Is there really such a thing as healthy food that tastes good? When I think of healthy food I come up with things like bean sprouts and tofu or broccoli and lima beans. Can you imagine things like macaroni and cheese, chili or chowder being healthy? At Little Lad’s Bakery, a vegetarian/vegan eatery on Exchange Street in Portland, it’s possible. Everything they serve is healthy and tasty.

“We serve the types of food we grew up with but healthier versions of it,” said Aron D’Aquila, a delivery boy for the bakery.

Little Lad’s, owned by Larry and Maria Flemming, does not use any animal products, refined sugars, harmful chemicals or preservatives in the food they serve, which is all made in their central bakery located in East Corinth, Maine. Their goal is to educate people about health and healthful eating.

“In this country health is deteriorating before our eyes,” said Manager Matt Blake. “It is downright dangerous eating mass produced foods,” he said.

So they don’t serve them. In fact, they don’t even use normal ingredients such as pepper and baking soda or powder due to health concerns about the harshness of pepper and the aluminum content in baking soda and powder. Other things they avoid putting in their food are cinnamon, caffeine and all fermented products such as vinegar and soy sauce. Instead they use vegetables, fruit, grain and nuts as alternatives.

Now that you know what’s not in their food, let’s talk about what they do serve and how it tastes. Little Lads offers an exceptional all-you-can-eat buffet for only $3.99. This includes salad, soup and entrees – a great deal.

I started off with the salad bar, which included much more than just salad. In a bed of ice was an array of salad side dishes such as tomatoes, cucumbers and tofu in oil and herbs, noodles, bread plus every imaginable dressing and spread. There were three types of fresh-baked breads to choose from: tomato-herb, onion-dill and whole wheat – all excellent.

After indulging twice, I made my way over to the soups where the choices were chunky vegetable and fisherman’s chowder. I tried both. The chunky vegetable, my favorite, consisted of a thick vegetable broth with tons of vegetables and chunks of what looked like meat but was really a substitute made of beans, corn and beets. The chunks gave the soup great flavor.

The fisherman’s chowder, also tasty, was made with all the fixings of fish chowder except the fish. Chunks of red and white potatoes, onions and chunks of tofu were engulfed in a spicy but slightly watery broth. It tasted like the chowder you might find at a Maine lobster shack.

Already feeling quite full, I managed to make my way to the entr?es. There, in a line of piping hot pans, were three different entr?es: macaroni and cheese, lentil loaf, and chili. Sides of rice, beets and nachos were also up for grabs. I chose to load my plate with the mac and cheese, my favorite meal as a kid, a portion of lentil loaf and some nachos.

I should probably mention that since I am not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, I was a bit skeptical about what these foods were going to taste like, especially when the lentil loaf looked more like a lump than a loaf. However, to my surprise, it tasted similar to meat loaf – spicy and good. The macaroni and cheese also had an authentic, cheesy taste, and a homemade flair.

Needless to say, I was very impressed and definitely satisfied. Almost too satisfied by the time I got to the beets and chili. The nachos were great though, with a cheese sauce for dipping.

As the lunch hour rolled around, Little Lad’s medium-sized dining room was packed with people of all ages. I saw businessmen and women coming to eat on their lunch break and students flocking to meet their friends.

I was really satisfied, so I went to pay. At Little Lad’s, if you eat their food and hate it, it’s on them. I certainly didn’t hate it and was happy to pay the more than reasonable price for my meal. To some of the people who eat at Little Lad’s, the satisfaction guarantee is a reason to keep coming back for more.

“Who’s ever heard of a restaurant where you don’t have to pay until you’re satisfied,” said A.J. Riseman of Portland, who visits Little Lad’s almost every day.

Riseman is not vegetarian or vegan but she likes the quality of the food and the price. The main reason she likes Little Lad’s, though, is the people.

“The people here are really nice,” she said.

Although the majority of customers are regulars, Blake says there is also a steady stream of newcomers stopping in to learn about the restaurant and its mission.

“Even if people learn a little about health and healthful eating we have made an impact,” Blake said.

By that standard, the impact Little Lad’s makes should be significant. There are currently three outlets in Maine located in Portland, Bangor and Lewiston as well as one in Sweden and 15 about to open in Egypt.

So, for a healthier meal, or as Little Lad’s says, a “happier meal,” try your favorite foods without all the “bad” stuff. The price is right. It’s fast. It’s healthy. What more can you ask for?

1 COMMENT

  1. Little Lad’s use to have a wonderful little restaurant in Bangor, similar to the Portland one. Unfortunately it must have been there before their time, because now it’s closed. Little lad has been slowly spreading their packaged snacks through local retailers and gaining notoriety. I hope someday they return a restaurant to Bangor, we absolutely miss them.

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