The first "choices" that led up to the birth of Choices Vegan Café (379 SW 15th Road, Miami) were brothers Jorge and Alex Cuevas' decisions to leave their long-time former professions. Jorge, 45, was a high-level school district administrator in San Francisco, handling more than 40 million dollars in federal and state education funding. Alex, 34, had been in software sales for 11 years. But both of the 15-year vegans had a passion for earth-conscious living and eating habits that eventually drove them to put it all on the line and open a vegan restaurant here in Miami.
To add to the risk factor, the spot they found is the same one that Om Garden, another vegan restaurant, used to inhabit before it closed its doors last year. The joint is located on a quasi-residential street and has a homey look from the outside, but a sleek, fresh, and streamlined appearance inside, with new paint in vibrant green, plus shiny new counter tops and simple white stools. It's soft opening, what Jorge calls the "menu stabilization" phase, began six days ago, and customers have been either stumbling in from the neighborhood or coming in rather purposefully after having found the place online.
To deepen the pertinence of the restaurant's name, diners have three tiers of vegan food to choose
from: "Soul-ution," vegan "comfort foods," or alternatives to
traditional foods; "Evo-lution," healthier vegan meals; and
"Raw-volution," raw vegan foods with the highest nutrient density,
phytochemicals, and digestive enzymes.
Short Order got a chance to sample a bit of each of these tiers on our First Bites visit.
burrito comes from the "Soul-ution" portion of the menu, because it
employs meat alternatives to mimic the flavor of a typical burrito. But
this hearty wrap did a lot better than simple substitution with its mix
of spicy, creamy, and sweet flavors.
spiciness stemmed from the soy chorizo, a vegan version of the Mexican
sausage. The luscious and surprisingly creamy, cheesy taste could be
attributed to the Daiya brand
tapioca-based cheese alternative smooshed in the center. And the sweet
flavor came to our mouths courtesy of some organic plantains, sauteed
lightly before being folded into the mix.
wrap was accompanied by a plate of fresh organic salad, lightly dressed
with lime juice and not much else. The burrito's mix of flavors popped,
and the dish as a whole was ridiculously satisfying. Far from "bird
food," it would be especially great for diners just starting to
experiment with meat and dairy-free foods, but who are unwilling to
stray too far from the looks and tastes of familiar eats.
Next, we tried four of Choices' healthful soups and sides.
starting from the left-most cup, we tried the roasted buckwheat
vegetable soup ($6 for a regular portion), made with organic garlic,
tomato, onion and lemon. It was flavorful and not too salty, but could
have gone a bit lighter on the garlic.
line was the kale stew ($6), which had a strong tomato flavor that we
were surprised by, but welcomed over the heavy "green" kale flavor that
we expected. Other ingredients include black beans, soy chorizo, and
melt-in-your mouth cubes of sweet potato.
came the quinoa salad ($7), a simple mix of perfectly cooked organic
quinoa, onions, lemon, cilantro, and kernels of raw sweet corn. Alex
mentioned that this was one of the top sellers, and we liked it, but we
preferred the next salad for its refreshing juxtaposition of citrus,
spice, summery vegetables and fruits.
salad was the jicama and papaya ($6), a simple blend of those two
elements, plus lime juice and cayenne pepper. The mix of crisp and
fleshy textures and tangy and spicy flavors was the perfect combination
for a hot Miami night.
rolls ($5) may or may not make regular appearances on the restaurant's
permanent menu, as Jorge says they're extremely time-consuming to
prepare. But if you happen to be in the neighborhood when Choices has
them as a featured special, try one. They consist of organic greens,
tofu, sprouts, carrots, and tomato, accented with fresh mint leaves and a
dollop of a spicy almond-peanut sauce, all wrapped in a moistened
rice-paper roll. Fragrant, fresh, and healthy, these rolls have a mix of
textures and flavors that's fun to eat.
The "Por Su Pesto" sandwich (a play on the Spanishpor supuesto
, meaning "of course") is a simple tofu sandwich onEzekiel bread
(made from organic sprouted whole grains), topped with spinach, tomato,
and homemade pesto. It was tasty. Maybe nothing to write home about,
but a good value as it includes a generous side salad for $10.
brothers plan to start serving breakfast within the next few weeks.
(Jorge said he's in the process of perfecting the perfect vegan and
gluten-free pancake --- God bless him.) We got to try one of the dishes
that will become a staple of the morning menu: raw oatmeal.
No, that doesn't just mean choking down handfuls of dry oats. Organic
oats, along with cashews, cinnamon, and dates, are soaked for somewhere
around 15 hours. Before serving, fresh fruits like strawberries and
bananas are sliced in. The result? A higher nutrient retention in your
favorite breakfast food. As far as taste and texture goes, the dish
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closely resembles a fruity rice pudding.
The restaurant also serves the made-to-order organic raw juices Alex has become so well known for, and it will soon roll out its superfood smoothie menu, featuring ingredients like raw cacao, maca, and goji berries.
Choices is currently open from noon to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Call 305-400-8895 or go to mychoicescafe.com.