‘Hot and Healthy’ Genghis Grill

When you’re on a diet, it seems nearly impossible to dine out and actually enjoy your meal. But at Genghis Grill you can eat as much as you want with little fear you’ll gain any weight – in fact you might do the opposite.

The “hot and healthy” build-your-own-stir-fry franchise, founded in 1998 in Dallas, Texas, has made its way to Kentucky, opening on Aug. 21. Restaurateur Allen Hertzman, whose family has been in the restaurant business for more than 50 years, acquired the rights to Genghis Grill’s Bluegrass location two years ago, but waited to begin building the eatery until he found the perfect space in town.

When a newly-built center in Springhurst became available, Hertzman jumped on the opportunity to reveal Genghis Grill to Kentucky, and since its inception, business has been booming. Part of the reason the restaurant is so popular is its emphasis on choice. “This whole concept is just about choice and control,” Hertzman said. “You get to decide how much you want to eat and you get to decide what you want to eat, which is why people love it.”

With 14 delicious types of protein, 12 seasonings, 30 vegetables, 15 sauces and six starches to choose from, the “build-your-own” combinations of stir-fry are practically endless. And, the best part: You can fill your bowl (offered in small, medium and large sizes) with as much as you want of whatever you want.

Last week, coworker Chris Humphreys and I tried out Louisville’s latest trend, quickly growing by word of mouth. The dining experience began with the friendly staff and Hertzman greeting us at the door and seating us at a table by the bar, located toward the front of the restaurant. Within minutes, a server arrived to take our order and handed us each a card used to identify our meals. On a diet, I chose the medium-sized meal, while Chris opted for a large plus a pot sticker appetizer. Once our server handed us each stainless steel bowls, Chris and I headed to the two-line Khan’s Kitchen (the food bar) to begin piling on ingredients, cut fresh daily.

I opted for a seafood plate filled with a generous portion of shrimp and Khan’s Krab, along with a hard-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, stir-fry mix and other vegetables, as well as cayenne pepper, topped off with 3G and Dragon sauces. If you’re feeling less daring about contriving your own recipe, you can also follow one of Genghis Grill’s recipe cards. But I highly recommend wearing your chef hat for a day – It’s fun and you’ll be surprised how delectable your own recipe tastes.

Once I loaded my bowl up with food, I dropped the dish off at the giant grill at the back of the restaurant, where several cooks share in the stir-fry experience, blending your choice of starch (brown rice, spiral pasta, fried rice, steamed rice, tortillas or Udon noodles) with your other selected edibles.

While you can stand and watch the cooking process, which only takes about four to six minutes, you can also return to your seat, where your server will bring your dish back ready to be eaten. (I’d suggest hanging around for a minute or two by the grill, though, because every once in awhile, the staff will perform a fire display for patrons).

Upon returning to my table, the food arrived promptly, as did a tasty Battlefield Blue ‘Rita. The refreshing fruit-flavored cocktail helped offset the spicy flavors I loaded into my dish. Chris, on the other hand, sipped on the Thunder Cherry Blast, which he said tasted like “Kool-Aid pops” and a serving of sweet strawberry lemonade, while chomping down on his steak and shrimp amalgam.

Although I had been hesitant at first to mix too many ingredients together in one bowl, my stir-fry concoction tasted mouth-wateringly delicious just as I had made it. Since I’m a fan of spicy food, I also added the daring Asian chili and Sriracha sauces to see how far I could test my tongue.

After working half-way through the bowl, I was already close to full, but left just enough room for dessert: ice cream and a sinfully scrumptious peanut butter chocolate brownie.

So I indulged a bit at the end – and with the libation, too – but dessert and drinks aside, the main course was completely diet-friendly and left me far from hungry.

I can see why repeat business is doing so well at Louisville’s Genghis Grill. Whether you’d like to make your dish healthy or decadent, there’s never a shortage of choices. The price point is superb as well: A small bowl is $6.99 for lunch; $7.99 for dinner; while the medium is $8.99/$9.99 and a large $11.99/$12.99. I can’t wait to return to try an all-new combination. And with an upcoming figure-building competition, complete with a super-strict meal plan, I no longer have to worry about suffering on a diet while dining out on the town.

Genghis Grill, located at 4002 Towne Center Drive, close to Tinseltown, is open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Allergy and vegetarian menu options are available. For more information, including a calorie menu, visit www.genghisgrill.com or call 502.426.4945.