Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Urban pl8: Inexpensive, healthy, delicious

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2012 at 9:30 AM

I'm not sure why Urban pl8 doesn't stay on my radar. You'd think a restaurant featuring inexpensive, creative meals prepared by a talented chef, Betsy Pitts, would come to mind often. Maybe it's the hidden-away Westside location that blocks my Grant Park brain. Or maybe it's the expectation of crowds. The last time I did try to go, there was a long wait.

Not so Friday night, despite the Scout Mob coupon available. The actual, for-real springtime weather furnished plenty of patio space and five of us only waited about 15 minutes.

The menu here is a mix of mainly $16-and-under entrees, along with $8 sandwiches, burgers, and salads. The emphasis is on healthy dining. You can choose from many gluten-free dishes and — kind of oddly — there are others that qualify for inclusion in the so-called paleolithic diet.

It can get a little confusing. When a dish lists coconut, it means coconut milk, since dairy is taboo on the paleo diet. My long understanding is that coconut milk is among the most cholesterol-laden substances on the planet. Recent research suggests its benefits may outweigh any harm it can do.

Whatever, I was really glad when the "paleo coconut shrimp" starter turned out to be a curry with lime, chilies, tomato and kale — not the shrimp fried in coconut batter that used to star on every mediocre menu in town.

Putting paleo aside, we had a great meal all around. Two of us ordered the "Vietnamese-style banh mi Angus beef double burger." (See Brad's review this week of the traditional banh mi.) The burger patties were topped with the usual pickled carrots, jalapenos, cilantro and the super-rich mayo the Vietnamese borrowed from their French occupiers and turned spicy.

Honestly, though, the beef provided all the flavor a burger should, but, in so doing, eclipsed the intended effect of the condiments. Part of the problem, too, is just getting a big enough bite to include the bun, the double patties, and the toppings. I ain't gonna complain about about the double-stack, though.

Also on the table was Hawaiian pork tenderloin with spinach and chunks of pineapple, which Bobby, seemed to like (see photo). Pork with pineapple is a combination I grew tired of years ago — remember those faux backyard luaus? — but Chef Pitts' addition of spinach and a strong shot of soy sauce provides enough salty bitterness to save the dish from cloying sweetness.

Other entrees included: grilled chipotle-rubbed hanger steak with roasted sweet potatoes, and grilled asparagus; and lump crab cakes with remoulade and pan-roasted zucchini. Both dishes, quite rich, were brightened with pico de gallo.

The restaurant is open for dinner only Wednesday-Saturday; for lunch, Tuesday-Friday; and brunch, Saturday and Sunday. But, speaking of the paleo diet, the restaurant features a special paleo menu on Tuesday nights, including this evening. (Call 404-367-0312 or email urbanpl8@gmail.com for reservations.) Please try the turnip fries with horseradish cream.

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