(Editor’s note: “Healthy Appetites” is a new monthly feature highlighting healthy local dining alternatives. Please send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Wipe that grease off your spoon, we’re going to the Fleetwood Diner.
Ostensibly, the retro-themed, Airstream-shaped diner on Cedar Street, just south of Mt. Hope Road, may look like a throwback to 1950s-era saturated fat-filled meals of yesteryear, but the menu has a nutritional bent one might not expect from its otherwise fried eggs and bacon demeanor.
Server Jeff Trost, who has been at Fleetwood since a month after it opened five years ago, says the unique menu was created in the small chain’s original Ann Arbor diner in the University of Michigan’s backyard. That foundation has traveled well 75 miles to the north and west. "We get a lot of college students," Trost said of the Lansing location. "We get a large vegetarian and vegan crowd because of the tempeh."
Tempeh, a flavorful patty of carefully fermented soybeans — like tofu with attitude — is packed with protein and various nutrients, making it a popular choice for meat abstainers.
"They really love it," Trost said. "They claim there aren’t a lot of places they can go to get tempeh."
Like sausage, ham or turkey, tempeh is versatile, making appearances in eggs, salads, and sandwiches — even Reubens.
If balanced nutrition is what you’re looking for, Fleetwood’s signature hippie hash ($3.99 for a side, $5.99 served with tempeh or sausage) should do. Jam packed with grilled vegetables — meaty chunks of tomato, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and broccoli florettes — the dish, served on shoestring potato hash, resembles a breakfast skillet sans the saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and eggs. While a topping of melty feta adds a jolt of cholesterol and fat, the cheese is protein-, calcium- and vitamin-rich.
A hippie breakfast ($4.99) includes hippie hash, eggs and toast, so when the decision is made for scrambled egg whites and whole wheat bread, you can’t say you didn’t try to eat well.
Fleetwood also has some killer romaine lettuce salads. The Greek ($3.00/$5.99), with a zesty oregano-based dressing on the side and tossed with olives, pepporcini, sliced tomatoes, feta, long slivers of crispy, white onion and glossy, marooncolored beets, tastes as good as it looks.
The spinach pie dinner ($5.99) with feta cheese provides excellent nutrition with fiber and an array of vitamins and nutrients from its leafy greens while mitigating calories with phyllo dough and cottage cheese.
For those who can’t resist the succulent allure of meat, but still want to keep it light, there is the mushroom chicken dinner ($7.59) with grilled chicken breast and Swiss cheese. Or the charbroiled chicken kabob ($7.59) with onion and green pepper served with pita bread.
With a growing awareness of obesity, heart disease and general wellness nationwide, you might wager that Fleetwood’s healthier menu items, like the tempeh dishes and hippie hash, are gaining popularity. "I’d have to say no, to be honest with you," Trost said. "People will say they are trying to order health conscious, but then they’ll order a salad and they use, like, a bowl of dressing on it, or they’ll order something on the lighter side, and then get a soda with it. So people are really fooling themselves sometimes. It’s almost comical in some respects."
Though, he did add, "We do have people that are conscious that do not order dressing with their salad or do not want their bread grilled with butter. They want things like the hash browns made without oil."
2211 S. Cedar St., Lansing. (517) 267- 7606. Open 24-hours Monday-Friday; closed from 1-4 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.