Healthy Eats: The perfect order at Acre in Old North

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave
Mole Bowl

Three dishes to try at fast-casual and health-conscious Acre

Todd Mills wants to prove the phrase "fast food" need not be synonymous with "unhealthy." So the former marketing director for Local Matters opened health-conscious eatery Acre in November as a respite for diners who care about what they eat, but don't have time to cook. The 40-seat Old North restaurant is an extension of Mills' home kitchen, featuring his time-tested recipes for bowls, wraps, salads and tacos. At Acre, locally sourced and roasted vegetables star in most dishes, and fruit is employed as a natural sweetener (think plums and apricots in barbecue sauce). Mills shares the inspiration behind three of his favorite Acre orders.

1. In college, Mills crafted the base of what would become the vegan Thai bowl. "I was dating a girl who was a vegetarian, and I was not a prolific cook," he says. "It was my first time ever making a peanut sauce and also trying to impress a vegetarian." He impressed the girl, and the result earned a regular rotation in his cooking repertoire. It's now the most popular item on Acre's menu, with a creamy sauce made with coconut milk, Krema peanut butter and lime juice.

2. "When I was a kid, my best friend was from Mexico. I would spend afternoons with his family, usually joining them for dinner," Mills recalls. The exposure earned him an appreciation for mole. Adding this chocolaty, chili-pepper-laden sauce to the menu of his restaurant was a must. You'll find it topping a bowl with roasted mushrooms, a wrap with roasted peppers and on tacos (Mills' favorite) with feta and pickled cabbage.

3. A lover of snacking but a skeptic of microwave popcorn and its butter-flavored syrups, Mills decided to try seasoning his own. He added honey at the suggestion of a friend, then orange zest, lavender pepper, ginger and salt. The result is the Sweet and Salty Popcorn on the snack portion of the menu. "It's a really fun combination," he says. "It has a fragrance to it because of the orange and lavender, and bite from the ginger and pepper."