Carbing out a niche
By CINDY NEVITT Food Editor, (609) 272-7262
June 1, 2003
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Forget about counting calories. It's all about carbs now.
Carbohydrates are the new bad boy of nutrition, far worse for you than fat if you're on the Atkins diet. And many of you are.
So many, in fact, that area restaurants are beginning to respond to your requests for low-carb meals not just by offering bread-free, pasta-free, potato-free entrees, but also by providing the carbohydrate count of such meals.
Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point and the Margate Pub in Margate are both advertising complete meals that contain no more than 8 grams of carbohydrates.
"We had a lot of people coming in on the diet who were asking for it," Margate Pub owner Buddy McCabe says of the decision to begin offering low-carb specials. "Plus the chef's wife is on it."
So about two months ago, Margate Pub chef Tom Delbury began designating one special a night as low-carb. Last week, for example, a low-carb special of ale-house roast beef topped with bacon and cheddar cheese served with a small house salad contained 5 grams of carbohydrates.
Other area eateries are offering daily low-carb specials, too, but without the carbohydrate count. Blue Planet Diner in Ocean City runs sandwich and low-carb specials daily for lunch; chef/owner Karl Ratz says customers never call to ask what the sandwich special is but they do phone every day to ask what the low-carb special is.
Bay Leaf Café in Somers Point runs a daily Atkins lunch special. The Wonder Bar & Grill in Atlantic City recently added a low-carb section to its menu, listing two selections, to go with the low-carb Michelob Ultra beer it's begun carrying.
At Cologne Avenue Café in Galloway Township, where owner Penni D'Aulerio has lost 75 pounds since October 2000 on a combination low-carb, low-fat diet, an Atkins special of the week is offered.
With the New England Journal of Medicine last week publishing the results of a trial that proved the late Dr. Robert Atkins was correct in championing the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that bears his name, interest in the diet can only grow.
Where carbs count
The most Atkins-friendly restaurant in southern New Jersey is Bubba Mac Shack, where an entire page of the barbecue joint's menu is devoted to low-carbohydrate foods that are listed along with their carb count. "Bubba's Buff Lo Carb Menu," which promises to deliver "a great meal for only 6 to 8 carbs with drinks," debuted six weeks ago, the result of owner Herb Birch's frustration at being unable to eat in his own restaurant.
Birch, who became an Atkins disciple two years ago, lost 25 pounds on the diet. His motivation in developing the menu was twofold, says Bubba Mac Shack manager Kara Cermanski. First: "He could never eat here because we have a lot of foods with carbs." she says. Second: "This diet worked for him and he wanted to give other people a shot at being able to eat the way he does and to lose weight the way he did."
Limiting a meal to fewer than 8 grams of carbohydrates is easy when ordering from Bubba's Buff Lo Carb Menu. A full-course meal of shrimp cocktail (0 grams), Biggass Steak (0), broccoli with hollandaise sauce (1.7), cheesecake with whipped cream (2) and a vodka or gin martini (0) adds up to 3.7 carbs. That's half a gram of carbohydrates more than what one Miller Lite beer (3.2 grams) contains.
That may not be a big deal to you, but it is to those on the Atkins plan. Every carb counts to Atkins followers, who restrict carbohydrate intake to 20 to 30 grams per day, compared to the average spaghetti-slurping, french fry-loving, donut-chomping person who puts away 300 grams of carbs a day, 190 of those from sugar.
Customers can be assured the carbohydrate count for the five appetizers, five entrees, five side dishes and two desserts on Bubba's low-carb menu are accurate because the restaurant makes those foods with Atkins ingredients.
While its chicken wings and tenders look exactly the same whether ordered from the regular menu or the low-carb menu, they in fact are not the same, Cermanski says. Kitchen manager P.J. Brady explains that substitutions are made in the ingredients, among them the use of a carbohydrate-free Atkins batter on the wings instead of traditional flour, which contains carbohydrates.
Some other establishments merely substitute a bed of greens for the bun on a sandwich and call it a low-carbohydrate meal. Robert Jacoby, who took over cooking duties at Bay Leaf Café a month ago and admits he needs to educate himself more on the Atkins diet, says he sticks to one simple rule when creating his daily low-carb lunch specials: Leave the bread and sugar out.
Not a diet, a lifestyle
Atkins followers refer to the low-carbohydrate plan as a lifestyle rather than a diet.
D'Aulerio, who has struggled with her weight since she was a teen, dropped 50 pounds in 18 months by adhering to Atkins. But when her weight loss stalled there for nine months, she consulted a nutritionist, who altered her diet to include low-fat foods. The result: She's lost another 25 pounds since last June.
Two years ago, she introduced Atkins specials to Cologne Avenue Café.
"People would come in, see what I was eating and say, 'What is that? I want that for lunch,' " D'Aulerio says. "They wanted what I was eating because they've seen me melt in front of their eyes."
As a result, the café has been offering such low-carb deals as chicken fajita salad (spicy grilled chicken strips with peppers, onions and cheddar atop mixed greens with salsa ranch dressing); grilled portobello mushroom with sauteed spinach, peppers and onions topped with provolone cheese, served with a side salad; and bacon cheddar cheesesteak atop mixed greens.
A special of grilled salmon atop spring greens with gorgonzola blue cheese, walnuts, dried pears and raspberry vinaigrette comes with the warning that the dried pears make the dish "not so low carb" and warns customers they'll "have to watch their balance of carb intake for the rest of the day."
Even those items that are not traditionally low-carb can be made somewhat lower-carb. D'Aulerio says customers who love her husband's roasted chicken noodle soup ask her to pick the noodles out of the broth, but she draws the line at removing the bits of carrot, too.
While D'Aulerio is still high on high protein, she's learning to like low-fat, too. She's gone from being strictly Atkins in her eating habits to following the new book "Atkins for Life," which permits such luxuries as half a sweet potato with a meal, a slice of whole grain bread or an occasional half-cup of wheat pasta.
But at the café, she keeps the faith, replacing home fries with sliced tomatoes, removing croutons from salads, offering sugar-free syrup for pancakes and waffles.
"I only tout it because it worked for me," D'Aulerio says. "It's the only thing that's worked consistently, and believe me, I've tried every diet known to man."