Eating out with a dietitian's fork: Healthy picks at Philly dive bars

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Bar scene at Khyber Pass Pub. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)

Editor’s Note: Philadelphia is a foodie's paradise, with more great restaurants and fun bars than we can count. But for someone watching their weight, dining out in Philly can feel overwhelming. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to ruin your healthy eating goals to enjoy our city’s booming restaurant scene.

Over the pass few months, Theresa Shank, RD LDN has been traveling around the city to provide Philly.com readers with information on healthy meal selections at popular bars and restaurants. (Yes, dietitians eat out, too!) Consider Shank your personal menu navigation guide.

We’ll let Shank take it from here…

Everyone has a favorite dive bar that they love to frequent. Often times that trip to your neighborhood bar is synonymous with fried foods, big portions and lots of fat — but that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are my healthy menu recommendations at five popular dive bars in Philadelphia:

Locust Rendezvous

There’s nothing not to like about the “Vous”. This tiny unassuming hole in the wall, located on Broad and Locust, has all the charm of a dive bar; cheap drinks (daily shot and beers specials), vast menu, awesome music (loved the 90’s flashbacks that played while I was there) and a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of TV’s to watch any Philly sports game. Aside from the obvious “charms” of this bar, I appreciated how accommodating the kitchen is towards substitutions. Since everything here is made to order, Rendezvous makes it easy for patrons like me to create healthier versions of typical bar grub.

If you are looking for something light, possibly an appetizer that isn’t fried, order the Grilled Chicken Tenders, which include four basic but satisfying chicken tenders. Ask for buffalo sauce or BBQ on the side.  Want vegetables? The Vous has them! Choose the Veggie Grinder, made with spinach, tomato, mushrooms, peppers, onions and melted provolone cheese. If you typically avoid starchy carbs, try the weekly salad special or the House Salad topped with tuna, grilled chicken, shrimp or turkey (dressing on the side). Have an appetite outside of vegetables? Try the Broiled Fish of The Day. This entrée comes with either two vegetables or pasta along with the choice of soup or salad.

Kelliann’s Bar and Grill

Located in the art museum, Kellianne’s is known as a neighborhood bar to meet up with old friends or make new ones. Whether you're stopping in for their famous margaritas, good food, or summer/spring outdoor seating, its unpretentious feel makes for a relaxed, affordable evening.

Many might be tempted by the Famous Buffalo Wings and deep-fried appetizers; however these menu items would not pass the RD-approval test. Fortunately, Kelliann's offers several menu items that can satisfy your evening bar food cravings without stretching your waistline.

To start, I recommend the Grilled Marinated Chicken Sandwich. On the side, skip the french fries or chips and ask for the house salad with a low-fat dressing (no croutons). Another RD-approved meal is the Asparagus Sandwich with roasted red peppers, provolone and balsamic reduction. If you’re looking for some protein, ask to add a chicken breast to this sandwich for a more well-rounded meal.

The Mediterranean Pasta Salad with fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, artichokes, black olives and chilled shrimp caught my eye, but the portion is large so eat half and take the rest home. Remember, restaurants typically serve anywhere from 4-5 servings of pasta in one dish.  

After looking over the menu, I chose the 6 oz. Blackened Ahi Tuna Steak over Greens, which I was very pleased with. A serving of veggies with a source of Omega-3s (a healthy fat found in tuna) at a bar? Who would have thought!

Doobie’s Bar

Doobie’s is a casual “come-as-you-are” bar situated on 22nd and Lombard Street. This cash only spot offers patrons over a dozen board games, 10 rotating draft beer selections and some atypical bar food. Take the Quiche Du Jour served with a small salad as a perfect example. This place doesn’t even have a fryer, which immediately places the menu in a “healthier” ranking of its own.

The Crudités with dip (vegan option available) is great to share with friends while the Chicken Dumplings (steamed) with dipping sauce is the perfect size to please one appetite.

If you’re looking for a balanced meal to coat your stomach while drinking beers, order the Smoked Turkey, Tomato and Cheddar Melt on an English Muffin over the Smoked Turkey and Brie Melt with cranberry sauce on pumpernickel. Both sandwiches are similar but the Smoked Turkey Melt on an English Muffin will save you extra unwanted calories from carbohydrates (English muffins have less carbs than the average 2 slices of bread) and is void of added sugar like that found in the cranberry sauce.  

If the standard menu options don’t whet your appetite, try making your own pita pizza! Surprisingly, out of all 12 pizza toppings only two are NOT vegetables. I recommend ordering a Create-your-own Pita Pizza with red sauce, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, plum tomatoes, and mozzarella. I bet you thought dietitians didn’t eat pizza! Well, with toppings like these, why not?

Tattooed Mom

Weekly specials like Meatless Monday (half off all veggie menu items) and $3 veggie burgers on Wednesdays are RD-approved for any bar, let alone a dive such as this one located at 530 South Street. Tattooed Mom serves above average eats ranging from vegetarian/vegan dishes to local favorites like an 8 oz. Philly cheesesteak.

If you arrive here with more thirst than hunger, share a lighter appetizer such as the homemade Guacamole with Chips and Salsa or Hummus with Olives and Pita. Looking for more or don’t care to share? The Chicken Quesadilla with a few healthy swap-INS makes it a more satiating meal; ask to add refried beans (the beans are vegetarian FYI) and veggies like tomatoes, mushrooms and onions. Skip the sour cream and order double salsa.

Definitely overlook the Fries and Tots section of the menu and move onto the sandwiches. The Honey Siracha Fried Chicken Wrap can easily be made into a healthier version by asking for grilled chicken, which I was told is allowed. Watching the carbs? Order a Hamburger with extra toppings of lettuce, tomato, mushrooms and onions and only eat half of the potato bun that it’s served on. Vegetarian/vegan? Don’t feel left out; vegan options of both previous recommendations are available for you!

Khyber Pass Pub

Craving New Orleans-themed food without the white tablecloth? Khyber Pass can help. This Old City pub offers a friendly atmosphere with a sophisticated flare through an impressive draft list and simply incredible food selections.

Daily entrée, soup, chili and gumbo specials are offered but I recommend starting your meal with the Mixed Green Salad, minus the sundried cranberries.  Not a salad person? Try the Grilled Chipotle Bourbon Barbeque Wings or Fried Green Tomatoes with spicy remoulade for a taste of southern comfort without the side of guilt.

All entrée sandwiches come with a choice of one side so here you have the option to make some selection healthier. Skip the buttery Big Ass Biscuit or Smoke Cheddar Fries and add a small salad or vegetarian collard greens on the side of the North Carolina Style BBQ Pulled Pork. Khyber also serves up vegan friendly options to their patrons. If you’re not a fan of pork, try the Vegan BBQ Pulled “Pork” sandwich. For those with a larger appetite, the Half Chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens is a leaner choice than the Barbeque Brisket.

Dessert, well, that’s on you to decide. 

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