First Impression: Muscle Maker Grill


I’m the wrong person to write about Muscle Maker Grill, the new chain restaurant on Murray Street, for several reasons: 1) I’m a food snob, so I avoid the “fast-casual” category; 2) I’ve gone mostly vegetarian these days—it’s a long story—so any restaurant that’s all about protein is not a good fit; 3) I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had to worry much about my weight—I’m not bragging, I’m just saying—and Muscle Maker Grill is as much interested in limiting calories as it is in packing on the muscles. But the restaurant opened in my jurisdiction, so I stopped by for lunch.

As I approached, a young woman tried to hand me a flyer. I said I didn’t need one, as I was going inside. “You’ll need it anyway,” she said. Indeed, patrons stand in line and order, and their food gets brought out. I was waiting in line when the guy next to me said something I didn’t catch. “Welcome to Muscle Maker Grill!” he repeated, slapping me on the shoulder. Everyone was incredibly nice, which made me feel like more of a sourpuss.

There’s a menu on the wall that differed in at least one way from the one I was handed outside: It had a veggie wrap on it. I asked the cashier what’s in the veggie wrap. “Vegetables?” she said. Okay then! I ordered it and a side of rice and beans, because those were among the handful of non-animal options.

I have a friend who thinks of food primarily as fuel; he eats several chicken breasts a day for lunch, and when we were in the country last summer, he insisted we stop at a deli so he could buy turkey and cheese for “roll ups”—to eat at breakfast. He would love Muscle Maker Grill. The motto is “Great Food with Your Health in Mind,” which means several things: The menu lists calories; anything that can be low-fat—or better yet, fat-free—is; and categories include Power Pasta, Guiltless Entrées, Fit Salads, Low-Carb Solution, and Morning Fuel. The handout mentions that the chain is “dietician approved” and recommended by It’s like the opposite of everything I like in food and restaurants: “0% calorie, fat, and carb-free butter spray”; low-carb wraps (as normal wraps aren’t bad enough); the fact that it’s touted as a concept (“America’s Hottest Concept—Over 100 [franchises] sold in 2 years!”). At the register were franchise brochures and shelves of energy bars; near the door was a man making smoothies. He offered me a taste, so I asked what it was. “Chocolate and strawberry,” he said. “And protein powder.” I passed, wishing I had bought a megabottle of Coke—how did that get in?—just to prove I didn’t belong there.

Does Target do oil changes? The thought hit me as I waited for my name to be called, because the room is mostly red and black, with lots of that industrial embossed metal you see in truckbeds. Top 40 blared and a TV was tuned to ESPN. While the place is clearly aimed at men, it was packed with men and women. People were lined up to the door; one diner had his frequent-user card out, ready to be stamped.

I heard my name. “Sorry about the wait,” said the runner, even though it had been five minutes at most. He handed me a paper bag—I had said I would be eating there, but maybe they sensed I wanted to leave. I grabbed a stool at the smoothie bar and opened my plastic containers. The food was among the blandest I have ever eaten, and that’s after adding copious salt and pepper. The wrap was stuffed with pizza vegetables—peppers, onions, mushrooms (making it all very wet), tomatoes—and low-fat cheese product. It was warm, at least. The brown rice and beans looked attractive but there was no flavor; the scallions scattered on top had evidently given up trying.

When I got home, I went straight for the fridge. As I was reaching for the peanut butter, I noticed a small tub of dog food that my partner was defrosting. (The short explanation is that our dog has severe allergies.) It was made of chicken, rice, and carrots. No salt. No butter. But with bone meal added for extra protein. You know where I’m going with this.




  1. Ugh.

    Just plain (and I sense it was) UGH.

    I think that the four basic food groups should include at least butter and duck fat. Goose fat is OK too. But when our pet food starts looking tempting, we’re in trouble.

    Don’t move to France, though: Tribeca needs you!

  2. Tribeca Citizen-

    Thank you for your nice comments about our great service and friendly staff.

    Muscle Maker Grill’s signatures recipes have pleased thousands of healthy eaters taste buds for over 15 years. All of the products used in our dishes are Grade A; fresh vegetables, chicken and beef.
    Sorry that you did not like the healthier food served at Muscle Maker Grill. As you said in the opening sentence you do like your gastronomic delights, using lots of butter, oils, salts so maybe there was a preexisting bias against healthier foods cooked without the fattening additives. We would like to invite you back to try the vegetarian Arizona dish, it is made with brown rice and portobello mushrooms using our signature sauce.

    Again, Thanks for the review and if you ever want to try us again we would love to have you in.

    Thank you.

    Muscle Maker Grill

  3. I found this article to be perplexing for multiple reasons. I will explain but first of all let me state that I was turned on to Muscle Maker Grill when the franchise came to Jersey City where I live. I was most delighted when I found out one was opening in Tribeca right on my way to the office every day. I find this restaurant to be a refreshing alternative to the abundance of scary unhealthy fast food places that pervade the city.

    Okay back to the article: you stated that you were a vegetarian; same here! The veggie wrap IS actually located on the menu…it is there each and every time I flip it open to order that delicious goodness of mixed veggies. I also have never ordered the beans and rice as there are an assortment of other sides that I am working my way through first; those too are located on the menu (pasta salad, steamed broccoli, western potatoes, baked potatoes, cucumber salad… you get the point).

    You also point out that the calorie count was located on the menu, this is true but also just for your info it is a requirement of all of fast food restaurants via the NYC Govt. check it out if you have yet to hear about it:

    Bringing in a bottle of coke I am pretty sure would be totally fine as they sell soda products there and I myself have enjoyed one when I stop in for a quick bite.

    In addition the fact that you took issue with MMG “as a concept” was more then shocking. Yes I suppose it should be problematic that a restaurant is promoting healthy eating because then it makes everybody else who would prefer to indulge in artery clogging, heart stopping food feel guilty.

    Your dog eats pretty healthy…you may want to try it yourself.

  4. I was first introduced to Muscle Maker Grill very recently. I love salt, butter and all the things that make food taste out of this world delicious and this place made me very skeptical to try the food. Once I did, I fell in love. The staff is friendly. The atmosphere is so comfy that even when I finished my meal I sat there and enjoyed the experience. The food is better than I expected. I work on the Upper East Side and the few times I have to go downtown for work; lunch is at Muscle Maker Grill. They also have a breakfast menu. I tried their Fit Fuel wrap for breakfast and I seriously had energy all day. I love eating here the few times I can because I feel guilt free knowing the amount of calories I put in my body and to top it off the food is great. I want one on the UES!!

  5. I read your article and had to laugh actually. You pretty much had your mind made up and already had an opinion before you even tried the food. There are alot of people out there who do the same. I have suggested the restaurants to many friends and customers of mine to have them pretty much laugh in my face at the sound of the name. However, the few that actually TRIED the food were hooked fromt he first bite. I always love seeing their faces and reactions to the if OMG!!! The whole point is that this is a healthy alternative to the not so healthy fast food or even just other restaurants in general. When ever i am in the mood for healthy, non oil saturated and fried foods..i always choose MMG!! I think I have tried a mojority of their there are soooo many to chose from and I can honestly say that their is not a single dish that is bland or tasteless. And I have two dogs, and I know for a fact that MMG is not and should not even be compared to their food. So go on and enjoy your fatty fried oil saturated foods withyour sodas…as i will go answer my door now becuase my MMG food is just being delievered!! BTW the Sante Fe wrap with Tilapia is so DELISH!!!!