Ah, the signs of early spring. Birds chirping. Flowers blooming. People panicking as they step on the bathroom scales and realize they have only a few weeks before bathing suit season. Not to worry, though. The healthful fare served up at three new Triangle eateries will have you slipping into that Speedo in no time.
At Café Harmony (5645 Creedmoor Road; 510-6910; www.cafeharmony.net) "healthy fare" translates to breakfast and lunch offerings with a strong emphasis on organic and local produce. Vegetarian options are plentiful, and many items on the menu are marked as vegan, soy-free or gluten-free. If tofu scramble and vegan "chicken" salad aren't your thing, you'll also find an ample selection of homemade soups and sandwiches ranging from buffalo meatloaf burger to ginger chicken (the real thing) salad with walnuts and goji berries. You can even be a little naughty with the likes of Belgian waffle or banana bread French toast, and assuage your guilt with the knowledge that the ingredients are organic. Café Harmony is owned by Steve and Nancy Long, longtime owners of Harmony Farms, the organic market two doors down in the same shopping center. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily.
The Lettuce Head (8369 Creedmoor Road; 847-7977) is Candice McMahon's first restaurant, but the novice restaurateur makes up for her inexperience with enthusiasm. McMahon likes wraps and burritos but wanted more healthy options than are offered at the national chains. The Lettuce Head, which opened in late January in Towne North shopping center, is her solution to the problem. The counter service eatery offers more than a dozen variations on the wrap theme, from grilled chicken Caesar to the Zesty but Healthy (artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, grapes, shaved parmesan and mixed greens in a raspberry vinaigrette), one of three vegetarian options. You can also create your own wrap or salad from a mix-and-match list of greens, dressings and 40 toppings, from bacon (pork or turkey) to goat cheese to dried cherries. The Lettuce Head is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The omelets, waffles, crêpes and other breakfast specialties served at Benetis in Durham are not known for their waist-slimming properties, but the Mediterranean fare served at Athena (5410-Q Highway 55; 806-0313) is. As it happens, they are one and the same restaurant - sort of. Benetis has been serving breakfast and lunch to the RTP crowd since 2006. A few weeks ago, owner Mary Hatzigeorgious and her new chef/partner, Nik Badawy, extended the hours into the evening and began offering a menu with the name Athena at the top. An ambitious offering of traditional Greek fare, from grilled calamari salad to lamb shank slow-cooked with root vegetables in white wine and tomatoes, accounts for the bulk of the offering. The menu earns its "Greek-Mediterranean" billing by crossing the border occasionally into the territory of paella, bouillabaisse and char-broiled Italian sausage with fava beans. An abridged version of the menu is offered at lunchtime, when it's supplemented by a selection of sandwiches and light pasta dishes. Benetis/Athena is/are open for breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday.
Greg Cox is the restaurant critic and food writer for The News & Observer. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Triangle dining scene at blog at blogs.newsobserver.com/mouthful.