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The ordering’s easy at Toad Hollow Café

Take your fit foodie self to Toad Hollow Café and do something bold: order straight off the menu. You won’t need to switch out sides, so hold your Meg Ryan/Sally impression for the next place. This charming cottage in Covington has one of the broadest healthy menus I’ve seen.

In two years, Toad Hollow Café has built a devoted following. Premium ingredients and a fun menu appeals to foodies of every stripe (Zevia diet cola for caffeine junkies like me; a Kobe burger cooked medium-rare for my husband).

On a random weekday you’ll eat with hipsters, farmers and uniformed girls from the nearby Catholic school, listening to anything from the Cajun fiddle to Billie Holliday (on a recent sweltering afternoon, it was ’70s hippie acoustic).

The ladies next to me (chattering about a recent trip to Istanbul) raved just as much about their bowls of curried vegetables, splashed with organic coconut milk.

Toad Hollow Café borrows from regional American, Asian and Indian cuisines, and stays true to its core: at breakfast, if you want meat with your whole-grain pancake, it’ll be turkey bacon or chicken-apple sausage (if you’re vegan, try the mild curry-tofu vegetable scramble, made without eggs or cheese.)

Other healthy wake-ups include a smoked salmon omelet with organic cream cheese and tomato, or smoked trout stacked with grits and eggs. In fact, organic eggs are done a number of ways – fried, smashed into a sandwich, scrambled. Selected items make it to the lunch menu, too.

Smoked salmon shows up again as a substantial starter, cleverly paired with goat cheese that would be better served on soft (not grilled) baguette rounds.

Daily soups show off the kitchen’s knack for elevating healthy food. In their hands, black bean soup becomes a savory, full-bodied broth touched with cumin and thick with stewed tomatoes.

If you’re really lucky, Toad Hollow’s signature lentil soup will be on the chalkboard. This isn’t peasant food, but rather a sparkle of plump brown lentils bobbing in vegetable broth. Fresh grated Parmesan, chopped cilantro, and soft carrots add brightness and body; an extra splash of olive oil makes it silky and perfect for late summer.

The sandwiches here are anchored by locally sourced bread – Chef Susan Spicer’s Wild Flour bakery crafts the sourdough, cinnamon-raisin brioche and multi-grain loaves – and get waist–watching remakes as well.

A great example is the tuna melt: clean and chunky yellow fin topped with organic mozzarella becomes a light, lithe sandwich on sourdough.

Grilled chicken sausage and soft, sautéed red and green bell peppers satisfyingly recall the hefty Italian hoagie, while shaved and smoked turkey pastrami, organic sauerkraut, and low-cal rye bread make a tasty, texture-perfect Reuben. (Toad Hollow offers a dueling Reuben, using grilled and sliced tempeh, a meat substitute made from fermented soybeans, as the corned beef stand-in. Nutty tempeh also shows up seasoned in soft tacos.)

If you treat yourself to that rare dessert, get it here. The low-fat, low-sugar dark mousse is surprisingly dense and creamy, and pairs well with local strawberries and milky whipped cream.

I’d also heard about the chocolate crêpe stuffed with Nutella. Far from the gooey festival favorite, Toad Hollow’s version uses thick chunks of banana to dominate a thin hazelnut sauce.

And my new favorite is a lush panna cotta fashioned from organic yogurt, its tang tempered by vanilla beans and a generous crust of honey granola. It’s sunny and served with a demitasse spoon, meant to be slowly savored.

-ANNE BERRY

Toad Hollow Café, 207 N. New Hampshire St. in Covington, La.  (985) 893-8711

Lentil Vegetable Soup

Courtesy of Toad Hollow Café

2 cups yellow onions, chopped

2 large shallots, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried cumin

1 1/2 cups celery, diced

1 1/2 cups carrots, diced

1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock

1/2 pound French green lentils, dried

Fresh Italian parsley, chopped, and Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, for garnish

In a medium stock pot set on medium heat, sauté onions, shallots and garlic with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme and cumin for 20 minutes, or until translucent. Add celery and carrots and sauté for 10 more minutes. Add vegetable stock and lentils and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer with pot slightly covered for 1 hour, or until lentils are soft.

Garnish soup with parsley, Parmesan cheese and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Yields 6 cups