Healthy appetites

By Joe Torok

Clara’s Lansing Station

(“Healthy Appetites” is an occasional feature highlighting healthy local dining alternatives. Send your suggestions to

When your focus is on trying not to have a heart attack before age 45, you work pretty hard at making wise decisions when dining out. So when perusing Clara’s 16-page menu, the conscientious diner might get a little overwhelmed by all of the succulent, live-today, diet-tomorrow choices.

The longtime Lansing restaurant, situated by the railroad tracks on Michigan Avenue, between Cedar Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, does try to make things a little easier for those of us constantly fretting over our waistlines. But coowner Cindy Jubek said while Clara’s tries to make sure there’s something for everyone on the menu, it isn’t about to chase the latest fad diets.

“You can’t even try to stay with the trends, because they fluctuate so much," Jubek said, listing a few diets she has encountered in recent years of the top of her head, such as Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, the Zone and so on.

One advantage of maintaining a menu of biblical proportions is that when trends do change, or when folks want to make special requests due to food allergies or other dietary restrictions, there’s plenty of product in the proverbial pantry to meet guests’ needs.

"Theres nobody out there with the vast different selections we have," Jubek said. "Even with the selection we have, people try different combinations."

And taking control when ordering is perhaps one of the best ways to eat healthy, at Claras or anywhere else. Salads can be wonderfully healthy, before they are slathered in calorie- and fat-rich dressing. Portion size is often controllable, too.

At Claras, the menu is stocked with salads, seafood dishes and other options that fit nicely into a well-balanced diet. But the menu also stars certain dishes well with some diet plans, particularly for those looking to keep their carb intake to a minimum.

The health club sandwich ($6.99) is noted on the menu for its friendliness to the low-carb crowd. A traditional club, featuring turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato with a thin smear of light mayonnaise on reduced-carb, multigrain bread, the sandwich features most of the flavors of a full-on club sandwich. Served with a bowl of fresh fruit, including honeydew, cantaloupe, grapes and pineapple that is actually juicy, the meal is filling, pretty well balanced and tasty. (Its hard to ever go wrong with bacon.)

Another menu item calling out to health-conscious eaters is the chicken walnut salad ($7.99). A mixture of chicken, halved grapes, red onion, celery and walnuts is fused with fat-free sour cream and reduced calorie mayonnaise. That cold salad is served on a bed of fresh romaine lettuce. The poached chicken is well seasoned, providing a peppery bite to each mouthful of light, refreshing salad. The same ingredients are also offered as a toasted sandwich, served with fruit salad.

The portobello sandwich ($8.29), featuring a large portobello cap with onions and roasted red peppers, lets diners avoid red meat burgers with a filling alternative. The vegetarian sandwich ($7.99) does come with three cheeses, but the medley of vegetables — cucumber, lettuce, mushrooms, red onion and tomato — between slices of grilled rosemary sourdough bread give it some nutritional punch.

A side available with many entrees, the “faux-tatoes” are a smart choice for eating a little better; cooked cauliflower is mashed and mixed with a bit of lowfat dairy. "They taste so good, essentially without some of the carbohydrate badness of mashed potatoes,” Jubek said.

With a menu the size of Claras it shouldnt be exceedingly difficult to eat wisely, even when your eyes catch something your conscience tries to pull you away from. So if that chicken Santa Fe salad is calling your name, you really don’t have to get it with the fried tortilla strips. And the dressing can be fat free and served on the side. Smart ordering is what its all about. Will power plays a part, too, but the vast options at Claras makes it a bit easier to find a balance between taste and health. "Because we have such a large selection, you can do different things,” Jubek said.

Claras Lansing Station, 637 E. Michigan Ave, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday- Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday & Saturday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday, (517) 372-7120.