During lunchtime at Choices Vegan Cafe off Brickell on Saturday, five workers were in constant motion behind the counter and there was literally not a seat. It was a madhouse. Like a comedy routine, families and small groups walked in the front door, one after another, where their conversation would abruptly stop, they'd blink a few times and say, "Oh my God..." Meanwhile, guests who came for the vegan pancakes or tofu and pesto sandwiches didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave. They ordered slices of vegan cakes and pies to top off their brunches.
The wonderful thing is, it was pretty clear that many patrons were not initiated health foodies. One guest, while waiting with his wife and small children for a table, grabbed a coconut-flavored kombucha from below the front counter. He took a sip and said, "Pshah! This has gone off!" holding the open drink out for his wife, and even me, a stranger, to sniff. I laughed and told him that kombucha is by definition fermented, or in other words, "purposely off;" it's the probiotic bacteria inside it that make it good for your guts. He blushed and his whole group had a chuckle about his confusion.
Upstairs there was a little more room to breathe as Rae Indigo, a representative from the American Nutrition Institute, co-taught a workshop on detoxing with juices, smoothies and soups. When I joined in, she and Brett Rawald were in the middle of preparing "Rae's Favorite on the Go Rawsome Soup," which entailed loading a Vitamix with avocado, garlic, tomato, ginger, apple, lemon, celery, greens, carrots, herbs, flax oil, onion, and miso paste.
"Everybody try a little miso," Indigo said, passing around a tub of the fermented soybean paste. "It's very strong, so you may not want to eat to much. But see for yourselves. This is how we learn to cook, by tasting and trying."
Rawald went on to start the process of blending the superfood soup. Some students passed around handfuls of herbs to smell. Others busily scribbled notes in the spiral bound cookbooks/coursebooks the duo had distributed for the class, which covered everything from digestive health and the immune system to pH balancing your food intake and how much vegetable juice is safe to drink (the answer: as much as you want).
Later on, a friend and I finally got a table inside the main restaurant. I had a large bowl of the miso, mushroom, and ginger soup, which I chased with a "Thinner Mint" smoothie (mint leaves, almond milk, raw cacao, banana, walnuts and dates) for dessert. The soup revived me from a state of exhaustion, while the smoothie was just plain delicious - I'm going to try to recreate it at home. My pal tried the signature Insane Mexican Wrap. A recent convert to the plant-based lifestyle, he said it was the best burrito he'd ever had. "Puts Chipotle to shame," I believe were his exact words.
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Things are going well at Choices Cafe -- so well that co-owner Jorge Cuevas is a bit overwhelmed. "We've got five people at the counter, and I hide back here," he told me behind the double doors at the back of the restaurant. "There's too much craziness out there for me."
For a restaurant owner, though, it seems like a good kind of craziness to have around.