For Cat New, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainably sourced’ aren’t just buzzwords used to lure folks into a hot new spot—it’s a way of life.
Since opening The Clean Plate at Five-Points in early July, the chef and business partner/best friend Melissa Polinard have been trying to provide locally sourced and sustainable dishes to an enthusiastic lunch crowd.
The Clean Plate stands in the spot Pete’s Tako House occupied for 23 years before relocating to Brooklyn Avenue. The dining area can be described as either cozy or cramped depending on what time of day you visit. Outdoors (imagine a day when it’s cool enough to eat al fresco again), New and Polinard have instituted a garden wall that, come fall, should help cool off the area. A lime green coat of paint on the exterior, a mint green coat on the interior and a smattering of photographs and other artwork finish the minimalist, vibrant look.
Although New, 32, is a San Antonio native, she first cut her teeth in Austin kitchens. She decided to open Thunder Heart Bison: Ranch to Trailer in November 2011 there, but soon found she was preaching to the choir.
New said she relocated to San Antonio after seven years in Austin because as she put it “San Antonio needs clean food.” New ditched the trailer when she was presented with an opportunity to lease the Tako House space and the equipment available in it for relatively cheap. At The Clean Plate, New sources most of her ingredients from local farms proudly displayed on the menu including Shudde Ranch in Sabinal, Parker Creek Ranch in D’Hanis, Medina and Frio County-based Koch Ranches, Loncito’s Lamb in Brenham, Peeler Farms in Floresville, Southern Style Spices in Manor and Austin’s Fiesta Tortillas.
She designed a small, but eclectic menu she hopes to change seasonally. Don’t try to pigeonhole the 11 items featured on the most current iteration: you’ll find Italian classics like a comforting and flavorful spaghetti Bolognese; Southwestern stuffed peppers (and you better believe the “spicy” warning); a burger on a brioche/challah bun; and Asian-inspired Gua Boa pork belly steamed buns.
To be sure, the restaurant has its hits. A quick scan of the room showed a particular affinity for the fish tacos. The wild-caught mesquite smoked mahi-mahi stays light with shredded cabbage and oodles of cilantro. While the mesquite does help set the fish tacos apart from the plethora of options the city has to offer, the roasted poblano aioli is lost in the smoke factor. A hint of serrano could help liven up the spread.
The stuffed pepper, filled with diced squash, zucchini and red peppers and laced with a powerful mix of ancho and chipotle chili powder, is far from bland. Grass-fed beef is available as an add-on to the pepper for an extra $2; while the flavor is most certainly there, those looking for a heartier lunch might want to spring for the beefed-up portion. The order of Parmesan and sharp cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese shells is substantial; the Panko crumbs add an extra layer of texture but this fromage nut hoped for a creamier dish.
Which brings me to the burger. The description is simple: grass-fed beef, spring mix, onions, tomato, mayo and Dijon mustard. Every bite is juicy and pleasing, but there aren’t a whole lot of them. Add-ons are offered, and definitely jazz up the experience, but do little to make up for MIA fries (they had run out during our visit and were substituted with sautéed seasonal veggies). It’s not hard to clean your plate after all.
Much like with other local eateries that offer sustainable fare, The Clean Plate’s selling peace of mind. It helps when that tranquility that comes from eating grass-fed beef and GMO-free tortillas also happens to satiate your belly. It’s easy to compare The Clean Plate to The Cove or chef Michael Sohocki’s Restaurant Gwendolyn, which only sources food from a 150-mile radius. The Cove’s popularity might have increased after a televised visit from a certain donkey-sauce pimpin’ spiky-haired reviewer, but the city had already embraced the joint’s locavore-driven values.
Open only for lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., The Clean Plate has a steady stream of patrons stopping by for a bite to eat. If New and Polinard hope to keep providing clean food to the masses, they’ll have to fix portion sizes and price points. San Anto wants and will pay for pristine eats, but there’s a limit, and be warned: take cash or be prepared for a 35 cent credit card fee. Chef is still tweaking prices while slaving away in the kitchen; and if the teensy corner spot overcomes visible growing pains, it’ll definitely earn a place in the hearts of San Antonians looking for that worry-free place to eat.
The Clean Plate
1022 N Main, (210) 229-9866
Best Bets The mesquite-smoked mahi-mahi tacos are different enough from the city’s offerings to be worth a shot; the juicy grass-fed beef burger leaves you wanting more.
The Skinny Lunch-time spot expands sustainable and organic clean food options in the city.
Hours 11am-4pm Mon-Fri Prices $9.25-$14.25