founder and President Anthony Leone and asked him whether the lower calorie dishes we were enjoying were "real food" or more akin to a frankenfood-like Lean Cuisine. Leone told us about the grass-fed beef, whole wheat buns, and lack of artificial flavors in the smoothies. All of this is great news, but if the food tastes like straw, nobody will want to eat it.  We're happy to report that the food was delicious.

The tasting offered us a chance to try small portions of a variety of menu items.  Don't worry, the portions shown aren't the portion sizes you have to eat at Energy Kitchen to keep the calorie count down!  We liked each of the "super sides" we tried (corn and edamame salad, black bean and mango salad, and Asian broccoli slaw).  While really good, I wasn't super excited by these items because it's not a huge stretch to make a low-cal vegetable salad.  I really wanted to see if they could make the typical calorie gigantors (burgers and fries) taste good for under 500 calories.

In the burger category, we sampled the BBQ Turkey burger (turkey burger topped with turkey bacon, fat-free cheddar cheese and chipotle BBQ sauce).  It packed a ton of flavor into 468 calories.  The Classic Sirloin Burger made 90% lean sirloin taste decadent.  They use their signature E.K. Special Sauce (sort of like Thousand Island with a kick) to jazz things up.  Perhaps most surprising was that we liked the veggie burger the best.  The patty is an Energy Kitchen-made blend of rolled oats, broccoli, carrots, celery, corn, edamame, peppers, onions and green peas.  It sounds a little weird, but we found it to be the most flavorful of the burger bunch.

The things that had me doing a happy dance were the fries.  I freaking love french fries.  I've tried making them at home in healthier ways and I always miss the real thing.  I was shocked by how much Energy Kitchen's baked fries tasted like the real fried deal.  The sea salt fries (pictured below) are only $1.99 and 198 calories per serving. 

I order sweet potato fries almost everywhere I go.  I've had so many sweet potato fries, it's a wonder I'm not orange and 450 lbs.  I actually liked the Energy Kitchen baked version better than the full calorie fried version I had at the new Maddy's Tap Room the night before.  Energy Kitchen is testing out sweet potato fries in the DC market and I give them my full endorsement to keep them around.

In the drinking department, we sampled the Protein Punch smoothie (strawberries, bananas, mangos, fruit punch, strawberry protein and non-fat vanilla yogurt), the Vaccinator (bananas, strawberries, orange juice, vitamin C and non-fat vanilla yogurt), and the Peanut Better (all natural peanut butter, bananas, water, chocolate protein, and non-fat chocolate yogurt).  All were thick and had a nice smooth texture (no chalky taste).  B was a big fan of the two fruit flavors while I was giddy over the Peanut Better.  Peanut butter and chocolate is my favorite flavor combo and I was psyched to get it for 252 calories (16 ounces).

We were a little skeptical of Energy Kitchen's model before we tasted the food.  Once we learned that the food is delicious and stands up to the marketing (Fast Food, Not Fat Food), we were converted. We are thrilled to welcome a low calorie fast food option to the neighborhood (it's at 19th and L, by the way).

Second Thoughts From B

Call me the skeptical one.  I was convinced that the servings would be too small, the flavors too weak, or the calorie savings would come from a chemistry trick.  I am happy to say that I was wrong on all accounts.

But before we get too crazy, let's make one thing clear.  If you are looking for the best burger, fries, and shakes in town and don't mind the indulgence, then Energy Kitchen probably isn't the place for you.  However, if you love a good burger joint but can only rationalize a visit for a special occasion, this might be a game changer.

Let's start with the shakes and smoothies.  I don't have a big sweet tooth so going healthy wasn't too hard for me.  Do I love a great shake?  Yeah.  Do I dread the dairy bomb they often leave in my stomach?  Yeah.  So all things considered, that's a win for Energy Kitchen.

What I lack in a sweet tooth, I make up for in my salt craving and fries are a excellent expediters of crispy, salty heaven getting into my mouth.  The baking not only removed some of the guilt, it also allowed me to taste the potato (a novel concept).  Another win for EK.

As for the burgers, they tasted healthy.  You could tell that many of the components lacked some of the fat that make us crave them.  But, they were far from flavorless and certainly better than some full calorie duds I've had in the past.  The best thing is that I'll remember the burger far longer than my waistline will.  If having a healthy burger means more fries and shakes, sign me up. 
Energy Kitchen  on Urbanspoon


Sweet PotatBRO said...

I love the concept but left really unimpressed with the actual food. Also for a place with that type of ethos I would have expected a much more welcoming interior.

J said...

We'll go back and try it on a regular day and see what we think. It's not doing so hot over on Yelp so far. We'll report back.