Catering to low-carb crowd
By KAREN FELDMAN, kfeldman~news-press.com
Published by news-press.com on January 21, 2004
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Overweight Americans aren’t the only ones who’ve resolved to cut their carbs and calories this year.
A growing number of restaurants have gotten more diet conscious, introducing a smorgasbord of options for those with specific dietary needs.
With some 10 million people following a low-carbohydrate diet, such as Atkins or South Beach, restaurateurs are responding by offering options to the usual potatoes, pasta and breads.
It’s led to some unlikely innovations.
The Swiss Pastry Shop in Cape Coral now offers low-carb cheesecakes. Mangia Bene in Cape Coral and the University Grill in Fort Myers have introduced low-carb menu items, too. And Iguana Mia is urging customers to “live la vida low carb” with its new Atkins-friendly menu.
Mel’s Diner expects to add about five low-carb dishes to its menu, which already includes heart-healthy fare.
It’s not just the low-carb crowd that’s demanding that restaurants cater to them. Whether it’s low-fat, lactose- or sugar-free, sodium-controlled or some combination of the above, customers want what they want and they’re asking for it.
That suits Molly Morgan just fine.
She lives in the Cleveland area and was vacationing in Southwest Florida last week with three female friends.
“One’s on South Beach, one’s on low-sodium and the other prefers not to eat meat,” Morgan says. “It’s tough to agree on a place to eat.”
But she’s noticed that most places they’ve wound up at are willing to work with them.
“It’s been a lot easier this time than on some of the trips we’ve taken before,” the 50-something Morgan says.
Robert Parks, the chef/owner of Twilight Cafe on Sanibel Island, knows how important catering to special diets can be.
He’s built a reputation for being vegetarian friendly with a menu that always offers several meat-free selections.
“We’ve seen an exponential increase in vegetarian diners,” he says.
Last summer, he introduced a low-carb menu, too.
“It’s very hard to cater to low-carb tastes,” he says. “There are not a lot of things you can do. I came up with accompaniments to take the place of starches” such as spaghetti squash instead of pasta.
Diners can mix and match vegetables and proteins to suit their tastes and diet requirements.
He estimates that 20 percent of his customers order vegetarian meals and another 20 percent go for low-carb dishes.
Parks gets requests for other types of diets, too.
Because so many people are lactose intolerant, he limits his use of cream to cream sauces.
He also gets lots of requests from people with allergies.
“Ninety percent of the items I have are built at the time they order so if they are allergic to something, I can leave it out,” he says. “Many ask, thinking they are going to get shot down, but 90 percent of the time I can work with them.”
Preston Dishman, chef/owner of the new Dragonfly Bistro on Fort Myers Beach can look down his list of reservations and tell who gets no starch or butter, who can’t have onions or leeks, who has a shrimp allergy or is on a low-fat regimen.
He says customers are often surprised when he takes their reservation and asks them whether they have any special dietary issues.
It’s part of succeeding in today’s market.
“I want to be the ‘yes’ guy,” he says.
Brian Baker, chef/owner of Jayne’s Victorian Garden in south Fort Myers, attracts people with dietary needs and that’s exactly how he planned it.
His wife, Jayne, has many food allergies so they understand how difficult it is for people with dietary restrictions to dine out.
“We’re truly at the mercy of the server in a restaurant,” Baker says. “If the server is having a bad day or is not trained properly, there’s no way we know” whether the food they order will make his wife sick.
That’s why his menu features all simple, freshly made items, no processed foods, lots of vegetarian fare and a variety of proteins so everyone can get something to their liking.
“This way someone who is vegetarian and someone who wants a roast beef sandwich can both have an enjoyable meal,” Baker says.