200 W Island Avenue, Downtown San Diego
I started out as a picky eater, one of those kids who plucks the olives off his pizza, or fishes the onions out of his goulash. I suppose I'm still fussy, though my pickiness has evolved to the point I no longer avoid vegetables but instead complain when, say, my chile relleno hasn't been made from scratch. Today, I'm a picky eater in 500-word blocks.
I can still commiserate with kids who might be afraid of anything on their plate that isn't macaroni shaped, or couldn't be successfully paired with a chocolate milkshake. This may be why I became fascinated with the idea behind Green Bellies Café, the little cafeteria-counter restaurant tucked in the southwest corner of the New Children's Museum.
Something else might have attracted me to the place. The interactive art museum commissions exhibits focusing on a specific educational theme — the current theme happens to go by the name Feast! Okay, the exclamation point is mine, but Feast, "the art of playing with your food," focuses on nutrition and sustainability, which jibes nicely with the Green Bellies ethos, as well as my work.
The goal of the café is to create kid-friendly meals and snacks from all natural foods, free of processed ingredients or "harmful additives." On the menu, this results in such items as a Hot Diggity Dog, Groovy Grilled Cheese, and Nuttacular All Natural PB&J.
I wanted to test the restaurant's assertion that it flavors its food with "herbs and spice, not just salt," so I chose a couple items that could easily get away with saltiness alone: Qrazy Quinoa Poppers and Mighty Meatballs.
For 6 dollars, you get a small order consisting of two Mighty Meatballs: gluten-free chicken meatballs served over rice with melted mozzarella and "Grandma's tomato basil sauce." For nine bucks you get a large, and you may also choose sugar-free teriyaki over tomato sauce.
As an adult, I would not go for the meatballs again. For one, a little salt might have helped. The chicken was a little bland, and the tomato basil helped, though not too much. On the plus side, no weird veggies to pick out, and enough cheesiness to put the kibosh on any fussy kid complaining.
The Qrazy Quinoa Poppers were a little more interesting — kind of like little corn breads or polenta cakes, with what tasted like romano cheese baked into them. Again, these were not suited for my demanding adult palate, but I have to suppose these would provide a hassle-free way to introduce a picky kid to quinoa, a nutritious grain whose most egregious crime is not being pronounced the way it's spelled.
Admittedly, I don't take a lot of kids to lunch — they're notoriously unreliable at splitting the check. But if charged with feeding a couple youngsters who haven't yet truly discovered the joys of eating, I might drop them off at Green Bellies while I go grab some sushi.