UFood Grill and the changing face of fast food

Photo by Nancy Battye

An obvious trend has emerged in the field of fast food. Formerly the domain of burgers and fries, along with various shapes of fried chicken, market pressure has urged the industry towards healthier options. This means lower fat, less salt, and little or no preservatives. Some of the larger chains have incorporated dishes into their menus which play to this market trend, while other, smaller companies have built their whole business models around it.

Enter Ufood Grill. Its first Canadian location is at 988 Granville, not half a block away from Dougie Dog, another recent entrant to the fast food world which also markets itself as a healthier option. At first blush, Ufood Grill appears to have a disparate menu, featuring rice bowls, paninis, burgers, frozen yogurt, and smoothies. Usually, chains will focus on one of these things. Some, such as Vera’s and Splitz, have done quite well. But with so many different things on the menu, it seems easy to lose your grip on what exactly they’re trying to do.

What unifies the menu is the concept of serving healthy and flavourful food quickly. Paul Brocato, Ufood Vancouver’s Executive Chef, informs me that they aim for a bill time of no more than four minutes.

The burgers are amongst their best sellers, which is not surprising. When you think fast food, nothing pops to mind faster than a burger. I found the veggie burger tasty, although perhaps a bit dry. It is worth noting that they make their veggie patty in-house from a vegan recipe Chef Brocato developed. However, I felt like it could have used a pickle or something to give it a bit more pop.

But likely the most pleasant surprise was the un-fries. There is no deep fryer at Ufood Grill. Instead, their fries are cooked in the oven. Now, I make oven fries at home all the time, so I was interested how they make theirs. The fries are coated with flour, which allows them to get crispy in the oven without drying out.

Always the curious type, I let some of my fries get cold. Sure enough, they don’t take on the same unpleasant greasiness of regular fries. Anyone who has eaten fries (which is basically everyone) knows that there is a finite window of time where fries are delicious. After that, they are greasy, mealy garbage, never to be edible again. It’s nice to find some which are lower in fat and stay tasty longer than the standard variety.

 

Another noteworthy dish was the Margherita panini. You don’t expect to get fresh basil in a fast food sandwich. So I was pleasantly surprised when I could taste the basil loud and clear. The sandwich tasted like a good slice of pizza.

The tofu rice bowl is simple enough. It consists of tofu over brown rice with steamed carrots, broccoli, and a sweet chili sauce. It is a simple dish, but good value and flavourful. They offer the same dish with chicken, for the non-veggies out there.

While I did not try the frozen yogurt, I did sample a smoothie. A smoothie is the kind of drink that needs to be refreshing, filling, and give you a nice shot of energy. Check on all three points, plus a nice fresh berry flavour in the acai superberry.

Overall, the food was pleasant and undoubtedly healthier than your average grab-and-go meal. The menu still feels diffuse, but I have to applaud their thorough approach to the healthy eating market, along with all of the transparency that entails.

Customers are not satisfied with hearing “healthy option”. They want you to prove it. Ufood has calorie counts on every menu item. Again, the nerd in me is happy. But more impressive is the brochure at the counter with nutritional information on every item, breaking down calories, protein, carbs, sodium, “good” fat, saturated fat, fiber, and sugar. When you publish that information, you need to fall within a thin margin of about 10% of the published number. Such a brochure is rare, since nobody want to take on that commitment for obvious reasons.

While Ufood Grill could perhaps tighten up its menu, there is not really any glaring weak point. It will be interesting to see if they can thrive in a Vancouver market which is already saturated with quick options. The challenge will be to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. How that might happen remains to be seen.

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