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EXKi debuts its Belgian, chef-driven approach to healthy (fast) food

EXKi’s Fennel & Cod Cocotte (Photo: EXKi)

Booming Belgian chain EXKi introduces its chef-drive approach to healthy fast food to New Yorkers today, with the opening of its first U.S. location, in the Flatiron District.

The company, born in Brussels, has more than 75 locations in Europe, and while its concept falls into the growing “healthy, fast-casual” category, it offers a slightly more upscale environment for lunch meetings and also serves dinner (and beer and wine).

It also has a more chef-driven approach to veggie-focused cuisine: To help EXKi appeal to American palettes, it hired renowned fine-dining chef Galen Zamarra, owner of Mas Farmhouse and Mas La Grillade, to create the menu alongside executive chef Steven Mettle.

The resulting selection, all of which is cooked fresh on site, includes breakfast items like veggie frittatas and a long list of yogurt parfaits (called Jumpers), and elevated lunch fare like a Freebird chicken salad with quinoa, romaine, and curry coconut dressing and a chickpea salad with roasted tofu, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Plus, one-pot “cocottes” for dinner, like cauliflower and shrimp, which are cooked to order.

In a nod to its European roots, there’s lots of high quality bread, like baked sourdough tartines with goat cheese and red peppers and baked French-style baguettes with tomato, mozzarella, and olive tapenade. Fun fact: Zamarra had to convince them to add whole wheat wraps to the options, for carb-fearing Americans.

He also used his expertise to put vegetables to use in creative ways that would make the menu both delicious and better for you, like substituting mayonnaise with vegetable emulsions. “The egg and 50 percent of the oil is replaced with exciting, tasty, and colorful flavors, such as turmeric-curry or red pepper emulsion,” Zamarra explains. “You’ll find them in many of the preparations such as sandwiches, salads, and hot cocottes, making them healthier and more robust in flavor.” —Lisa Elaine Held

Exki, 257 Park Avenue South, at 20th Street, Flatiron,