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Local Eateries Bow to Low-Carb Craze

South Beach and Atkins diets are influencing area restaurant menus.

Numerous local restaurants and stores are responding to the low-carb craze by tailoring their menus with items that diners following diets such as Atkins and South Beach are looking for. High-protein, low-carbohydrate items have always been available but are being highlighted by savvy businesses seeking to cash in on the market.

Living a low-carb lifestyle means avoiding starches like rice, breads and pastas and staying away from sugars, which can be found in everything from fruit to alcohol.

O’So Lo Lo-Carb products are aimed at dieters trying to reduce their carbohydrate intake. Jerry Smith, a company official, says there are three types of people doing low-carb eating. “There are veteran low-carb dieters, and there is a much larger population who has heard so much about it and wants to try it. Then there’s a subset of diabetics, who have to count carbs. These are three distinct groups,” said Smith. It’s the larger group of amateur low-carb dieters, says Smith, who are more likely to choose products and meals that have been already prepared for them to eliminate the guess work.

Restaurants are filling the gap by providing appetizing meals that take the arithmetic out of whether it’s low-carb or not.

Corkie’s restaurant in the Chesterbrook section of McLean has responded to the low-carb trend by offering items straight out of the South Beach diet book. The restaurant first tried offering Atkins items but found them to be too restrictive for its clients. “Then South Beach came along, and since it was more widely accepted, it seemed, among my customers, I’ve had greater success with it. The people who eat Atkins eat the same bloody thing every time — mostly men — no, all men — meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, meat, chicken. ... The South Beach diet is more varied,” said owner Corkie Kirkham.

“I still have the South Beach on the menu every breakfast, lunch and dinner and the Atkins just on the weekends. The most popular is the South Beach breakfast of a 6-ounce glass of tomato juice, two-egg or eggbeater omelet stuffed with Canadian bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions, and decaf coffee or tea,” said Kirkham.

Chicken Out restaurant, a fast food eatery, has responded by promoting its main product, chicken, which is naturally low in carbohydrates. “Customers love us for our chicken, which is low in carbs and very tasty,” said Chicken Out spokesperson Renie Freedman. “We are always looking for additional homemade sides that are better for you and will always listen to our customers’ need about counting carbs, fats, etc.,” said Freedman. The store will be offering several new low-carb items in September due to customer demand.

Some restaurateurs say that by emphasizing proteins over starches on their menu, they are reflecting their own changing preferences. At The Old Brogue Irish Pub in Great Falls, owner Michael Kearney decided to specifically include Atkins-friendly items on the weekends after trying some recipes.

Kearney said the most popular entree items have been London broil or prime rib with scalloped vegetables. “We offer Atkins on the weekends. People really seem to like it, so we’re going to be adding some new stuff,” said Kearney.

UPSCALE RESTAURANTS also appear to be following the trend. Le Petit Mistral in McLean claims to be an excellent choice for those following a low-carb lifestyle. “Our menu at Le Petit Mistral is about 90-percent low carb. Appetizers available, for example, would be our classic French onion soup, endive salad with Roquefort and walnuts, shrimp with buerre blanc, baby eels with fresh anchovies. Entrees available are plenty. All of our fish selections are low-carb, as well as the chicken breast, duck and, of course filet mignon and calves liver. We don’t have any desserts [that are] low-carb but can offer a cheese plate upon request,” said manager Joseph Alonso.

Low-carb desserts can be tricky for restaurants. Kirkham offers sugar-free gelatin on her low-carb menu. “I’ve eaten it from time to time, and it’s surprising what that little bit of sweet does to tell your tummy that lunch is over,” said Kirkham.

Area grocery stores, however, have stocked up on low-carb desserts. Giant and Safeway grocery stores both carry low-carb ice creams and other sweet treats that can be eaten at home. The retail industry has responded to the low-carb crazy by coming out with products designed to be used with low-carb foods. Giant, for example, has the Carb Control brand, which has things such as peanut butter, barbecue sauce and salad dressings.

O’So Lo Lo-Carb foods has come out with a selection of low-carb breads that can be found at local grocery stores. “Bread is the thing that people say they miss about the low-carb lifestyle. Letting them put it back in through round sandwich rolls and deli rolls gives them satisfaction, instead of having to wrap a burger in lettuce,” said Smith.

The Greek Taverna in McLean is seeing a change in how people order food these days. “We’ve been here 11 years now. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of no rice, no potatoes from the customers. They want extra string beans instead. The Greek cuisine is inherently lower in carbs than many other cuisines,” said owner Christos Karamanos.

Some cuisines are indeed more likely to be lower carb. Knowing how to order at these types of restaurants, says Karamanos, is the key to sticking to low-carb diets. Amoo’s Kabob in McLean is a good example of this. It offers seven kabobs that are all low-carb. Just remember not to order the rice; go with the salad instead. The Kobideh kabob is a half-pound of ground chuck grilled. It’s served with grilled tomatoes and an optional salad.

MOST PEOPLE THINK RICE, definitely a low-carb no-no, when they think of sushi. With the plethora of sushi restaurants in McLean there’s no reason to avoid this style of cuisine as long as you know what to order. Sushami, like that offered at Hanabi sushi, is a good choice for someone wanting the sushi feel but not the carbohydrates. It’s the same fish used with sushi but served without rice. Hanabi also offers several grilled items, like chicken, that keep the carbs to a minimum.

Even Italian restaurants have choices for low-carb dieters. Pulcinella’s in McLean, for example, has a popular pasta, yes pasta, dish made with farro, which is whole wheat and lower in carbs. Grilled meats, such as veal, are also a solid low-carb choice.

Several restaurant owners suggested diners consult their server at the restaurant about the items that accompany entrees and either substitute out the high-carbohydrate items or ask for them not to be put on the plate. It’s also advisable to ask the server what other ingredients are in a dish to avoid hidden sugars.

Industry officials and restaurateurs seem to concur that the low-carb demand will continue for a while. “The growth curve is going to continue for some time. It’s gone way beyond a trend or a fad at this point. What you’re hearing people say now is that it’s about counting carbs for them, not about counting calories,” said Smith.