Green is Good and we’re the lucky ones here in Orange County because Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop owner Jonathan Rollo and Executive Chef Kristi Ritchey recognized the potential for success of their healthy, eco-friendly, organic concept restaurant and decided to go BIG in the OC with a broader vision that includes indoor and outdoor patio seating, wine bar, an on-site chef’s garden, and a marketplace offering their signature Grab n’Go food items, bottled dressing, fresh baked goods, fresh squeezed juices, bottled specialty sauces and mustards, wine by the bottle, and plenty of cute garden and culinary gifts that urge you to browse.
With two well known locations in Los Angeles (Beverly Hills and Century City) Greenleaf’s reputation precedes itself: named one of the best new restaurants by Los Angeles magazine in 2009, accolades from USA Today, “Greenleaf has launched a healthy revolution”, and the LA Times,”Where healthy does not equal boring”, among others. Yet they opened with little fanfare at the end of April, 2012 in a 4,200 square foot location in Costa Mesa. Rollo searched long and hard for the perfect location and, as if following some sort of master plan, they are among the other hip eateries and pubs that are contributing to the the renaissance on 17th Street where the cool factor has taken hold and transformed what was once only a mundane avenue of non-descript strip malls punctuated by too many traffic signals.
Having met girlfriends for lunch at Greenleaf on several occasions, I was already a fan when invited to a small group private tasting by Wagstaff Worldwide to hear the story behind Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop and experience their varied menu items. Described as “modern farm stand”, Greenleaf’s focus on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and sustainability is also reflected in the environmentally conscious construction (bamboo tables and chairs from sustainable and renewable sources, zero VOC paint, vent-less hood system that reduces carbon emissions), design elements of reclaimed and recycled materials, and green energy initiatives to create an eco-friendly environment throughout.
The atmosphere is vibrant with an upbeat soundtrack of contemporary music, friendly and helpful staff, efficient kitchen, and populated by an interesting cross-section of guests: surfers, hipsters, 9-to-5ers, ladies who lunch, young and mature, girls and guys – lots of guys, in fact. On a sunny SoCal day, the space is flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows. Greenleaf is bustling at lunch, but there is plenty of seating available inside at separate tables or the long communal farm table and outside on the covered patio. Place your order at the counter, don your shades and plant yourself in a sunny spot – a smiling server will deliver to your table in 15 minutes or so.
This was my first evening visit to Greenleaf and I was able to park right in front (versus the valet parking in the adjacent lot during peak lunch hours). Our group was seated at the communal table with a group of ladies at the opposite end and nearly every table inside occupied at 7:00 p.m. We started with two of their seasonal “cocktails”: Holiday Sangria made with chopped apples, oranges, cranberries, pomegranate, cinnamon sticks, agave, apple cider and organic Italian red wine Milo Rosso and Apple Cider with Soju adorned with crispy green apple chunks. Soju is a distilled beverage native to Korea with a taste similar to vodka, but with less alcohol content, and can be served by restaurants with a beer and wine license. Both drinks were refreshing with wonderful seasonal flavors and the abundant fruit adds a delightful healthy touch 🙂 There are also six beers on tap and four wines to select from.
We tasted a trio of their most popular sides: the quinoa salad, yams, walnuts & goat cheese, and green lentils. The natural sweetness of the yams with creamy goat cheese and the crunchy walnuts had a nice balance of flavor and texture. Not much of a lentil fan, I liked that the earthy taste of the green lentils were brightened by the addition of cider vinegar. There are 14 sides, including truffled potato salad, fruit salad, baked sweet potato fries, hummus with pita chips, and tuscan kale salad and they are all $4.00 each. Solidly committed to locally grown, organic produce, you know Greenleaf is a sure bet in the salad department. You won’t be disappointed with any salad that you order from among the 12 Specialty Salads, $8.50 – $12.95 (Grilled Steak Salad), and if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, they have the Build Your Own Salad for $7.95.
The Lemongrass Chicken: Scarborough Farms baby mixed greens, grilled citrus chicken, mango, grilled pineapple, jicama, toasted coconut, cashews, thai chili and thai basil with lemongrass lychee vinaigrette; has vibrant fusion flavors and the acidity of lemongrass and tropical fruits plays well with the chicken, coconut, and crunchy cashews. Plus, it satisfies that cashew chicken craving I get in a super healthy way!
The most popular salad is The Antioxidant Orchard: Scarborough Farms baby mixed greens, grapes, celery, walnuts, dried cranberries, apples, blue cheese, mint, red onion, cucumbers, strawberries, and blueberries with pomegranate whole grain mustard vinaigrette. I have ordered this salad before and will be ordering it again – loaded with free-radical busting berries and crunchy walnuts and apples and lightly dressed – just the way I prefer my salads (although I always ask for light dressing, just to be safe).
The Kitchen Sink Cobb: iceberg and romaine lettuce, tomatoes, egg whites, avocado, carrots, garbanzos, bacon, turkey, basil, blue cheese with red wine vinaigrette. Easy on the eggs, blue cheese and bacon (turkey bacon can be substituted) this is a lovely lighter version of a traditional Cobb.
Next up: a sampling of Greenleaf’s most popular sandwiches. One look will tell you which one is the winner! Who can resist pretzel bread, especially when it looks like this?
Turkey Melt on Pretzel Bread | toasted melted goodness
Grilled Chicken Panini with Avocado Pesto | flavorful three-napkin delight
We couldn’t call it a night before trying a bite or two of Greenleaf’s Thin-Crust Pizzas and at least one dessert. The textures and flavor combinations are what you would expect from a gourmet pizzeria and for those folks concerned about carbs, Greenleaf’s nearly-cracker thin crust pizzas fit the bill. ($8.95-$9.95)
Spicy Turkey Sausage and Fennel
Wild Mushroom and Truffle
Carrot Cake – very moist with cream cheese frosting and candied pecans, fantastic!
Chef Ritchey brings an impressive culinary background to Greenleaf and, after joining forces with Rollo in 2008 to open the first Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in Beverly Hills, she is also a “Biggest Loser” celebrity and testament to the importance of an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits. She lost over 100 pounds in the course of year by maintaining a regular exercise regimen and changing her diet. Greenleaf allows her to unleash her creativity in the kitchen and inspire others in the process. So be inspired…healthy food does not have to be boring, in fact, it can be darn right hip, not “hippie”.
Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop – Costa Mesa
234 E. 17th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Open Daily 8am – 9pm