Monica Alvarado’s Eastport restaurant, Bread and Butter Kitchen, serves all sorts of classic breakfast and lunch fare, from biscuits and gravy to burgers. But one of the most popular items on the menu is a quinoa bowl topped with grilled vegetables and tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.
In the five years since Bread and Butter Kitchen opened its doors, the cafe has developed a following among Anne Arundel County residents searching for healthier options. These days, Alvarado sells as many vegan cheesesteaks as chicken cheesesteaks.
“A lot of our customers aren’t necessarily vegan, but they’re starting to lean toward more plant-forward dishes, whether because of climate change or health reasons, or because they want to try something new,” she said.
Whatever the motivation, a growing number of Anne Arundel diners are seeking out healthier meals as well as food that meets certain dietary restrictions, from gluten-free to nut-free to keto and paleo — and some local restaurants are rising to the occasion with menu items to match.
We took a look at some of the area’s best bets for health-focused dining:
Alvarado turned to cooking in 2016 after leaving behind a corporate job that was making her miserable.
“It took me a long time to realize I was chasing stuff and titles, and not really happiness,” she recalls.
Between jobs, she began to buy local goods from the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market and used them to cook wholesome meals for her family.
“I recalibrated, and fell back in love with cooking,” she says.
The restaurant grew out of a subscription meal service that Alvarado started for others who were interested in eating scratch-made meals, as well. Customers sent in pre-orders and picked up food on a weekly basis.
Bread and Butter Kitchen opened in 2017 after she seized on an opportunity to take over a small cafe space on Second Street, near the water. Locally sourced ingredients were an emphasis for the restaurant from the start, though the menu was initially light on vegan and gluten-free options.
“That’s a response to the customers,” she says. Based on requests, she expanded the cafe’s vegan offerings to span more than grilled veggie wraps and plant-based burgers. Vegans and the vegan-curious can try breakfast sandwiches with a vegan egg substitute and house-made mushroom bacon, honey chipotle quinoa bowls that get a boost from PlantFare protein and chicken nuggets made from lion’s mane mushrooms that mimic the consistency of a chicken nugget that contains real meat.
“Everyone has a Beyond Burger but we try to have as many options as possible,” Alvarado says.
She’s looking to add even more to the menu. A falafel wrap, once a popular special, will become a permanent part of the menu, and Alvarado plans to offer more breakfast options, too, like breakfast salads featuring quinoa, berries and overnight oats.
“I’ve seen more people come in and ask for vegan options,” she said, “and we’re happy to oblige.”
303 Second St., Annapolis
Ryan Groll also landed in the healthy food business after some career turmoil.
Groll, an Anne Arundel County native with a master’s degree in nutrition, quit his job and moved to the Eastern Shore a decade ago to help get a new gym business off the ground. But not long after uprooting his and his family’s lives, he was laid off.
To make ends meet, Groll started cooking organic, locally sourced food for a friend and delivering it to his office. “He took to it so quickly that everyday I was cooking more and more food,” Groll said. Soon, word of mouth helped his private chef service land a dozen clients.
“It was like cooking Thanksgiving every single day,” he said. “I thought: I’ve got to squash this or make it into a business.”
In need of a commercial kitchen to meet local health regulations, Groll sold his car and bought a food truck where he could prepare the burgeoning orders for the business, which he named Sprout. Two years later, he and wife Emily Groll opened Sprout’s first brick-and-mortar, in Easton. Another store followed in St. Michaels in 2019, and a third, in Annapolis, opened this summer.
At Sprout, the Grolls sell prepared meals as well as goods like bread, granola, bottled drinks, hummus, local wildflower honey and house-made peanut butter. A cafe at the market serves up açai bowls, breakfast scrambles and coffee.
The store sources ingredients from local farms and packages meals in compostable boxes. Menus change every month. Some customers come from Baltimore and beyond to stock up on the goods.
The couple has made it a point to offer food that fits a variety of diets. Much of the menu is labeled vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free — and sometimes all three.
Vegans can dig into tofu bowls, hummus wraps and barbecued jackfruit, while those with allergies or intolerance to milk can enjoy a pumpkin oat bowl, Thai chicken crunch wrap or Italian wedding soup. For the gluten-free, there are quinoa egg muffins, drunken beef and rice noodles and a kale power salad. In the bakery, a rustic, sourdough-like loaf of bread without gluten routinely flies off the shelves.
Though many of Sprout’s menu options are plant-based, the market does serve locally and ethically-sourced meat, as well.
“Everybody has their systems of what they like to eat, what they enjoy, and we try to accommodate everybody,” Ryan Groll says.
150 Jennifer Road, Annapolis
Diners might know The Blackwall Barn & Lodge for crab cakes, strip steak and shrimp and grits, but it turns out the Gambrills restaurant has a substantial vegan and gluten-free menu, too.
The restaurant serves cauliflower crust pizzas, beet tartare (not to be confused with the beef variety) and hummus boards, as well as heartier entrees like roasted vegetable curry, mushroom tacos and a “Farmer Market Pasta” with fresh vegetables and a lemon garlic wine sauce.
James King, the CEO of Titan Hospitality Group, which owns The Blackwall Barn & Lodge, says all of his restaurant concepts make it a point to feature “healthy living menus.” The hospitality group also operates Smashing Grapes, a wine bar and restaurant, and locations of Blackwall Hitch in Annapolis and Alexandria, Virginia.
So far, vegan and gluten-free orders account for less than 5% of Titan’s menu sales, but the number is growing, King says.
“Every night, we’re sending at least a dozen dishes that are vegan or gluten-free out of our kitchen,” he said. “We just recognized that it was a trend that was starting, and probably going to grow.”
Accommodating dietary needs can be a driver for business, according to King, who says he recently booked a business event at The Blackwall Barn & Lodge after a CEO called to inquire whether the restaurant had any gluten-free options.
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When the CEO learned about the gluten-free menu, “he was so ecstatic and excited,” King said, “because usually he has to call four or five different places.”
He said cooks at Titan restaurants are trained to meet all requests that are possible, dietary or otherwise.
“We pride ourselves in doing what the guest wants,” King says. “I think a lot of people on dietary restrictions are used to going out and there’s maybe one or two options that fall into that category.”
“We want to be the place that caters to those people and actually gives them variety instead of being stuck with that one salad that everyone does.”
The Blackwall Barn & Lodge, 329 Gambrills Road, Gambrills
Carrol’s Creek Cafe. This Annapolis fine dining spot touts a 100% tree nut- and peanut-free kitchen, as certified by MenuTrinfo, an auditor for food service and processing facilities. The restaurant went through a months-long planning, training and inspection process to ensure all its dishes are nut-free, and — to be extra safe — it bars customers from bringing in outside food like cakes. 410 Severn Ave., Annapolis
True Food Kitchen. The Oprah Winfrey-backed restaurant chain serves a menu that changes with the seasons and pledges to meet any dietary needs, including keto and paleo restrictions. Dishes are labeled gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian to help diners decide what to eat. 1906 Towne Centre Blvd., Annapolis.