By now you know that I love it when like-minded eaters tip me off to vegetarian spots that have plenty of options for anyone kosher like me or vegetarian. So when N. suggested that I check out The Little Beet I was totally game. Its menu is seasonal, ingredients are farm fresh and there are plenty of heathy non-meat options to keep all sorts happy here.
And to my amazement the whole menu is gluten-free. Located right in the heart of busy midtown Manhattan, I was thrilled to find a fast but not fast-food option for breakfast, lunch or early dinner.
I met two friends there during a busy lunch hour and was charmed to find a cheerful and genuinely helpful greeter handing out menus as folks took their place on line. With a large wall menu on one side and the prep counter on the other, the prices and pairings were simply explained to newbies.
Chose soup and sides, protein and sides or just sides and you’ll have your fill of organic veggies for the day. With grilled salmon and tofu as two of the four proteins offered, I knew I was on the right track. And I love it that the tofu is grilled on a separate unit. Very considerate, indeed.
Prices are reasonable with one protein and two sides at $13. or three sides at $11.
The salads and sides were all tempting and meat-free. With two good eaters on my team and so many veg and kosher friendly options, we tried to cover the entire menu and we came pretty darn close.
Having examined the clear and inspiring website in advance of my visit I was really impressed with this business model. Five farms , in upstate NY, the Berkshires and Long Island, are listed as sources for most ingredients. Their eggs are all organic from Berkwood Farms. No additives, GMO Free add to the appeal.
Small, responsible, mostly local, organic producers provide drinks, snacks and coffee with Tu-Lu’s Gluten Free Bakery (NYC and Dallas) providing all of the sweet treats.
I only wish the food tasted better. Almost everything about The Little Beet’s profile was enticing except for the flavors. The food lacks brightness and energy. And unfortunately it doesn’t have much visual appeal either.
Interestingly, the line at midday snaked out the door and almost onto the street, with many regulars not even bothering to examine the menu. Perhaps the made from scratch, gluten-free, farm to table ingredients are enough to keep ‘em coming. I sure hope so. Because with a little recipe tweaking The Little Beet would get an “A” in my book.
Here’s what we thought:
The Quinoa Salad was colorful with fuchsia roasted beets and dark green arugula. We all liked it well enough but it lacked brightness. I yearned for citrus. Or vinegar. Or salt. Or herbs. Quinoa is a great blank canvas for flavors but with the earthiness of both beets and arugula, it really needed something acidic to brighten it.
The Lentil Salad was mushy. The pecans were too finely minced and became soft in a sea of lentils. E. thought the pecans were kidney beans because they had softened so much. While the description touts oranges, avocado, kale and ginger dressing, the salad really needed more citrus. It was in there, but not prominent enough to rescue the dish.
Always game to taste the namesake dish, The Little Beet Salad was mostly arugula and not too many beets. Again, the sherry-shallot vinaigrette lacked brightness. If the vinegar had been amped up, the salad would have easily been saved.
The Sushi Salad was a bright spot, with brown rice, radishes and cucumber benefiting from a ginger- miso dressing. The toasted seaweed added crunch and saltiness rounding out the flavors.
Our favorite side was the Southwest Style Millet, satisfying and toothsome with bite-size chunks of tomatoes and bits of avocado and some nice heat from jalapeños. I also loved the simply grilled tofu.
We were surprised more than once by the names of the salads. Expecting Buckwheat Soba Noodles to be a luscious carbo rush, it was a cabbage dominated salad. Once we got over our disappointment about not having that yummy bowl of soba, we enjoyed the pickled ginger, cilantro and mint flavors.
Charred cauliflower and kale were simply prepared, which was expected.
I gave The Little Beet another chance a few weeks later when I ate a selection of salads with a group of four veggie loving guys in M’s office. Hoping for more brightness the flat flavors were replaced, in a more than one side dish, with red pepper flakes. We actually had to push some of the dishes aside because they were so spicy.
Turning my attention to breakfast, The Little Beet has a selection of five cold pressed juices and freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit offered, along with a tight breakfast selection of quinoa oatmeal with fruit, raw organic oatmeal with house-made jam and a few great looking egg options,. All are served with gluten free bread or brown rice wraps. For between $5-$8 you can start your day right and even load up on nutrient dense kale and avocado.
I am hoping that the earnest and experienced Chef Franklin Becker, who’s got an impressive resume, will turn up the flavors a few notches in addition to working on more accurate menu descriptions. The freshness of the locally sourced ingredients (remember that in NYC we use “local” to define a wider range than we would in other places) along with a veg centric menu are reasons enough to bring me back with the fervent hope that the third time’s the charm.
135 W 50TH STREET
(BETWEEN 6TH & 7TH AVE)
NEW YORK, NY
Open Monday – Friday
7AM – 9PM
10AM – 8PM