Those of us on the food beat — or anybody who’s deeply involved with food and its attendant issues — knows only too well the conflicted relationship Americans have with their vittles: We really, really want to be nice, but sometimes, maybe frequently, we’d much rather be naughty.
This is borne out in the valley every few years when another would-be entrepreneur opens a restaurant with a healthy focus only to see it shrivel like so many organic salads, while all around him grease merchants thrive amid a continual lament about how fat and unhealthy we all are.
Enter SkinnyFats into the fray. I think SkinnyFats may actually have a chance of survival (and the recent opening of a second location affirms that suspicion) largely because it’s different, managing to deftly bridge the healthy/heifer gap. The menu, you see, is divided into two sections: healthy and happy (a slightly negative spin on the healthy, no?), in breakfast selections and “everything else.”
We decided to take a little from both halves to see where it got us, and I’m here to report that both happy and healthy have the same careful formulation and execution, the same attention to detail. If I didn’t know something about nutrition and also which side of the menu we’d ordered each dish from, I well might have had them confused.
For example, the Flat Chix &Greens ($10), the slightly misogynistic tone of the name notwithstanding. This was, as you might imagine, fillets of chicken breast, topped with a sort of salad of arugula, capers and vegetables and tossed with a balsamic reduction. It was from the healthy side of the menu, but there was no sense of it being dry, underseasoned or any of those other negatives that so often are the price of healthful food.
And so it was with the Slaw Chee (included as a side with our sandwich, or $2.50 separately), apparently meant to be a cross between coleslaw and kimchi and actually pulling it off, with lots of crunch, lots of flavor sparks and a bit of fire. It was so good but the serving so large that I was forced to put it aside for fear of not being able to eat my sandwich.
Which probably would have been a good thing, really, considering that said sandwich came from the happy side of the menu and was the Meltdown ($12), which truly earned its name. This one was two quarter-pound burger patties with caramelized onions, tomato and Provolone and cheddar cheeses, served on, instead of a bun, well-toasted sourdough spread lightly with aioli, which provided an extremely appealing crunch in contrast to the other ingredients. Served medium-rare as ordered, it was juicy and drippy and a complete mess, and I loved it while feeling guilty as hell eating it.
And, oh, dear: Happymess ($10), which also earned its name. I mostly let my skinny tablemate handle this one, because it was truffle fries topped with shaved New York strip, blue cheese and salsa. Yes, it was a mess — but yes, a happy one — the only shortcoming being that the truffle was all but impossible to detect with everything else going on; next time I’d be interested in trying the truffle fries au natural.
Service throughout was friendly and efficient. SkinnyFats is a counter-service place, but they bring the food to the table on regular dishes and with regular flatware (as opposed to disposable), all of which is a plus — including the counter-service part, which keeps costs and therefore prices down. (Oh, and speaking of that: Cucumber-lemon water, subtly flavored, is free, and a great accompaniment to the food.)
We also liked the rustic-cum-industrial decor with surprise accents like an oversized gingerbread-man cookie-cutter on the wall, our only quibble being the outdoor sign is extremely difficult to spot at night.
So I’ll tell you that the SkinnyFats location we went to (there’s another, at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive) is on Dean Martin, between the Hustler strip club and the Houdini magic place. Because, eclectic neighbors notwithstanding, SkinnyFats is worth seeking out, whether you want to be skinny or fat.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.