It only took about 2 million years, but the caveman’s diet is making a comeback.
The paleo diet, as it’s known, emphasizes the foods humans ate in the Paleolithic era, such as fish, nuts, eggs, veggies, and grass-fed beef; eliminates grains; and limits dairy. Professed health benefits of the paleo regimen include weight loss, eased digestion, and reduced inflammation.
As the movement gains momentum, restaurants that cater to the paleo lifestyle have come in vogue. But they are challenged by those who don’t comprehend the paleo regimen, consider it a caricature of a caveman, or are hesitant to patronize a diet-specific restaurant.
“It can still be controversial or misunderstood by an awful lot of people,” says Richard Satnick, the owner of the paleo-centric Dick’s Kitchen in Portland, Oregon, who has a background in paleoanthropology. “The broader idea is that you’re serving healthful food for all. We like to say paleo-friendly, because that lets people know they can negotiate our menu without having to struggle, and that’s one of the main attractions of our establishment.”
Jessica Emich, chef and co-owner of paleo restaurant Shine in Boulder, Colorado, says she similarly promotes her dishes as nutritionally inspired comfort food. “To me, that means it still tastes good and it feels good for the soul and body,” she says. “Everything on our menu has to do with clean diets; they are easy-to-digest things that are going to promote health.”
In true paleo form, Shine soaks or sprouts grains and beans before serving them, sources local meats and grass-fed beef, and cooks with paleo-friendly butters and oils. It rotates its seasonal menus four times a year to include dishes such as Colorado Lamb Reuben Salad and Beet Hummus.
For Satnick, the decision to open a paleo restaurant stemmed from his own health issues. When he learned that grass-fed beef was acceptable for his health, the experienced restaurateur had an idea to open Dick’s Kitchen, styled like a New York diner but with a menu approachable for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free or paleo diners, as well as meat eaters.
The array of dishes, from a beef slider to a barbecue tempeh burger, does make it tough to market the eatery, Satnick admits. “That is the challenge: How do you present the information? You appear to be lecturing people,” he says.
His solution is for the menu to have mentions of paleo and dietary substitutions, but nothing that forces diners to engage with it. And diners appreciate the efforts. Comment cards at Dick’s often read: “Thank you for making it possible for us to navigate eating out with someone with such a different diet.”