“Time to Turn Over a New Leaf” read the staff T-shirts at Breadless. Turn it, then wrap a “leafy super-green” around an array of gluten-free deliciosities.
Breadless came about because of co-founder Marc Howland’s own bad experiences with fast food growing up, including bread. His then-fiancée, now co-founder L.C. Howland, reacted with fire emojis to his rants about restaurants that treat gluten-free offerings as afterthoughts. Now the couple, with third co-founder Ryan Eli Salter, who brings the culinary experience, aim to offer healthy low-carb options to “everyone in every neighborhood,” starting with metro Detroit. Potential franchisees, take note.
Breadless got its start with pop-ups at gyms and with catering for student clubs at U of M. The downtown Detroit store opened in March, around the corner, Marc says, from where L.C. grew up (he’s from Cleveland, by way of Harvard Business School). The subtext is that the trio wants to bring healthy food to Black neighborhoods.
Healthy it is, though vegetarians could disagree. Pastrami, turkey, and chicken from Boar’s Head and local halal roasted chicken are popular ingredients, but the stars, in a way, are the four wraps, since they’re what makes Breadless different from other sandwich shops: a big leaf of collard, dino kale, Swiss chard, or turnip green.
They enclose six sandwiches, each of them quite distinct in part because of their dressings.
Marc Howland worked for a bit in a sandwich shop to learn the “quick service environment,” but Breadless has obvious differences with fast food beyond flavor and nutrition. I think of fast food as something you can eat with one hand while driving, though I realize the bigs have expanded far beyond those offerings. A Breadless sandwich will require more attention as you eat, just as inventing it and preparing it did. Instructions on the paper covering say, “Keep wrapped, peel as you eat,” and that’s good advice, to maintain some semblance of order. Another option is to pay $2 more for the same ingredients in a bowl, and just use a fork.
That’s what I did with “What the Kale?”, a big bowl of spicy chicken, dino kale (less tough than curly kale), Monterey Jack, caramelized onions, tomatoes, sautéed red peppers, tomatoes, and pickles. The bowl was briefly warmed in a convection oven, wilting the kale a bit to good effect (but you can order it cold). I was skeptical of warm pickles but they fit right in, as did the sugar-free but traditional-flavor barbecue sauce.
I liked all five of the sandwiches or bowls I tried, even when somewhat slippery to eat; I went through several napkins. They each have their own sauce, which serves to bring the ingredients together. “Bird Is the Word,” for example, drizzles Champagne vinaigrette on lots of sliced turkey, white cheddar, and plenty of avocado spread, all inside a turnip green. No lettuce, Marc emphasizes. More flavor.
“Garden of Eatin’” can be a vegan option, with a collard green around roasted eggplant, tomato pesto, sautéed red and yellow peppers, and red onion. I found the taste great but the eggplant skin tough to bite through. In the collard-wrapped “Cloud 9 Pastrami,” spicy mustard was the forward flavor. With the vegan “Detroit Oyster Club,” Swiss chard with a sinewy rib encloses roasted portobello and oyster mushrooms, avocado spread, and an assertive balsamic dressing.
Best name: “Chardi B,” with Swiss chard, chicken, and cilantro avocado sauce.
Diners are encouraged to ignore all these options and build their own sandwich or bowl.
Breadless makes two cold teas in-house, a sweet pomegranate green tea and an unusual matcha agua fresca that I particularly recommend, with a vanilla bent. It sells cold-pressed organic juices from Midwest Juicery, such as carrot and beet; I liked celery-forward “Green with Envy,” which is super-transparent about its ingredients, in line with the store’s vibe: it’s an apple, a head of romaine, a quarter each of a cucumber and bunches of celery and kale, and some lemon and parsley. Feel Good brand sparkling water in a can is available, with only fruit juice added, and various claims for your health and mood. My only beef with Breadless: boxed water for sale. For $3.49. Has anyone ever bought this, or is that the original box from back in March sitting there? I have to think Detroiters know better.
For snacks, dehydrated cauliflower has to be the ugliest “chip” around, sort of like tiny dried ears, but it tastes good, because it’s covered with garlic salt, at 26% of your daily sodium and $3.49 for a 1.23 oz. bag. Carrot chips are sweet, jicama chips from Mexico are a chili-lime that didn't work for me. All are vegan.
Staff are friendly and they don’t evangelize; this healthy food is good enough not to need it. Breadless has indoor and outdoor tables and was doing steady business when I visited.