Downtowners have a new way to eat a healthy lunch, and you might as well pick up dinner at 7 Greens too; it travels well.
First-time restaurant-owner Kelly Schaefer-Janssen opened 7 Greens in mid-August. The garage-door front on the informal spot is open to the street in good weather. Stools facing out allow patrons to contemplate the engraved motto of the classical/Art Deco Skillman branch of the library, across the way: "The only true wealth is the wealth of the mind." As I munched my roasted Brussels sprouts and pistachios, I begged to differ. The wealth of the body and of the palate is just as true.
Entering patrons are treated to line drawings, on the wall, of the restaurant's eponymous seven greens: romaine, spinach, mesclun, napa cabbage, lettuce, kale, and arugula. The greens aren't made in-house, of course, but just about everything that requires more than one ingredient is. That includes soup, thick yogurt, granola, cookies, and 17 dressings made fresh daily (oddly called "sauces").
Bread is Dinkelbrot from Zingerman's, an all-spelt loaf with sunflower seeds. Feta is a Spanish variety, "creamy as goat cheese, not dry and crumbly," as one worker proudly explained. Croutons are "butterons," softer and far more buttery than the norm, prepared every morning.
The best way to understand 7 Greens is just to look at the long, long lists of ingredients on its website. And then — although the super-friendly staff are the opposite of "Soup Nazis" — try to make up your mind in advance so you're not holding up the line; the place is quite busy during lunch hour.
A partial selection: roasted beets, walnuts, tofu or garlic, avocado, sweet gherkins, corn, edamame, chickpeas, hearts of palm, Kalamatas, candied pecans, soba noodles, quinoa, toasted ramen. Cheeses and proteins, which cost extra, include Manchego, goat cheese, white cheddar, shaved Parmesan, prosciutto, bacon, and hard-boiled egg.
The simplest method is to order one of 10 "classics," where the ingredients have been thought out for you. I can imagine the fun that Schaefer-Janssen and her staff had, trying the different combos and figuring out which addition was over the top and which was a welcome surprise. In general, the ratio of goodies to greens is good — not overloaded, not stingy — and the dressings are pourable, i.e., not too thick.
The K Foxy is the simplest salad: a Caesar. The Greek is pretty standard. Others riff: "Maurice Who?" after the Hudson's classic, uses prosciutto and Manchego instead of ham and Swiss. "Las Bear" is Mexican-themed, with corn, black beans, avocado, cilantro, and blue corn chips.
Three unaccountably use iceberg, which IMO makes it feel like someone has poured water into the bowl.
I ordered the Green Goddess classic and wondered where green goddess dressing had been all my life. I think it's the tarragon that makes it stand out. The salad is made of arugula, romaine, heart of palm (an under-appreciated, semi-crunchy, mild but winning ingredient), cukes, chickpeas, tomatoes, and citrus-poached shrimp — like everything else, cooked fresh every day.
The Woodward Cruise classic is best for the salad-resistant person at your table, as it's the most protein-rich (and the most expensive at $10.75), with lots of pistachios, chicken, bacon, goat cheese — and dates for sweetness. Its creamy balsamic dressing is quite tart.
Schaefer-Janssen designed the Yoga Girl classic in hopes of luring yoginis from a soon-to-open studio next door. For that crowd, there's a no-animal-protein salad (spinach, kale, quinoa, carrots); it adds flavor with roasted beets, Brussels sprouts and roasted tofu. Is anyone ready to admit yet that kale is really an annoyingly lengthy chew? I did like the miso dressing but thought the sprouts should have been more numerous.
The Classics aren't rigid, though; you can swap out ingredients.
Of course, it's easy to de-healthify a salad. For the "fashion-your-own" option, the base price of $7.35 gets you two greens and four "greenings" (everything else). Then you can add premium ingredients at $1-$4 apiece: the cheeses, meats, some nuts, and anything house-roasted.
In designing my FYO, I found the roasted garlic, pistachios, and butterons definitely worth having, the corn not so much, the prosciutto very chewy, the citrus tahini dressing refreshing.
There's more on hand than greenery and its hangers-on. One day the wonderful soup was chicken sausage corn chowder, not thick like chowder in the usual creamy sense, but thick with meat and corn.
For dessert, it's a cookie baked that day, or maple yogurt topped with granola or house-ground peanut butter, and then two chopped fruits and four toppings, such as chocolate shavings, coconut, seeds, or nuts. Speaking of de-healthifying ... I was very taken with this sweet, as both the thick yogurt and the granola were top quality.
Everything about 7 Greens shows attention to detail designed to delight the customer, if I may use a corporate cliché. The jug of free ice water, for example, contains different fruits every day, such as cut lemons, limes, and cranberries. A very mixed downtown crowd — office workers and more casual types — is enjoying it hugely.