Lake Norman Magazine

Dining Out: Birkdale Bites

T1 Tapas: Two skewers of jerk-marinated chicken thigh and sweet potatoes, a bowl of butternut squash oup and a Caesar or Roasted Beet Salad of beet slices and arugula.
T1 Tapas: Two skewers of jerk-marinated chicken thigh and sweet potatoes, a bowl of butternut squash oup and a Caesar or Roasted Beet Salad of beet slices and arugula. Melissa Sue Gerritts

It’s no problem to find something to eat when you’re shopping. At least, it’s no problem if what you want to eat is ice cream, giant cookies, burgers, nachos and sticky lumps of fast-food Chinese.

Maybe it takes a village to improve your shopping-nosh experience – Birkdale Village.The shopping and residential complex in Huntersville has lots of familiar mall fare (read: ice cream, giant cookies, burgers, nachos, sticky Chinese). But it has more interesting lunch options, too.

We made a few excursions recently in search of midday fare with healthful flair. After all, there’s nothing like a spin in front of the merciless dressing-room mirrors to send you grabbing for a meal that doesn’t involve a clown.

You’ll have to do a little thinking, though. Even restaurants that tout light and healthful often don’t include nutrition information on their menus. Although some states, notably New York, now require it, it hasn’t spread to the rest of us.

You have to use your common sense to pick something that packs the most nutrition. You know the drill: Avoid menu words like “creamy,” “cheese” or anything that really means fried (crisp-tender, flash-fried or bacon-wrapped). Look for words like roasted or broiled, and sides or salads of dark-colored vegetables that pack more beta-carotene.

Example: Zoe’s Kitchen, the Meditarranean-inspired, California-colored restaurant that just opened in Birkdale on Cranlyn. Little hearts designate a number of items on the menu, but there is no fine print to explain what that means. That’s because there is no standard definition for the hearts, according to Zoe’s corporate office in Alabama. They’re used on items that the company wants to suggest have less fat and fewer calories.

The company is making up new menus, though, and plans to debut gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian listings this month.

There are good options already, though. We asked a server at the counter to make a healthful pick and she shared a good tip: Get a salad and don’t shake up the bottle of Greek dressing at your table. Turn it upside down so the herb-flavored vinegar comes out first, cutting down on the amount of oil. (It’s messy, but it works.)

The lean-turkey pita ($6.99) is a great healthful lunch. It’s packed with marinated slaw that isn’t mayo-based, along with crumbled feta and slices of turkey. For a side, consider fruit, roasted vegetables (ask them to hold the extra oil) or the braised white beans, which are made with vegetable broth so they’re vegan-friendly. We can never resist the puckery limeade ($1.75), but don’t be fooled by the cane sugar sweetener – sugar is still sugar. Consider it dessert.

Across the green is Eez Fusion Sushi, a restaurant so cool they pipe Japanese language lessons into the restrooms. The fusion name means there are a number of Asian cuisines represented, including Chinese standards, Thai curries, stir-fries and noodles. Those also can be landmines of sweet, crisp and creamy.

If you want to keep it light and healthful, go with sushi. The lunch menu includes a House Roll Combo ($10) that brings an 8-piece roll of fish and rice, and a choice of miso or wonton soup, side salad or seaweed salad. The wonton soup is packed with thick slices of mushrooms and shreds of bok choy, along with two large ground-pork dumplings.

Our favorite Birkdale pick for a hip lunch that doesn’t broaden our hips is T1 Tapas. The Lunch Trio ($10) comes with two skewers of jerk-marinated chicken thigh and sweet potatoes, a bowl of butternut squash soup and a Caesar or Roasted Beet Salad of beet slices and arugula. The chicken is dark meat, but it’s skinless and it’s free-farmed. The whole plate tastes rich and indulgent, but it’s a balanced meal with plenty of vegetables.

The best part, though, is the electronic menus. Set into the tables, they have menu information that let you send your choices to the kitchen. But they also include games, YouTube links and movie previews that play on a flat screen monitor next to your table.

After you tap in your order, you can call up everything from music videos to party pictures. You’ll get so busy, you may forget to eat. How’s that for an easy way to keep off the calories?

Want to go?Where: Zoe’s Kitchen Address: 16735 Cranlyn Road, Suite DContact: 704-655-2636. Check: Salads: $3.25 to $9.55. Sandwiches with one side: $6.99. Stacks (large sandwiches with one side): $7.35. Hot entrees: $7.25-$10.75. Kids’ menu: $2.95-$4.35.

Where: Eez Fusion SushiAddress: 16925 Birkdale Commons Parkway Contact: 704-892-4242, Check: Lunch: Sandwiches $10-$12; wok dishes $10 to $13; noodle dishes $10 to $14; sushi combos $10-$13.

Where: T1 TapasAddress: 8625 Lindholm Dr. Contact: 704-895-4373, Check: Lunch menu: $9 to $10. Tapas: $4 - $12. Soups and salads: $5-$6.