Cafeteria Food Gets Awesome at Green Leaf Grill

24 Jan
A chef tosses a customer's salad to order at Green Leaf Grill.

A chef tosses a customer’s salad to order at Green Leaf Grill.

I don’t do a lot of restaurant reviews, but I had to share an experience from last week. In short, there’s a fairly new cafeteria, or fast-casual, or some kinda restaurant in the Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield building on 7th and Gaines in Little Rock, and it’s pretty amazing.

I was there for a meeting with Chef Jason Knapp about an unrelated business project. If his name sounds familiar, it should; Knapp’s lofty résumé hails from the Governor’s Mansion to the culinary school and Big Rock Bistro at Pulaski Technical College, then Executive Chef of Aramark’s dining program at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

A chef slices tomatoes for the grill station.

A chef slices tomatoes for the grill station.

It was likely at his last two appointments that Knapp got a good sense of what cafeterias need: fast, quality food that can serve a mass of hungry folks when they all show up at the same time. (Note: Much of his work at UCA involved cooking for special functions and executive meetings, giving him the best of both worlds of this type of foodservice experience.) At his new venture in the BCBS building, managed by Compass Group USA, he was given the opportunity to take cafeteria-style efficiency a step further and implement his passions for fresh, scratch-made food, using local ingredients as much as possible.

The spacious serving area has several large sections, including grill, deli, pizza, soups, entrees and a tossed-to-order salad bar. Just walking around looking at each station, one thing became immediately apparent: None of this stuff came from a box. There’s a swarm of young chefs buzzing around each station and in the open-to-view back kitchen, and each one of them has a hand in creating real food. Each freshly prepared item is pleasantly offered in French-style blue enameled cast iron, offering a bistro-meets-home feel.

Fresh vegetable selections in the entree area.

Fresh vegetable selections in the entree area.

I asked the chef what I could eat, having to be gluten-free and all. Usually, in a cafeteria-style operation, I would get glazed looks because they often don’t even know what’s in the food. Knapp immediately rattled off at least three entrees that were safe. He knew every single ingredient because he planned them himself, on a menu that changes daily.

The Shepherd’s Pie was calling my name, with its billowing, toasted peaks of mashed potatoes over fresh vegetables and tender, flavorful ground beef. The sides, however, were the show-stealer. I chose the beet salad with feta cheese and the roasted broccoli, both healthy and beautiful enough to not look it. My meal, with a drink (I chose the cucumber-infused water), came to about eight bucks. Not bad.

That seems to be the idea at Green Leaf, healthy food that you’d crave even if it wasn’t. I ran into a friend who works at Blue Cross, and she said the company was moving in the direction of promoting health in all areas for their own employees, and the restaurant was just one part of that equation.

Luckily, it’s open to the public, too. Check it out (weekly menu here) and you won’t think of cafeteria food the same way again.

***********

Green Leaf Grill
601 S. Gaines St. (7th and Gaines, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield building)
Little Rock
Breakfast grill hours 7:30 – 9:30 a.m.
Lunch 10:45 a.m. – 2 p.m.

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7 Responses to “Cafeteria Food Gets Awesome at Green Leaf Grill”

  1. Sharon Arab January 24, 2014 at 4:18 PM #

    Follow the links to the menu…it sounds wonderful.  Sharon Norris Arab

     Live honestly, Love generously, Care deeply, Speak kindly & Leave the rest to God.       

    ________________________________

    • Christie Ison January 24, 2014 at 6:16 PM #

      I didn’t directly link to the menu because it looks like the address changes every week, so next week it would be a dead link. Thanks for pointing that out so people will click through!

  2. LifeAsAConvert January 24, 2014 at 5:07 PM #

    I like the healthy options they appear to have. It seems most cafeterias involve quick food to feed a lot of people, but not always so healthy.

    • Christie Ison January 24, 2014 at 6:15 PM #

      Exactly! That’s why I was so impressed. Everything there was healthy looking!

  3. Drew March 22, 2014 at 4:31 PM #

    I liked the atmosphere but the food was terrible. The eggplant tasted like shoe soles and the asparagus was like #2 pencils that had been run over by a car and then boiled. I could barely swallow it. The two people I dined with got sick after lunch. Good intentions but bad experience. I’ll not be back.

    • Christie Ison March 24, 2014 at 12:05 PM #

      So sorry to hear that, Drew! First bad review I’ve heard. Let them know (gently!) so they can correct what went wrong.

      • Drew March 24, 2014 at 12:58 PM #

        I was sorry to give a bad review. As a vegan, I can appreciate what they are attempting. I will give it another try, much to my chagrin, and hopefully will have a better experience.

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