Pope Francis’ message of humility and tolerance has certainly sent a jolt through the Catholic Church. It’s true; the progressive Pope is making it cool to be Catholic again.

And with the Lent season in full swing, millions of said Catholics worldwide (including a large contingent here in Santa Monica) are looking to cut the meat out of their diet during this 40-day span.

Veggie Grill's quinoa power salad, which contains quinoa, kale, fennel, mint, white beans, avocado, almonds, and currents, with a citrus vinegar dressing. (Michael Ryan michael@smdp.com)

Veggie Grill’s quinoa power salad, which contains quinoa, kale, fennel, mint, white beans, avocado, almonds, and currents, with a citrus vinegar dressing. (Michael Ryan michael@smdp.com)

Growing up Catholic in Chicago, Lent brings back memories of cheese pizza and pepper and egg sandwiches. Of course tastes tend to be a bit healthier here on the Westside. But whether the decision to go meat-free is a lifestyle choice or comes from a higher calling, the Veggie Grill is a popular pick for vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Beleibers, Trekkies, whomever!

“We don’t have any big signs promoting Lent, but we thought to ourselves, we are the perfect place if you’re giving up meat,” Greg Dollarhyde, the chief energizing officer of the Veggie Grill explained to me over lunch at the Wilshire Boulevard location here in town.

Greg resides in Malibu, but the Veggie Grill’s main offices are located in Santa Monica, and he oversees a restaurant chain that has expanded to 23 locations up and down the coast from Seattle to San Diego. The Veggie Grill has undoubtedly brought veggie eating into the mainstream.

Greg attributes part of the sales growth to a trend called meat reducers.

“People are not going to quit eating meat but lots of people are now limiting the amount of meat they do consume,” Greg explained adding that meat several days of the week for many is not the main course. “We want to play to that person. For the person that’s looking to eat more vegetables, let’s find a way to make eating vegetables more fun.”

Perhaps the way to make eating vegetables fun is to have them take on the shape of meat. Some of the Veggie Grill’s mainstay items are their burger, buffalo chickin’ sandwich, and “crab” cake. The key is to give all the faux meat items a proper mouth feel and, of course, good taste. When you bite into a burger you actually bite into it with some resistance. Forsaken thy Heavenly Father by biting the forbidden burger you have not. Everything at the Veggie Grill is plant based and Holy Season approved. The Veggie Grill has proven itself as a place to get a great burger when you can’t have or don’t want a burger. But their Mindful Living menu really highlights items high in protein and nutrients, yet low in calories.

Greg said, “the goal is to morph the menu into more whole foods with more recognizable vegetables. Something more protein oriented.”

With that said, some new menu items came to our lunch table including the quinoa power salad, which contains quinoa, kale, fennel, mint, white beans, avocado, almonds, and currents, with a citrus vinegar dressing. This salad is high-protein, low-calorie, and packed with a bunch of nutrients mentioned by Greg including iron, potassium, selenium, and magnesium.

The best bite of the day was the Bombay bowl. Whole roasted veggies, and almonds in a green curry sauce (with coconut milk) over a bed of super grains (blend of quinoa, millet, and buckwheat) has full flavor with more protein and fewer calories than the salad. It’s the type of dish that I’ll remember, crave, and go back for again.

Hearing about a cannelloni bean’s long-term low glycemic index or how avocado gives you natural saturated vegetable fats which are good for your skin and nervous system from a CEO that literally knows his menu and the ingredients inside and out is refreshing. I can only imagine what the conversation would be like about a Doritos taco with the boss from Taco Bell.

If you’re looking to eat well, eat healthy, and/or are just trying to stay on God’s good side during Lent, have faith in the Veggie Grill.

 

Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at michael@smdp.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek.

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