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Old Thu, Mar-18-04, 09:09
PacNW PacNW is offline
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Plan: Atkins
Stats: 245/195/170 Male 5 10
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Default Less bread can still mean dough as eateries adapt to Atkins

By: GARY WARTH - Staff Writer

What would the Earl of Sandwich think? It is likely that history would have long forgotten John Montagu, England's fourth Earl of Sandwich, had he not gotten hungry while gambling in 1762. He asked a servant to bring him some meat and cheese between two slices of bread so his fingers wouldn't get greasy and smudge the cards.

But now, after two centuries of associating sandwiches with bread, a new breed of dieters is redefining the Earl's invention, casting aside buns and wrapping their meat in lettuce, tortillas ---- or nothing at all.

Equally iconoclastic, an Escondido eatery has introduced pizza without crusts.

A world gone mad? Signs of the apocalypse? Hardly. Merchants are just doing what they've always done to be successful: responding to consumer demands. And one of the hottest demands in the food industry now is the low-carb craze, often synonymous with the Atkins Diet.

Every new low-carb innovation is aggressively marketed in print, TV and radio ---- the cover story of this month's All About Beer magazine is about 11 new low-carb brews ---- and national media attention is ready to pounce on the latest ideas.

No dough

Just ask John Pontrelli, owner of Pit Stop Pasta in Escondido, where last month he introduced Pizza in a Bucket, which is basically a pizza cooked and served in a casserole dish ---- without dough.

"For years we've been trying to perfect our dough, so to get some notoriety for not using our crust was kind of an ironic situation," said Pontrelli, who owns Pit Stop Pasta with his wife, Cindy.

Bread and other foods with lots of carbohydrates are reduced or eliminated in the Atkins diet, which allows more meat and fatty foods than traditional diets that count only fat calories. Pontrelli, however, said he made his first bread-free pizza a few years ago in his old Palm Springs restaurant, simply to satisfy a customer who said she never ate crust.

He recommended the dish about six months ago for another customer on a special heart-healthy diet, and that customer recommended it to somebody also on a medical diet. The Pontrellis named it "Pizza in a Bucket" when one of the customers ordered it to go.

Pontrelli mentioned the catchy name on a message board on the Pizza Market Quarterly Web site. An Associated Press reporter researching a story on the Atkins diet happened to land on the site, saw the name and mentioned Pizza in a Bucket in an article.

"It was really an underground thing," Pontrelli said about the $3.99 pizzas, which he put on the menu just last month. "We were making one a week, then someone came in and said, 'You're all over the Internet.'"

Pontrelli said sales went up to 40 or 50 a day, but the demand since has leveled off to about 10. "Being in the business, you have to go where the market is going, and if they're asking you to make a pizza upside down, that's what you've got to do," he said.

Bag the bread

If a pizza can be made without dough, it should come as no surprise that sandwiches don't need bread, either.

Burger King offers a low-carb bunless Whopper, Hardee's and Carls Jr. serve burgers sans bread and Jack in the Box's Web site boast "drive-thru dieting" by serving a bun-free burger in a container with a knife and fork.

IN-N-Out Burger has a Protein-Style burger on its "secret menu," a compilation of customers' special requests. Instead of a bun, the Protein-Style burger is wrapped in lettuce.

Subway has introduced a new bread-free sandwich and, like T.G.I. Friday's, it has an official endorsement from Atkins.

Les Winograd, public information officer for Subway, said the chain was not hurt by the popular low-carb diet, but it did introduce new items in response to customers who were asking for sandwiches without bread.

"We are positioned as the healthier alternative to fatty fast foods, and customers come to know us as a place where they can get good fast food that's good for their diet," Winograd said.

Research about a year ago showed 35 percent of Subway customers are on diets, and 34 percent of those are on a low-carb diet, he said.

Rather than leaving customers questioning whether Subway's menu fit their diet, Winograd said the company responded by expanding the menu.

Subway added two wraps, or sandwiches contained in tortillas rather than bread.

"We worked with the Atkins people to help us understand what their followers were looking for," Winograd said. "There are many, many other restaurants coming out with low-carb foods, but we feel with the Atkins name we're able to cut above the clutter."

Winograd said customers can have any 6-inch sandwich made as a wrap for 40 cents extra.

Pass on potatoes

Even restaurants that seem to benefit from a low-carb diet have had to make adjustments.

In Encinitas, Steakhouse 66 owner Jim Barrasso said his meat-heavy restaurant attracts people on a high-protein/low-carb diet, so he has had to pay special attention to their needs.

"In the six months we've been open, it's been nothing but Atkins, Atkins, Atkins," Barrasso said. "But it may be because it says 'steakhouse' on the door."

Barrasso said the restaurant used to serve only potatoes as a side dish, but since has added vegetable because of the many low-carb dieters.

"I'm getting lots of folks who are doing the diet," he said. "They'll ask for a burger-without-a-bun kind of thing."

Barrasso said his customers tend to order high-protein options, such as chicken salads or steak salads, rather than just plain salads.

"I get these people on the diet, but they all cheat when it comes to pudding," he said about a popular dessert item. "I started doing these creme brulees. That's really popular."

For dieters who want to count every carb, the national chain Blimpie has a carb-counter menu that gives the calorie count as well as the number of net effective carbs ---- a new way to measure only the carbs that are converted to sugar ---- in each food item. A cup of mashed potatoes has 25.5 net effective carbs, while a T-bone steak has zero.

The Atkins-approved menu at T.G.I. Friday's also list the amount of carbs in individual dishes. The Tuscan Spinach Dip has 17 net carbs, Buffalo Wings has 5 net carbs, a bun-free cheeseburger has 6 net carbs, and a Tuna Salad Wrap has 7 net carbs.

So far, however, Krispy Kreme has not developed a dough-free doughnut.

Give them time.
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