Our dining editor guides you to the most scrumptious guilt-free dishes, all around town.
My assignments often demand repeated consumption of “smothered” this, that is then “drenched” in a decadent blanket of that, and then finally capped off with a healthy dollop of holy-cow. The result is often delicious, but rarely healthy. In an effort to prove that these two fine attributes can happily dovetail in one dish, I set aside my devil-may-care attitude toward food to find five days’ worth of good-for-you meals that are packed with flavor. Milwaukee may be the promised land of fried cheese curds, fish fries and casing-wrapped links of meat, but it is possible to eat mindfully without feeling deprived. Here’s how that can look…
Avocado toast was the rage in 2015. I don’t see the appeal of this single-seeded fruit letting up, and The National’s treatment of it is worth revisiting again and again: The ’cado, stuffed with a tomato-basil salsa of sorts, is partnered with goat cheese, sourdough toast and a nest of arugula drizzled with balsamic glaze. 839 W. National Ave., 414-431-6551
Mad Greek Yogurt
I know what you’re thinking: Greek yogurt? Seventy-five cents for a carton from the grocery store. But the Mad Rooster Cafe people make their own yogurt, and it’s thick, tart and richer than the commercial stuff. You can order it scooped into a half-shell of pineapple and topped with fresh fruit. Sprinkle with a little granola and enjoy. 4401 W. Greenfield Ave., 414-231-9120
Maybe tofu isn’t for everyone. But Simple Cafe’s hash sautés firm tofu with mushrooms, baby spinach, grilled red onions and chunks of sweet potato. It becomes Everyperson Tofu. Add an egg for some extra protein. 2124 N. Farwell Ave., 414-271-2124
Bi Bim Bop
A riff on the signature Korean mixed-rice dish bibimbap (that often includes beef), Riverwest Co-op Cafe’s version is meatless, but between the hearty helping of brown rice and the barbecued tofu (or a fried egg — also a good choice), not to mention the steamed vegetables, this is the morning wake-up call of calls, particularly once you’ve mixed in the co-op’s house barbecue sauce and the spicy local kimchi.
733 E. Clarke St., 414-264-7933
Story Hill BKC spins this Tunisian egg-tomato ragout with smoked lentils, goat cheese, cumin-spiced tomatoes, cilantro and sumac mayonnaise. Spread this flavor-packed marvel on the hunks of deliciously charred flatbread that comes with it. 5100 W. Blue Mound Rd., 414-539-4424
East Indian Chicken Pita
Lulu Cafe & Bar has offered this sandwich for eons, thankfully – chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, grilled and topped with lime/cilantro marinated onions. Order the cabbage-ramen noodle-based Asian slaw as a side. 2265 S. Howell Ave., 414-294-5858
What makes this burger fly is that it operates like a team. The patty (which, thank you, is not composed of beans) is topped with a thick nest of beer-caramelized onions, plus rosemary aioli, sliced tomato, a little crunchy romaine and alfalfa sprouts. All of this deliciousness is tucked inside a warm herb focaccia bun. At Beerline Cafe, 2076 N. Commerce St., 414-265-5644
Super Veggie Pizza
Yeah, pizza can be healthy-ish! Just veg it out. At Classic Slice, the super veggie on a chewy, NY-style crust comes with spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and vegetarian sausage (tofu, if you prefer) that’s actually pretty good. 2797 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-238-2406
The Perfect Pair
Or the Perfect Balance: a half-sandwich and side salad at the Green Kitchen inside Milwaukee Public Market. The half-sandwich – arugula-pesto chicken is a nifty option – offers satisfying heft. The side salad, built from loads of ingredients from the bar, makes you feel uber-healthy. 400 N. Water St., 414-336-1111
Vegetable-based Ethiopian stews are free of eggs, milk, butter, honey – things that are potential allergen red flags. It makes these dishes – Alem Ethiopian Village offers a half-dozen or so of them (lentils cooked in red pepper sauce; string beans with potatoes and carrots) on its Tuesday-Friday lunch buffet – a terrific option for vegan diners. The injera (the porous, crepe-like pancake served with it) is made from the grain teff and can be made gluten-free by request. 307 E. Wisconsin Ave., 414-224-5324
Today’s Fresh Fish
My favorite way to eat mindfully is to customize the meal to my specifications. So, grilled or lightly pan-seared fish, one of the fresh catches at Devon Seafood + Steak, is perfect. There’s usually about seven types of fresh fish (ahi tuna, rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, et cetera) that you can order. For a set price, you also get two sides with it. I like the baby greens salad and grilled asparagus topped with tomato crudo. Bayshore Town Center, 5715 N. Bayshore Dr., 414-967-9790
The Leaf Eater
Your fellow diner at Pizza Man will peer over your shoulder and wonder, “What IS that?” In a really good way. Curry-roasted cauliflower, greens, oven-dried tomatoes, green olives and the farro grain get far more interesting when they meet marcona almonds, golden raisins and tahini dressing. Eating healthy has never felt this indulgent. 2597 N. Downer Ave., 414-272-1745; 11500 W. Burleigh St., Wauwatosa, 414-249-2000
I give you permission to eat pasta, absolutely. Centro Cafe’s house-made gnudi (ricotta dumplings, like a lighter gnocchi) are sautéed with pancetta, wild mushrooms and spinach. A little more decadent than other dishes included in this package, but this creation is remarkably light. 808 E. Center St., 414-455-3751
A staple of Cafe Manna’s menu for years, the Peace Bowl is all kinds of delish. Good thing it addresses those important bases of grain, nuts and vegetables, too. With “twin pyramids of brown basmati rice and quinoa,” seasonal vegetables, coconut curry sauce, and a sprinkle of curried cashew crunch, I feel healthier just thinking about it. 3815 N. Brookfield Rd., Brookfield, 262-790-2340
Loup de Mer en Papillote
This is the fanciest-sounding dish you’ll see on my healthy-dining itinerary. (But then, it is French.) It’s actually rather simple: sea bass baked in parchment, along with mussels, shrimp, fingerling potatoes and broccolini. It’s the easiest, and one of the healthiest ways to cook fish and seafood. Get it at Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro. 3133 E. Newberry Blvd., 414-962-6300
The Toss Up
There’s no way we can get behind a boring salad. Good thing we don’t have to, not with productions like these.
Overdressed greens are a crime against veggies. At Onesto, the beet salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts and spring mix are a fairly basic mashup. It’s the light, bright lemon-shallot vinaigrette that ties it together. 221 N. Broadway, 414-308-1600.
Food-court salads like the build-your-owns at Grassroots Salad Company in Brookfield Square Mall are anything but common. The specialty and custom salads will rock your bowl. 95 N. Moorland Rd., Brookfield, 262-505-6030.
“Twist and Sprout” is a clever way of saying chopped Brussels sprouts with pears, goat cheese and walnuts in buttermilk dressing. Riverwest Pizza, 932 E. Wright St., 414-269-9703.
Tender-crisp grilled vegetables heaped on greens with goat cheese are extra addictive. And are on a plate near you… if you’re in the vicinity of Beans & Barley. 1901 E. North Ave., 414-278-7878.
Order the Vegetable Heaven Salad at Comet Cafe, and you get almonds, marinated tofu, tomatoes, shaved carrots, roasted red peppers and mixed greens. The sharp ginger dressing reminds me of lettuce salads at hibachi restaurants. 1947 N. Farwell Ave., 414-273-7677.