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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2004 07:21 am

New specialty store offers low-carb options

Dan Andrews, a co-owner of IMA Carb Counter
Photo by Nick Steinkamp

The low-carb craze has finally hit Springfield. Although this way of eating is nothing new, a new specialty grocery store that offers takeout meals gives customers a one-stop low-carb eating and shopping experience.

Maggie Andrews-Stone and her two brothers, Dan and John Andrews, adopted a diet in which they cut their intake of carbohydrates more than a year ago, and together they lost 165 pounds. But as they dieted, they ran into trouble, says Andrews-Stone.

"We had difficulty finding alternatives to high-impact-carb foods," she says. When other dieters mentioned the same problem, she and her brother decided to go into business. IMA Carb Counter opened its doors on July 12.

On a low-carb diet, foods that are high in carbohydrates -- such as bread, cookies, and pasta -- are replaced with fats and proteins. Dieters can eat their fill of fatty foods such as meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese.

"Unfortunately, there is a great resistance to supplying product to central and downstate Illinois, which, we have discovered, is the reason products appear and disappear so rapidly," Andrews-Stone says. "One of our biggest challenges has been locating and securing regular delivery of low-carb foods and supplements. But we are discovering more and more every week."

IMA Carb Counter does offer takeout items, but its real focus is providing customers with a place to shop for low-carb foods. The shelves are lined with a variety of products: soup; pasta sauce and pasta; granola; biscuit, muffin, and pie-crust mixes; candy; cereal bars; cookies; salad dressings; and snacks. Name brands include familiar ones such as Atkins, Russell Stover, and Frito-Lay, but the store also features specialty brands that aren't always found in regular grocery stores, such as Rosie's Gold, Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, Steel's, Kane's, and Lite Harvest Foods of Oregon. Summer sausage from the Pea Ridge Elk Ranch, naturally low in fat and carbs, is also available. A small freezer section sells treats such as single-serving Key-lime pie and cheesecake and Ben and Jerry's no-sugar-added Carb Karma ice cream.

The limited takeout menu includes cold deli sandwiches, wraps, salads, homemade soups, and bagels. Deli sandwiches and eight-ounce soup servings range in price between $2.30 and $2.55. The most expensive item on the menu is a 10-ounce salad for $3.39. Andrews-Stone and her brothers hope to keep expanding their menu, with doughnuts and hot chicken sandwiches in the future.

The store's soup options include vegetable, onion, and mushroom. I sampled the vegetable and the mushroom when I visited. The vegetable was a hearty blend of beef broth and chunks of green beans, onions, and tomato. It was flavorful, but the mushroom was my favorite. The rich, dark broth-based soup was full of slices of meaty mushrooms. If all low-carb dishes tasted this good, I'd never eat another potato or slice of bread again.

I also tried the roast-beef and ham wraps. Although they're small compared with the mammoth wraps served at some restaurants, at just a little more than $2, the wraps are just the right size and price to accompany a bowl of soup. The tasty, tight cylinders of meat, cream cheese, and lettuce are encased in a wheat tortilla.

The store also offers workshops every few weeks. Future plans call for hands-on cooking classes.

IMA Carb Counter is located at 1040 N. Grand Plaza West, across from the National Guard; 217-527-9966. Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. Soups are served 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Low-carb recipe

Asparagus Hot Pot

2 pounds cooked, deboned chicken or other meat (this is a great recipe for using up leftover meat of any kind)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
2 pounds fresh asparagus, blanched and chopped
(or 20 ounces frozen, thawed, and drained)

Arrange half of the asparagus and meat in a large greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and drizzle half of the cream over that, then sprinkle half of the toasted almonds over the other layers. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients, and bake at 375°F for 30 to 45 minutes until the casserole is bubbly and golden on top. Serves four.

Per serving: 5.8 g carbohydrates, 1.9 g fiber, 50.9 g fat, 37.1g protein; 190 mg cholesterol; 355 mg sodium; 624 calories

Recipe courtesy of www.locarbenergy.com.

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