In our quest to become more well-rounded in our foodie experiences, (no . . . not in the literal sense,) Jill and I decided to spend the last week exploring some of the vegetarian-vegan-raw food dining options here in beautiful Sarasota.
In undertaking this quest for healthy and delicious eating, we chose to eat lunch at Ionie Raw Food Café, located in the front of a charming, pastel yellow building on the north side of Fruitville Road, just east of Tamiami Trail.
I’m intrigued by the raw food concept. And Ionie says it best: “Just because we can cook our food, doesn’t mean we should!” Seriously, there are some foods that I prefer raw over cooked any day! (Carrots, anyone?)
The dining room is indeed tiny by most restaurant standards, with only about 15 seats. We arrived at would be considered “past the lunch hour” and found the room still modestly busy. (Side note for all you single guys: I was the only male among the smiling, health-conscious diners. Something to think about, y’ know!)
We chose our table and were greeted in short order by our waitress, Olga. As we perused the small but diverse menu, Olga returned with two glasses of reverse-osmosis, filtered water. Obviously no healthy stone left unturned here!
As a rule, we don’t opt for daily specials, simply because we don’t want to suggest something that may not be available again. It’s all about you, gentle readers! But at an organic or raw food restaurants, specials are what you should focus on, as they represent, and showcase “what’s freshest today!” And isn’t that what we’re here for?
With that thought in mind, Jill decided on the “Burger and Fries” highlighted on the daily special’s blackboard. Seeing how the menu clearly states “all our foods are made with 100% organic or wild-crafted ingredients,” how can you not wonder how Ionie’s takes on this American classic?
The burger patty was composed of rich, earthy mushrooms, topped with fresh tomato and onion, and sandwiched between leaves of brilliant green Bibb lettuce, with nary a bun in sight . . .naturally, because who ever heard of a raw bun?! The house-made ketchup was based on sun-dried tomato, an ingredient we both adore, while the “fries” were actually sweet, crunchy raw strips of rutabaga, with a delicious house-made honey-mustard dipping sauce. Bravo! These were easily as addictive as the salty starch, and . . . if you’re a parent, a great way to get your little ones eating raw vegetables instead of deep fried potatoes.
At this point I’m thinking we could easily throw our shoulders out, patting ours on the back for eating this healthy! AND enjoying it so much!
My choice must clearly be one of the signature dishes: The Ionishi Roll, a sushi-inspired presentation of carrot almond pâté, julienned vegetables and avocado in a nori wrap with a dipping sauce, wasabi and house-pickled ginger. It was everything I’d hoped for . . . and more. Jill and I are both big fans of pickled ginger, (typically an afterthought garnish-by-rote,) but at Ionie Raw Food Café, something as simple as picked ginger is elevated to a whole ‘nother level, with a kick that makes the store-bought stuff seem bland by comparison. Between that, and the natural dipping sauce mixed with a little wasabi, the dish came to life and was, in my opinion . . . flawless.
At this point, we were feeling pretty full of ourselves, but not so full that we would miss rewarding ourselves by sharing the delicate and irresistible chocolate cupcake with a butter pecan frosting. Does that sound like veering off course? Made from raw ingredients, and gluten-free, I think not! Another unbelievable variation of turning a guilty pleasure into a “not feeling guilty about it” pleasure. Yum!
A couple of more things dawned on me as we enjoyed our meals.
For proprietors such as Ionie (that would be the lovely woman warmly hugging her customers, both coming and going,) running a vegetarian/vegan/raw food café like this is more of a calling than someone that runs, say a sports bar or some such. There is a real conviction, an authenticity involved. Ionie, and restaurant owners like her, want their guests to literally feel good about their meal choice. Inspiring!
Exhibit “A”: On Tuesdays, customers can pre-order a bag of organic produce from Yellow Submarine Co-Op for pick up at Ionie Raw Food Cafe. It’s a service that entails Ionie giving up some valuable seating in the dining room. Who does that?!
It’s an over-used expression to talk about most restaurant’s dining “experience.” Well, to me anyway, the raw-organic-vegan places we’ve visited do leave me with a ture dining experience, no matter how large or small, no matter what the décor. In fact, it can pretty much be defined as not having any sort of pretense or hype. If I gave the experience one word it would be Zen. Or serenity. Or wholesome. . . Hmmm. Maybe Ionie is right and maybe fresh, natural and raw is the way we’re all meant to eat? If not every day, at least on a regular basis!
Everything about Ionie Raw Food Cafe feels so honest and real . . . if that makes any sense to you. But don’t take my word for it, experience it for yourself!