A steak dinner at Jordan's, an upscale restaurant in historic Ellicott City, is one of the healthiest meals you can eat in Howard County.
So is a turkey powerhouse sandwich from Joe's Deli in Columbia or a soy burger from David's Cafe in David's Natural Market in the Wilde Lake Village Center.
The three locally owned restaurants were among five named Healthy Restaurants as part of a Healthy Howard program started in April. The other two restaurants are the Chick-Fil-A at The Mall in Columbia and the Wendy's fast-food restaurant on Gorman Road in the Laurel area.
To qualify for the designation, restaurants needed to do well on three successive inspections; offer at least two menu items with fewer than 750 calories; less than 30 percent of the calories from fat; less than 10 percent from saturated fat; and less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
The restaurants also had to be smoke-free, in accordance with Howard County law, and had to cook without trans fats.
The county has 1,020 food establishments, said Lisa de Hernandez, public information officer for the Howard County Health Department.
Of those, about 115 made the first cut by doing well on three health inspections in a row, said Samantha O'Neil, the Healthy Howard coordinator.
To meet the inspection requirement, the establishments had to have no more than four noncritical violations and one critical violation over the course of three inspections, said O'Neil. A critical violation would be something like inadequate cooling of food, which could "cause a potential hazard," she said, and a noncritical violation might relate to trash removal in the restaurant or something else that doesn't directly relate to the food.
Fourteen restaurants then applied for the designation by sending in recipes, O'Neil said.
David Lynch, general manager at Jordan's, said he knew of several salads on his menu that would qualify, but that he wanted to submit a steak to prove that red meat can be part of a healthy diet.
"We thought, as a steakhouse, that if we could get one of our steaks to qualify, that would be terrific," he said.
Jordan's winning entree was 6 ounces of choice steak, which has less fat than prime, served with herbed jasmine rice and steamed asparagus. The second entree was steamed salmon with the same sides, he said.
Joe's Deli, which has been in Columbia for 12 years, submitted a turkey powerhouse sandwich on multigrain bread, served with honey-mustard spread, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, green peppers and alfalfa sprouts, said Joe Goldscher, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Tonya.
Goldscher noted that he works hard to keep his restaurant clean. "It's the little things that no one sees," he said, "but when the inspectors come through, they can tell." His other winning sandwich was a grilled chicken wrap.
The winning recipes have to be main-course items with a lean protein, vegetables or fruit, said de Hernandez. "You can't have a Twinkie and go, 'It's less than 750 calories,'" she said.
David's Cafe, which has been operating for about 25 years inside David's Natural Market, submitted a soy burger on a whole wheat bun and an additive-free oven-roasted turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread, said Barbara Wright, one of the cafe's chefs, along with Jeff Tsuruoka.
"We emphasize that there are no additives or chemicals in anything on our menu," she said.
At Wendy's, the winning entrees were the grilled chicken sandwich with mandarin oranges and the crispy chicken sandwich with mandarin oranges, said O'Neil.
Chick-Fil-A's healthy recipes were a char-grilled chicken sandwich with medium fruit cup and a char-grilled chicken garden salad with fat free honey mustard dressing and a large fruit cup, she said.
The county's first five healthy restaurants were announced yesterday at the Chick-Fil-A in the mall. The winners will be recognized in a Healthy Howard booklet that will be mailed out to residents and also will include healthy workplaces and individuals, said de Hernandez.
The restaurants were the first part of the Healthy Howard initiative, she said, adding that she was pleased that the results included a fancy restaurant, Jordan's, along with casual establishments.
"Even at the mall, you can get something that's healthy, that tastes good and is clean," she said.