Hold the Starch!

Atkins dieters rule restaurants, target world.

Food fight! Grilled chicken breasts and bunless burgers are flying in the national tussle over the healthfulness of the Atkins diet and other high-protein, low-carbohydrate weight-loss plans. Information from the medical examiners' 2003 postmortem report on Dr. Robert C. Atkins' health suggests the diet may not have treated him well, despite his camp's insistence to the contrary. Yet the bread-fearing masses continue on their path to free the world from the grips of the icky axis: sugars and grains. Locally, spirits are high on the front lines of the Atkins battle. A reportorial tour of the trenches revealed a unified strategy against breadlust—a three-pronged attack waged in grocery stores, fast-food chains, and sit-down dining establishments, raising fears that the consumer will have no choice but to surrender to almond "flour." Few restaurateurs are carrying the Atkins flag higher than Matt and Laurra McGregor, owners of Sopranos Pizza and Pasta (7729 24th Ave. N.W., 206-789-4446) in Ballard. Their weapons of mass carb deprivation are crustless pizza and pastaless pasta. The No-Dough Pizza ($10.50 includes a salad) is what it sounds like: meat sauce, mozzarella, and two toppings baked and served on a platter, minus that silly crust thing. The McGregors put it on their menu four months ago, after they noticed many carb-conscious patrons avoiding crust, scraping off and eating their pizza toppings with a fork. The cheeses and sauce are arguably the best part of a pizza, and as a result, the No-Dough is pretty good, and big enough to feed two. On a recent visit, one non-carb-watching companion joked that he would use the oozy leftovers to make a real pizza at home (and later did) and another modified the No-Dough by scooping it atop her traditional pizza and eating it as a double-decker treat. The McGregors also created the Atkins Addict ($10.50)—essentially spaghetti and meatballs minus the spaghetti: baked meat sauce, meatballs, mozzarella, romano, and Parmesan cheeses on a platter with salad—in response to customer requests. The two dishes, along with an Atkins-friendly chicken Parmesan ($11.95) and an array of low-carb salads, make up about 25 percent of Sopranos' lunch and dinner sales, according to Matt McGregor. He tells the story of an Edmonds woman who commuted to Ballard four times in one week for the No-Dough. Atkins dieters are no longer settling for the old buy-a-Big-Mac-and-throw-away-the-bun routine. They're demanding that restaurants create special menu items just for them, and food makers and sellers are listening. A banner outside Luigi's "Little Italy" (Luigi's Grotto, 102 Cherry St., 206-343-9517; and the adjacent Cafe Bengodi, 701 First Ave., 206-381-0705) in Pioneer Square recently announced owner-chef Luigi Denunzio's low-carb Italian menu. For $8 at lunch or $14 at dinner, diners can load up on protein-heavy dishes like roasted chicken with sausage marsala sauce, pork loin, or veal without the pesky pasta usually associated with Italian food. At Teriyaki, Etc! (11511 N.E. 195th St., 425-489-2901) in Bothell, Sam and Christine Sim prepare Atkins-style teriyaki with no rice, extra veggies, and a sugar-free sauce (prices vary and are equal to non-Atkins items). Busy dieters can place orders for delivery or pickup at www.iloveteriyaki.com. Pogacha Cafe (10885 N.E. Fourth St., 425-450-0333) in Bellevue and its two sister Pogacha restaurants are named for their signature chewy Croatian breads, but the cafe's defied its namesake by going low-carb, advertising its shrimp-stuffed avocado ($6.95) and sautéed seafood salad ($7.50). Even desserts are no longer sacred. Local cookie-pusher Rocky Rococoa (206-300-4801) is plying dieters with his "relatively low-carb, high in protein and unsaturated fats" flourless dark chocolate cake ($35, serves 16) at the Fremont Sunday Market (North 34th Street west of Fremont Ave­nue North). And Protein Planet (415 Pike St., 206-625-3203) infiltrated downtown last spring with its ready-made "naked" sandwiches. Defaming the Earl, the breadless sandies are, basically, meat in a bowl: chicken breast with an herbal mesquite rub, flank steak marinated in soy sauce with pepper flakes, or lightly seasoned turkey breast (6 ounces $3.99/10 ounces $5.99) are available in neatly packed to-go bowls. Breadless egg salad or tuna salad are $1.99 for 6 ounces. When there's war in the restaurant world, there's war on the home front, too. Grocery stores are fighting for your right to eat fewer carbs. The Albertson's delis are "helping make your life easier" with its "controlled carb" chicken dinner deal ($9.99): a whole roasted chicken or eight pieces fried and two sides from a choice of chicken Caesar salad without croutons, mashed cauli­­­flower, or broccoli au gratin. Perhaps even rural, meat-and-potatoes towns like Enumclaw are holding those potatoes—last weekend an unenthusiastic but polite teen in black eyeliner was handing out samples of low-carb bread at the Enumclaw Safeway. The most telling indicator that the war is won is that national chains have gotten the message. T.G.I. Friday's (1001 Fairview Ave., 206-621-7290) assures skeptics that its new low-carb menu is actually "Atkins-approved." The "Cheeseburger Cheeseburger" ($8.99) strikes a deal with patrons: "Do your best to pass on the ketchup and we'll be sure to keep the bun in the kitchen" (chuckle, chuckle, wink, wink). Its net carb count (six) is conveniently listed on the menu along with the other Atkins choices. Even fast food chains such as Subway and Burger King have joined the allied forces, the former with its low-carb wraps and the latter with a bunless, ketchup-free double Whopper with cheese. But does anyone know why they're carrying the protein flag? The thing about fad diets—and I don't care how many pounds you, your uncle, and your best friend have lost, it is a fad—is that nobody ever seems to agree on the validity of the restrictions du jour. The Internet and other media are full of conflicting statements about the soundness of high-protein diets. Apparently eating nothing but bunless burgers could, at its extreme, lead society to a svelte and fit utopia or it could beget massive genocide by coronary artery disease. I'm awed by the self-control of those who eat bacon strips and cheddar cubes three times a day, but I'm not about to give up banana-chip muffins, even if there's a gorgeously willowy figure waiting for me on the other side of the Atkins rainbow. kmillbauer@seattleweekly.com

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