Venue Review: Energy Cafe
The Charlotte Observer
550 S. Tryon St. Second location: 101 S. Tryon St.
Energy Café feels like a little oasis in the breezeway of the Duke Energy building uptown: a little healthy oasis where everything's clear and green. Well, it's actually all white inside, but you know what I mean.
Well, it's actually not all white: just the shiny furniture and the walls and the light sculptures - except they're not actually white, they shift into different colors all the time.
And the part that's meant to be clear - like where you order and what's on the menu and where you pay - isn't actually clear, either. People mill about near the door, trying to figure out what to have (menus seem never to be in the little slot near where you're encouraged to "Take a menu!"), and then where to wait, or should they pay first? It's not ... clear.
So let me help: Energy Café is a fine little spot to get some good food. You go in and turn to the left, and if you see a menu on a table, fine, but there's also one above the counter, listing sandwiches, wraps and salads. From there, you move along the counter to order drinks, then pay, then step back to wait for a staffer to call your first name and hand you your order.
If all you want is one of the myriad smoothies (check out the Hercules), you can go to the middle section. If all you want is a coffee drink and/or something premade (sides, cookies, chips) or from the drink cooler (quite an array of health and energy drinks), you can go straight to the cash registers at the counter's end.
Quick-service food that's straightforward and simple is a fine option, and that's what you get at Energy: not chef alchemy that lifts ingredients, but simple combinations and choices that are exactly the sum of their parts. Mishelle Holladay, who has a fitness background, owns Energy Café with her husband, and this is the second location; the first is at the Bank of America Plaza, just a few blocks north.
Perhaps my favorite thing is the Egg Delight: egg whites, turkey bacon, organic guacamole and a little cheddar and tomato on multigrain bread. Simple, flavorful, good for you. The Signature Salad is a midsized portion of fresh mixed greens with thin-sliced crisp apple, a sprinkling of walnuts, fat-free raspberry vinaigrette and a generous scoop of flavorful tuna or chicken salad made with dried cranberries.
The Southwestern Turkey wrap comes in a nicely chewy whole-wheat tortilla, with plenty of turkey, chunks of roasted red pepper, a few leaves of lettuce, a few black beans, some corn and a bit of guacamole and chipotle ranch dressing.
I'm also a fan of the slightly spicy quinoa salad as a side, while the hummus is a mite dry. Also less appealing are all the finely shredded cheeses, which neither melt nor meld with other ingredients. (I know people want their cheese, though, and the problem of healthy choices is a thorny one.) Espresso drinks tend to the bitter, and smoothies seem to vary in thickness by who makes them; some tightening here would help.
The menu offers counts on calories and grams of carbs, protein, fat and fiber for each dish, which is a marvelous and sobering thing. Here at the "Health Food Fast" place, that low-sodium turkey wrap has 609 calories and 25 grams of fat. (So you're probably kidding yourself about most of your lunches.) You can target extra-protein items, and substitute or add proteins to items; these include low-sodium versions of roast beef, turkey and chicken breast, along with turkey bacon and organic baked tofu.
You can also tinker with item combos, though success rates vary: We asked to skip cheese and onions on a salad and only one was deleted. Staff seems a bit rushed, and less knowledgeable on details (or substance, if you ask my vegan colleague, who couldn't get an answer on whether a common item was vegan) than you'd like with this sort of venture.
Energy's green parts are direct: All packaging and disposable items are biodegradable; glass, plastic and aluminum are recycled; and the site is LEED certified. All in all, a responsible choice for diners.