LENT just got a little easier…and a lot tastier
by Andrew Alonzo
It’s no secret the liturgical season of Lent can be difficult at times, especially when you still can’t have that one special thing you gave up for the 40-day season.
Though not all parishioners give up the same items, one universal rule followed by Catholics is meat is abstained from on Fridays.
Growing up, Fridays during Lent meant McDonald’s $2 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches after school and a happy car ride home. While yes, those fried cod filets were convenient and tasty, they left me feeling lethargic soon after.
Over the years, the weekly trips became less and less frequent as my family became more health conscious and sought out better alternatives.
Lent does not have to consist solely of fast-food fish sandwiches to get by. Numerous choices line every corner on Indian Hill Boulevard in Claremont so for residents, deciding where to eat on a Lenten Friday can be a quite difficult (or easy) decision to make.
However, two restaurants stand out with their healthy, affordable food and for their Lenten friendly menus: The Poke Co. and The Spot Cafe.
The Poke Co.
There’s no easier way to get through ‘No-Meat Fridays’ than with a great tasting piece of fish. And at The Poke Co. in Claremont, not only has it been their specialty since March 2018, they serve traditional Asian cuisine all created by you.
“It’s kind of like a new way people like to eat food,” co-founder and co-owner Leanne Le explained. “I think poke revolutionized the way people eat sushi,” comparing poke to how Chipotle “revolutionized the way people eat Mexican food.”
For those not familiar with poke, it is just “sushi deconstructed,” Mrs. Le explained. And also cheaper and more filling than its rice-rolled cousin. Though their menu seems limited at first glance, it really isn’t. The endless combinations of flavor, the freshness and build-your-own bowl style makes this place a great Lenten option.
The Poke Co. offers six different types of fish including shrimp, tuna, albacore and even spicy salmon. There is also a tofu option for vegans and vegetarians.
The Claremont restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall, with a small waiting and ordering area which feels like a cafeteria line. However, their kitchen is where all the magic happens. Keeping up their high standards and freshness, Mrs. Le said she and the employees prep all their sauces, dice the fish and chop all the vegetables every morning, every day.
“We truly take pride in what we serve. I always tell my employees ‘If you’re not going to eat it, don’t serve it,’” Mrs. Le explained. “But everybody leaves happy.”
If The Poke Co. sounds familiar, they are the same business which has four sister locations called The Poke Co. and Wings where they serve both Poke and wings.
Though two of their poke locations are temporarily closed due to the pandemic, their Claremont restaurant is open and taking orders both online and in-person. The Poke Co. in Claremont is located off of Indian Hill Boulevard and West Bonita Avenue, adjacent to Dr. Grubbs.
They also have their own app through which customers can order ahead and skip the line. Customers can also find them on delivery apps such as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Postmates.
The Spot Cafe
“I always tell people that our restaurant is for the starter vegan,” owner and local realtor Mitchell Stein said. “We have lots of vegetarian dishes where you can still get something hot, delicious and under $10.”
And Mr. Stein was not kidding.
Fueled by wanting to eat healthier for himself and his family after the birth of their daughter, Mr. Stein opened The Spot Cafe in 2013 to bring healthy and cheap food to the residents of Claremont.
“With the exception of El Pollo Loco or Chipolte, there isn’t really a fast, casual, healthy place to go and eat,” Mr. Stein said. “And anytime I’d go to a vegan restaurant, I was like ‘man, I have to take a second mortgage out on my house to eat here.’”
Since opening on January 1, 2013, The Spot Cafe’s menu has grown to include over 35 vegan and vegetarian dishes, smoothies, bowls, salads, zoodles (their Zucchini noodles) and more. They also serve meat items like BBQ Chicken pizzas and Turkey sandwiches.
“We don’t strive to be the healthiest restaurant, we strive to be healthier,” Mr. Stein explained. “Healthy sometimes doesn’t taste good and so our goal is to find ways to take things that are traditionally not healthy for you and make them healthier.”
Take Mr. Stein’s pizzas for example. They’re not made with a dough base or a thick crust. Rather they’re constructed on a thin flour tortilla in an effort to cut the calories in half.
And what makes The Spot Cafe a go-to during Lent is that everything—except bread products—is made in-house every day. From their sauces and smoothies, to the roasting of a real turkey for their sandwiches, “everything,” Mr. Stein said, “is made to order.”
“No matter what dietary restrictions you have, we have something on the menu for everyone,” Mr. Stein said. “Do you have a picky eater who’s a kid? They’re going to find something on the menu. As well as the mom who’s trying to make healthy choices and the dad who’s a meat lover.”
But healthy, Lenten friendly foods are not the only thing chalked up on their menus. On the cafe’s website and on Mr. Stein’s secondary website, StrawberriesByMitch.com, customers can purchase fresh ingredients that his store uses every day and even grocery essentials.
In addition to take-out, he explained they expanded their offerings to stay afloat during the pandemic.
“We just said, everything in the store is for sale,” Mr. Stein said. “If we have gloves, we will sell them to you. If we have hand sanitizer, we will sell it to you.”
The Spot Cafe is located next to Trader Joe’s off Foothill Boulevard, West of the building. The Spot Cafe is also available online and through delivery apps like Postmates and DoorDash.
What is Lent?
Lent is the 40-day period before Easter during the liturgical year that is based on Jesus Christ’s 40-day stint in the desert prior to beginning to preach publicly.
Catholics emulate Christ’s 40-day fast by giving up something they value or enjoy in an attempt to be closer to their Lord by the time it strikes Easter. This year Lent started on Wednesday, February 17 and ends on Saturday, April 3.