Saturday, September 7, 2013

Burrito Battles: Protein Bar

You never know where the road of a food critic will take you, especially one who specializes in burgers and pizza (as if there's anything wrong with either.) So imagine my surprise when I strolled into Penn Quarter's Protein Bar this afternoon, in search of something healthy. Burritos without rice? Faux buffalo sauce? What if someone recognizes me? Will I still be allowed into Hamburger Heaven when it's time to meet my maker? Sad but true, these are just some of the things that run through my mind on a daily basis. Well, guess what? I loved it. Let the Bar-rito gods rejoice.

Actually, when you come to think of it: What's not to love here? Ideally located in the heart of downtown, the space is both modern and immaculate: I don't think I've been in a cleaner restaurant all year. Ordering is surprisingly easy, and requests are greeted with a smile and a "yes." I tried to keep it simple, placing an order for a Buffalo Bar-rito (all-natural chicken, organic quinoa, blue cheese, house-made vegan buffalo sauce and Protein Bar's Super 6 salad mix... $7.99.) Naturally, I asked for no cheese, and was given a pager to go with my Zevia grape soda ($1.29.)

The atmosphere here is almost sublime. I'm a sucker for good A/C; but even the customers here are nice. Perhaps healthy people are nicer to be around in general? Note to self: Start jogging again. After a short wait, my pager went off and I collected my tray with a smartly wrapped Bar-rito. Once again, I was politely greeted by an employee, who confirmed my order (what a concept!) and wished me a good meal.

Once seated, I dove in with admitted reluctance. I may be able to eat just about anything; but I'm not going to do cartwheels for something that's low in sodium... That's just not the kind of guy I am. Reluctance soon gave way to satisfaction however, after just two bites. Chicken chunks were moist and tender, and there's plenty of zest (even kick) to the vegan buffalo sauce: I had a bottle of hot sauce on stand-by, but I didn't need it. In case you've never tried quinoa, it's not half-bad; but the quinoa here is quite tasty, especially when combined with the aforementioned Super 6 salad mix. Romaine lettuce, spinach, purple cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and kale... not exactly fried pickles and ketchup, is it? But once again, I was surprised to discover how good it tasted when put together with the rest of the "ensemble."

As for negatives, it's hard to find any. The whole-wheat wrap overlapped a little, so some bites were a tad "bread-heavy; but each wrap packs an unheard-of 13 grams of fiber, so overlap away! FYI: Protein Bar doesn't sweeten their wraps with honey, so it's 100% vegan. Nice to know.

Today was a Saturday, so I'm not sure how they stack up during a busy weekday lunch rush; but it's hard to imagine much of a drop-off, if any. I loved eating here, and the food makes you feel good for ordering it. It doesn't hurt that it tastes good too. Protein Bar sells breakfast everyday until 10:30 AM, 12:30 on the weekends. I've got my eyes on a Santa Fe Scramble, minus the cheese of course. A chilled Greek Town (chicken, house-made hummus, Kalamata olives and cucumbers) is next on my list for lunch. They also stock a nice selection of protein drinks, if you missed yours at home.