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Green Leaf sprouts healthful grub

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published February 6, 2014 at 3:33 a.m.


Green Leaf Grill, in the Blue Cross Blue Shield building, 601 S. Gaines St., Little Rock, offers breakfast and lunch selections (pictured: chicken, smoked sausage and vegetables) in a modern food-court setup.

Beef Bourguignon. Chili glazed salmon. Wassail glazed turkey.

It’s not the kind of lunch fare one expects at an office cafeteria.

But aside from its location - on the ground floor of the Blue Cross Blue Shield building - and a 20 percent discount for employees, Green Leaf Grill isn’t the typical office cafeteria.

The new downtown breakfast and lunch spot is headed by Diamond Chef award-winning executive chef Jason Knapp, who previously served as executive chef at venues including the Governor’s Mansion, Pulaski Technical College and the University of Central Arkansas.

This being in a health insurance business, attention is paid to freshness, flavor and wholesomeness. There’s also a focus on affordability. Nothing on the menu costs more than $8.29, with plenty of items well below that.

For breakfast, expect to order from a changing menu of items such as a breakfast burrito with salsa verde, fresh blueberry oatmeal pancakes and a huevos rancheros flatbread sandwich for $3.99.

Lunch selections (in categories including simply roasted, deli, entree, grill and made to order) change daily. But others are constant, like the entree salad station, where staff members mix diners’ desired vegetables, proteins and fruits with dressing before their eyes ($8.29), and like the grill that always offers burgers (beef, turkey and black bean), as well as grilled chicken sandwiches.

What’s also constant is the busyness. Expect the modern food court to be packed during prime lunch hours. Luckily the sunny, roomy seating area is built to accommodate a crowd. We never had trouble finding an open table. Likewise, we had no difficulty finding metered street parking next to the building.

We did wait in line for food. Sometimes, particularly at the grill, we didn’t know exactly what we were waiting for (the menu was too small for our nearsighted eyes to see from the back of the line). Eventually, we would give up, switch to the smallest line and take whatever was available the quickest - after all, it all looked and smelled good.

During two lunch visits on a Wednesday and Thursday, we placed the following on our trays: a made-to-order beef stir fry ($7.99); a half-sandwich and soup combo ($6.59) with a bag of chips ($1.39); a rotisserie chicken and sausage plate ($7.59); and a spicy pork loin with pepita pesto ($7.59). Those last two entrees came with two sides, and the pork also came with a roll.

As for drinks, diners can grab a bottled water, tea or juice. Craving something carbonated? There are only diet soda selections on tap, in addition to water, light lemonade and iced tea. We only later discovered canned sugary soft drinks in vending machines hidden behind a wall near the tray return. Also back there was a vending machine selling Fritos and Cheetos, etc. A sign steered customers toward healthier choices: “Check out the new items: Cliff Builders Protein Bar, Fig Newtons, Fiber Plus Bar, Skinny Cow Candy Bar.”

This is, after all, in a health insurance business.

As for the stir fry, my friend said, “The beef was cooked ahead, I’m guessing to save time in the final dish. The broccoli was pre-steamed, too. But the other ingredients were fresh, and the result was a flavorful plate full of food for a reasonable price. My only complaint is that the beef ended up a tad tough and dry. A forgivable offense in the scheme of things.” And besides, she got a fortune cookie too - a helpful cashier informed her of that during checkout.

The entree theme that day was barbecue, and when I couldn’t decide between chicken or smoked sausage, I realized I didn’t have to: Both meats were included, with two sides, and could be accented with several homemade barbecue sauces, not that the tasty and tender meats required them. For sides, I chose the fragrant and flavorful cinnamon honey butternut squash and dijon roasted potatoes that were undercooked and almost crunchy.

Whereas the potatoes in that meal were undercooked, overcooking was an issue in my second meal, the pork. While the outside of the pork loin, crusted with pumpkin-seed pesto, was lively, the inside was rather tough and dry and cool by the time it reached the table. Further adding to the dryness was a side of parched rice. The roasted Brussels sprouts were respectable.

My friend chose a half panini and a cup of tortilla soup. The sandwich consisted of grilled fajita-style chicken breast strips and melted cheddar cheese, and “it was the crispness and slight tartness of the large, thin slice of green apple that made it unique and enjoyable.” The temperature of the soup was warm and its flavor had a spicy kick. While it wasn’t described as being a “chicken tortilla soup,” she said, “the absence of meat was nevertheless noticeable.”

One thing that my friend didn’t notice: The bag of Terra chips she selected was a no-salt (and therefore no-flavor) variety.

This is, after all in a health insurance business.

Green Leaf Grill

Address: Blue Cross and Blue Shield building, 601 S. Gaines St., Little Rock Hours: 7-9:30 a.m. breakfast, 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m. lunch Monday-Friday Cuisine: Breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, plate lunches Credit cards: AE, D, V, MC Alcoholic beverages: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 378-2521

Weekend, Pages 31 on 02/06/2014

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