If you've been reading this column for any duration, you've learned that here at Munch HQ, we know more about mussels than we do about muscles.
Lats and delts? Try brats and smelts.
Abs of steel? How about crabs and veal?
Beefy pecs? Give me beef on weck.
I could literally do this all afternoon, and while I'm sure you appreciate the Shakespearean quality of the wordplay, there's the matter of the Muscle Maker Grill to which we must attend. It's one of the newest spots in the SouthSide Works, successor to the short-lived Rosa Pizza, at 2767 E. Carson St. As the name would suggest, Muscle Maker is a healthy eating takeout restaurant, with a Southwest bent to the menu.
This is a fast-growing chain, making its first appearance in Pittsburgh. It gained some degree (read: a small degree) of notoriety among those who watched "Jersey Shore," as some of the show's various protagonists and antiheroes ate there from time to time, between doing the laundry and getting pregnant. (I don't mean to alarm anyone, but did you know that Snooki was making $150,000 per episode when the show ended? Chew on that as you try to scrape together enough money to repair your air conditioner this summer.)
Anyhow. Back to the Muscle Maker. The concept is coming up on its 20th birthday, established in 1995 because Rod Silva -- owner and founder -- couldn't find a good place to dine post- or pre-workout. His frustration begat the Muscle Maker, originally in Woodbridge, N.J. Now, thanks to a franchising campaign that began in 2009, there are about 70 such restaurants nationally, with dozens more sold or on the drawing board, including a few more in the Pittsburgh area.
"I recognized a void in the marketplace for flavorful, healthy options," Mr. Silva explained to an industry journal a few months ago. "People generally are looking for ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and will choose a healthy dining option over other choices" if the price is right, he said.
Many of the locations are larger, eat-in establishments, but in SouthSide Works, there are no tables, just a dozen chairs pressed against the east wall of the building. The bulk of the customer traffic is from takeout diners and the few hardy souls who ate their wraps and salads al fresco this week.
Speaking of those hardy souls, there wasn't a lunk among them, which had been a concern heading into the lunchtime visit. Journalists are an insecure bunch as it is; we don't need to be stuck in line behind somebody who's wandered over from the LA Fitness with triceps the size of cantaloupes to reinforce our inadequacies. Although the same thing happens every time I look in the mirror, so I guess we can't blame the workout fiends, can we? (I believe Freud referred to this as "psychological projection.")
Disappointingly, I can report that my biceps remain doughy and flaccid after eating the Yee-Ha wrap ($7.99, 545 calories), a spicy, saucy mix of turkey bacon and potatoes on a jalapeno tortilla. Similar results were produced after trying the "Arizona" entree ($9.99, 291 calories per serving; entree portions are good for two servings), which is a heap of turkey bacon, tomatoes, scallions and diced chicken over brown rice. My hamstrings tingled slightly as I ate the peppery cucumber and onion side salad ($2.99), though that could have just been the restless leg syndrome.
But seriously, America? It's pretty good takeout food, certainly better -- and better for you -- than the same old lousy Chinese or meat-lover's pizza that you order every Friday night. They don't use any deep fryers here (not that fried food is automatically or categorically bad for you), and Muscle Maker ought to have something for every sort of diet -- vegetarian items, low-fat, low-carb, high-protein, you name it.
I can't promise that the food is going to make you any extra muscle. That would require doing a push-up every once in a while. But I can tell you that, if you want something fast and something spicy, without any butter or cheese, with a side of spinach and brown rice, and a possible JWoww sighting, this is probably the right spot.
Muscle Maker Grill is at 2767 E. Carson St., South Side; 412-504-7777 and www.musclemakergrill.com. Open seven days.