Dining out doesn't have to be an unhealthy experience

Jaryd Hearn, the executive chef at the Polo Grill & Bar in Lakewood Ranch, emerged from his kitchen carrying a colorful culinary delight — blood orange ceviche.

Hearn had been asked about creative, healthy alternatives for those who love to, or must, dine out, yet don’t want to blow the doors off their daily calorie count. This was just one answer.

“There is no oil or butter used to make ceviche,” Hearn said. “It is gluten-free, low carb, low fat. The fish (many varieties of fish are used for the dish) cooks in the lime juice and the lemon juice, without heat. It’s marinated in acid and it’s a cold dish.”

The ceviche was just one example of restaurants responding to a more educated public seeking healthy alternatives.

Hearn said he had met with Polo Grill & Bar owner and chef Tommy Klauber to discuss the issue.

“We don’t want people to feel bloated or weighed down,” Hearn said. “We want to keep our menu lighter and fresher. Those are terms that translate to healthy.”

Polo Grill & Bar waiters have been instructed to greet customers with the question, “Do you have any dietary restrictions or allergies?”

Hearn and Klauber know the public is more particular these days about what goes into a dish. It is best to find out any special needs immediately.

“In the kitchen, we adjust to that,” Hearn said. “Tell us what fits your diet and we will make it work. We choose to use a variety of healthy oils, and we use no lard or saturated oils.”

However, Hearn said the restaurant also wants to meet the needs of those who just want a wonderful meal without worrying about the calorie count. “It takes us four days to make our demi-glace,” he said. “We start with 60 gallons of veal stock and it is reduced to five gallons, then we add the mushrooms and butter.”

But even those who want to indulge can take steps toward healthier eating when they dine out.

Hearn noted that those who dine can turn to plenty of lighter items, such as salads and fish dishes. They can have sauces or dressings served on the side. They can ask for a takeout box before they begin eating, put half the meal into it and ask the server to hold it.

“We have to find a happy medium,” he said.

Many restaurant owners understand they must be able to adjust with healthier demands while also being able to answer any questions about their preparation and their ingredients.

“Customer inquiries regarding where their food comes from have increased dramatically the last several years,” said chef Paul Mattison of Mattison’s City Grille in Sarasota. “It is not only important for us to provide delicious quality food to our guests, it is vital we can answer their questions with clarity and pride. In 2015, we changed all our proteins at our Mattison’s locations to ‘never, ever’ products, free of all hormones and antibiotics. We even went as far as choosing a partner with small family farms that pasture-raise their animals with care and harvest humanely.

“It is my responsibility as a chef to take the worry from our guests and ensure them they are eating only the highest quality, sustainable products.”

Mattison said his restaurants are happy to accommodate any special needs such as low sodium, gluten-free or low-calorie items. He said all the dishes served are made from scratch, so accommodating those requests is never an issue.

Those who dine at the Cheesecake Factory at The Mall at University Town Center will find a menu that lists calorie counts for every item. The restaurant also has a menu supplement that is a nutritional guide for those who so desire, along with a SkinnyLicioous menu.

“Beginning this May, restaurants with 20 or more locations will be required to have nutritional information on their menus,” said Alethea Rowe, The Cheesecake Factory’s senior director of public relations. “We elected to include the information prior to this deadline to coincide with our normal menu printing cycle.”

Rowe said The CheesescakeFactory always has allowed guests to modify their dishes and to make substitutions.