Costa Mesa's 17th Street is full of mini-malls and teeming with traffic. So, finding Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in an old hacienda-like building surrounded by lush greenery is like discovering an oasis in the desert.
Jonathan Rollo has brought his healthy, casual dining concept to Orange County this month after getting rave reviews for his two Los Angeles-area locations.
In Jonathan's own words, "Our restaurants allow you to choose to be as healthy as you want to be."
He has an extensive background in the restaurant industry, starting with culinary school and later working as a chef at Patina, where he first met Kristi Ritchey, who is now his executive chef. Jonathan's interest in healthy food was motivated by the fact that some of his family had serious health issues.
Kristi had her own issue with obesity. She grew up in western Pennsylvania, where vegetables are seemingly not the basis of the food pyramid. Kristi lost 110 pounds over three years by changing her eating habits.
"Eating healthy is a lifestyle, not a diet," she says.
Both Jonathan and Kristi, while advocating healthy eating, stress that their food must also taste delicious.
Salad is Greenleaf's signature offering. You can choose from seven types of greens, 16 grilled meat and nonmeat additions, and about 75 toppings, including nuts, cheese, fruit, veggies, beans and herbs.
Mix it all up with one of 17 dressings. If all those choices make your head spin, there is a substantial selection of tried-and-true specialty salads, from the Kitchen Sink Cobb to the Anti-oxidant Orchard. "Chopshop" is Jonathan's way of bringing it all together.
"We will chop and toss until you say stop," he says.
The menu is rounded out with thin-crust pizzas made with a tortilla base, sandwiches, paninis and hot entrées that come with a choice of two sides.
Jonathan and Kristi are always working together to create high-quality imaginative recipes and are committed to using only the freshest all-natural, organic and local ingredients.
The large restaurant is extremely attractive; it has a rustic, airy, clean feeling. High ceilings with wood rafters, lots of big windows and old barnwood accents create a pleasant, casual ambience. There is an open kitchen with a long marble counter and white tile walls.
The exterior is equally attractive, with its large covered dining porch with a wooden rail fence in front. In the rear is a courtyard filled with mature trees and lush landscaping, where there is another lovely dining area.
Running the length of one exterior wall is a special feature of the restaurant: a vegetable and herb garden provided by Mike Saraylian, the organic gardening guru of Harvest to Home, which delivers pre-planted, self-watering, seasonal garden boxes to homes and restaurants. Mike will be teaching gardening classes for children ages 7-12 in the restaurant's back garden this summer.
Right now Greenleaf is awaiting the maturation of its green beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, chilies and a variety of herbs. They get most of their produce from Scarborough Farms, a small-scale, European-style family farm in Oxnard.
Everything in the restaurant is sourced locally from organic and natural purveyors, as are the artisanal products in their adjoining market. You can find a plethora of baked goods including vegan and gluten-free choices, oils, vinegars, spices, fresh vegetables, prepared foods to go (like turkey meatballs and vegan lasagna) as well as an extensive juice bar that includes protein shakes. They also feature items for your "cheat day," like Cake Monkey Bakery's chocolate cookies
We tasted a few things from the restaurant and were especially knocked out by their fabulous baked sweet potato fries. The secret is soaking the potatoes overnight, freezing and then baking them.
Curbside drive-thru will be coming soon. Meanwhile, you can pick up to-go orders at the market window.
Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop is at 234 E.17th St. For more information, call (949) 200-3957 or visit http://www.greenleafchopshop.com. For more information about Harvest to Home, call (949) 873-5400 or visit http://www.harvesttohome.com.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.