By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Take a cursory look at Energy Kitchen’s menu and you’d think that you’d walked into a typical fast-food joint. Burgers, fries and shakes dominate the offerings at this downtown eatery, which opened around the first of the year. Further examination reveals that this New York City import isn’t looking to compete with Shake Shack. Everything contains fewer than 500 calories, and nothing is fried; baking, steaming and grilling are the cooking methods here.
Launched in 2003 by Anthony Leone and Randy Schechter, the boutique chain now boasts locations in and around Manhattan, as well as in New Jersey and Florida. In 2008, Energy Kitchen’s profile got a booster shot when Glaceau vitamin water company co-founder Mike Repole signed on as chairman.
Repole sees the menu as a matter of pragmatism. “Burgers, fries and shakes aren’t going anywhere; they’re going to be around for the next 200 years,” he says. “This way people can feel like they’re indulging, but they’re really not.”
So what exactly constitutes a healthful burger? There are five patty options: best-selling bison; 90 percent lean sirloin; turkey; chicken breast; and vegetarian, made with rolled oats, carrots, corn, edamame and other plant-based ingredients ($6.49 to $9.49). The bacon cheddar sirloin burger ($7.49) features turkey rashers and fat-free cheese, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles, on a nine-grain bun. Without the usual amount of fat, the hamburger seemed dry, though a splash of ketchup helped solve that problem. It might not hold a candle to Shake Shack’s burgers, but it will help you keep your New Year’s resolution to eat lighter.
Burgers aren’t the only health-ified comfort food classic. The cheesesteak is re-imagined as a wrap using a whole-wheat tortilla, with ground bison standing in for the griddled beef. If you love the Philly fave as much as I do, skip this and settle for an expectation-free salad. The Kitchen Chopped ($8.99), packed with chunks of chicken, cherry tomatoes and pinkish bits of turkey bacon, was surprisingly filling.
French fries and sweet potato fries ($1.99 each) that claim to be “baked to crispy perfection” were soggy. Opt instead for the Asian broccoli slaw ($2.99) of matchstick carrots, cabbage and broccoli tossed with a light coating of sesame dressing.
If you’re just looking for a snack or a guilt-free treat, the shakes are a good bet, even if “smoothie” would be a more accurate name. The Peanut Better ($4.49 for 16 ounces, $5.99 for 24 ounces), fortified with bananas, chocolate protein and fat-free chocolate yogurt, disappeared in mere minutes.
Everything is well packaged in sturdy takeout containers and made to order, which takes about five to 10 minutes. It’s a pleasant enough spot for the wait: plenty of seating inside the small space, accented with aloe and blueberry tones, plus a small patio. As the slogan on their order buzzer says, “Please chill while we grill.”