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Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005 07:47 am

Persian diversion offers healthy fare

Dena Lutz, Habib Hosseinali, and Charles Gibson of the Garden of Eat’n
Photo by Nick Steinkamp

When Habib Hosseinali moved to the United States from his native Iran a year ago, he gained weight and quickly tired of the culprit — fast food. He was surprised at the abundance of fried food and high-calorie meals offered here, so he decided to do something about it. The result is one of Springfield’s newest downtown restaurants and a great change of pace for lunch.

Hosseinali, who owned a grocery store in Iran, and wife Leila Hosseinali, a teacher, opened the Garden of Eat’n Inc. approximately two months ago.

The restaurant’s menu reflects the owners’ desire to serve healthy cuisine. Meats are grilled. Most salads, sandwiches, and soups are made with fresh vegetables, salad greens, and olive oil. Low-fat mayonnaise is used in the BLT sandwich.

The salad selection includes the California, which is topped with avocado, tomato, egg, grilled chicken, turkey, bacon, and blue cheese; and the Fiesta Pasta, which includes colored pasta, grilled peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella, and olives. Steak, Cajun shrimp, Greek, antipasto, Tex-Mex, and fruit salads are also on the menu.

At the Garden of Eat’n, the sandwiches consist of ingredients wrapped in a variety of tortillas. Most of the wraps contain the same ingredients as the salads — antipasto, Greek, and California, for instance. I chose the Salad Olivee Wrap. The name is misleading; it reflects the use of olive oil rather than olives in this chicken salad. The wheat wrap was filled with Persian chicken salad — the most unusual chicken salad I’ve eaten and one of the true Iranian-inspired dishes on the mostly American menu. It’s a creamy blend of boiled potatoes, chicken, peas, carrots, onions, pickles, and olive oil. The minced ingredients melded nicely, and the vegetables gave the salad a nice crunchy texture.

Soups are offered daily. I tried the special of the day, a cheesy chicken tortilla soup. The flavorful, rich soup — graced with peppers and topped with shredded tricolor strips of tortilla — had just the right amount of spicy heat.

The eatery, located directly across from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, is like a breath of springtime. Large canvas paintings of radishes, carrots, and asparagus complement the yellow beadboard walls and a soaring vintage tin ceiling painted grass green. Light fixtures fashioned from silver colanders hang above simple wooden tables. The food and décor are warm and inviting, but on the cold day on which I visited, I made the mistake of sitting too close to the door. Whenever another customer entered, I felt a rush of frigid air and was quickly reminded of the weather outside.

The service was exceptionally fast and friendly, making this a great place for quick takeout. Desserts include cookies, cheesecake, and zaboon, a flaky Iranian pastry, which was sold out when I was there. I’m looking forward to going back and trying it.

The Garden of Eat’n Inc. is located at 115 N. Sixth St.; 217-544-5446. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.Carryout available.

The next wave

One local chef is doing her part to help victims of the tsunami tragedy.

Julianne Glatz, owner of RealCuisine, is donating all profits from an upcoming March 19 cooking class to a relief fund for the tsunami victims.

Dishes from affected countries will be prepared, including spring rolls from Thailand, chicken curry from Sri Lanka, and yellow-rice cone from Indonesia. The class is one of five scheduled between February and May.

A food-shopping trip to St. Louis is also being offered on May 21.

For more information and reservations, call 217-546-4477.

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