Barbara Jean Barta is a bona fide St. Simons Island celebrity. Not only has she called the Golden Isles home for more than 20 years, her name is also the moniker of a must-stop spot for tourists and locals alike. Barbara Jeans Restaurant has been open in the Pier Village since March 1998, serving countless guests looking for down home comfort food with a coastal twist. She and her husband, Jim, previously operated two sister locations in Florida before selling those to other owners.
From their famed crab cakes to grits and fried catfish, there is plenty to please on their menu. But for diners looking to go lighter, Barta also provides a fair selection of greens. There are the popular salad selections including the Kailua Chicken Salad, which features mango and pineapple on a bed of fresh lettuce. There's also B.J.’s Blue Salad that pairs fruit with veggies and pecans on a bed of crisp romaine and iceberg. While salad may come to mind most frequently when thinking of eating light, there are plenty of green vegetables that provide a boost of nutrition without being a calorie bomb.
Greens — as they're often collectively referred to in the South — can mean a number of things. They can be a collard, turnip, or mustard. The term can also include spinach. Of course, it can also reference your typical salad lettuces like romaine, iceberg, or arugula. The term can certainly create a lot of gray area, Barta notes. "Arugula is also called rocket," she notes with a smile. Regardless of which type of green — salad or vegetable — they all have one thing in common: They are good for the body.
And Barta appreciates that. All of the greens provide a broad spectrum that allow her to create a number of recipes and a ton of variety. For instance, they can be sautéed or roasted. They can be side items or pooled together for a veggie plate.
Barta is happy to go any way, when it comes to getting in the greens. And preparation is often fairly easy. "I really like roasting them, but I also sauté them using butter or salt pork for heavier things like turnips," she says.
The way she prepares greens is often seasonal. "We have spinach and turnips," she says, standing in the bustling restaurant. "During the warmer months, I like to do more of the lighter greens. Winter greens, to me, would be the collards and mustards, the Swiss chard, turnips. But when we start getting to this part of the season, I go lighter with arugula and spinach."
Barta's colorful take on an arugula dish is the perfect way to get in healthy greens during the summer and enjoy something that will also gives back to the body in terms of nutrition. "I really like this because it's light and easy. There's a lot of color to it and you could always serve it over pasta with cheese if you wanted," she says.
Recipe: Arugula with peppers and onions
• 5 oz arugula
• 1 red pepper, diced
• 1 yellow pepper, diced
• 1 Tbsp. of garlic, minced
• 1 basket of cherry tomatoes, halved
• 3 Tbsps. olive oil
• 2 tsps. Italian seasoning
• 8 leaves of basil, julienned or cut into long strips
• 1 tsp. Kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
• 1 pinch of red pepper flakes
Directions: Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Place in a roasting pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes. Mix in the arugula and basil. This can be enjoyed as it is or served over pasta with Parmesan cheese for something more filling.