Sprout's Last Stand
In Coconut Grove, where commerce and nature have wrestled over square footage for decades, The Last Carrot juice bar remains a tribute to hipper, or hippier, days. Those would be the Seventies, when "the Grove" implied folksingers, incense, McGovern bumper stickers, and pottery classes. When the Last Carrot opened in 1975, it was no more than a kiosk in a sliver mall that today houses the Hungry Sailor.
The shop now is sandwiched (forgive the pun) in a "paved paradise" strip mall between a Subway and a convenience store. Its outdoor sign, a cartoon carrot, stands like a flag of sorts, staking out a last stand of raw veggie restaurants felled in a stampede of chain eateries and franchises hell-bent on profit margins. Perhaps a better name is the Lone Carrot.
Despite a renewed national emphasis on the joys of eating "raw" in the past few years, Miami has been slow to make the transition from our sumptuous black beans and arroz con pollo. Yet during the three times we visited, we schmoozed with a variety of happy customers. They were Gen X-ers raised by hippie parents, take-outers who appreciated the fast service (often only a three-minute wait for a sandwich), and chubby boomers seeking to clean up their diets periodically with a sprout salad or protein shake.
On a recent visit we tried a fresh salad with "dolphin safe" tuna (a reasonable four dollars) in a sea of freshly cut cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, and tomatoes. Clearly the strongest of the menu offerings, the salads are served with homemade dressings, one an impressive, tangy vinaigrette, another a tofu-tomato herbal. If you want a sandwich, you receive the same healthy portion, but stuffed in a whole-wheat pita. A hummus sandwich ($2.90) was equally generous and tasty.
A word about bread, however. If you love good bread, steer away from the sandwiches. The pita is a bit thin to accommodate the oversize fillings, leading, in the worst-case scenario, to the formidable drip down the wrist toward the elbow. Instead try the spinach pie, made by the respected Daily Bread Marketplace, then enhanced on site with tuna or avocado and melted cheese. The resulting hybrid is a flaky texture surrounding flavorful, mushy morsels with tantalizing tartness. The avocado pie ($3.25) was especially tasty.
Note to serious health-food eaters: You may be disappointed to learn that The Last Carrot offers only one organic dish: a veggie burger ($3.30). The owner, who once offered organic foods on the menu, concedes that customers won't pay the price difference for organic vegetables and fruits.
Sitting at the bar, we tried a large fresh carrot juice ($3.00), undoubtedly enhanced by the direct experience of watching and smelling the carrots stuffed one by one into the grinder as we waited. Again, not organic, but pulpy and sweet. A protein shake with wheat germ, bran, and honey ($2.85) was thick and flavorful, though on another day a papaya smoothie ($2.50) seemed a bit thin. A black bean soup ($2.50) lacked the flavor of the well-spiced Cuban recipe, but was adequate.
Those seeking an aesthetic experience may be put off by the sloppy piling of full inventory boxes of bottles and cans in the front area. We couldn't help wondering how the place might look with a couple of small dining tables, or at least without those cardboard boxes.
Then again maybe that is part of the appeal: In the Grove, land of decaf amaretto cappuccino and strawberry cheesecake, this juice bar is one of few shops from the old school, offering tasty, no-frills, raw food at affordable prices.
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