Saturday night is usually a time for counterbalancing all the healthful food you ate during the workweek by dumping large amounts of alcohol and greasy restaurant food into your system. This past Saturday, though, more than 300 people made alternative "choices" by popping nutritious vegan hors d'oeuvres and sipping organic green juices at the three-phase grand-opening party of Choices Vegan Café off Brickell.
Choices held a soft opening in September, but after taking customer feedback and tinkering with the menu, owners Alex and Jorge Cuevas decided it was time for a big unveiling. The restaurant partnered with two neighboring, like-minded businesses to throw the three-stop migrating bash: One World Lifestyle -- a soon-to-open Eastern imports store (in a beautiful defunct church) -- and Brickell Hot Yoga.
The party started at 7 p.m. at the café. Having gotten word through Facebook, Meetup.com, online newspapers, and word of mouth, the crowd spilled into the street and munched on morsel after morsel of Choices' proudest menu items.
"I tried the chipotle wrap, the mock tuna, the jícama salad, quinoa and black bean salads, and some raw date bars," said Jenny Silveira, a Miami vegan who was introduced to Choices when she attended a recent pancake brunch at the restaurant. She added that the jícama salad was her favorite of the night. "It's awesome that people are supporting the vegan community... The scene [in Miami] has been pretty lackluster, but it seems to be gaining more momentum. There are more options now," she said, carefully avoiding abuse of the word choices.
Around 8:30, the party migrated to the church garden next door, a serene space lit by large torches and lanterns, illuminating life-size Buddhas, snaking green plants, and a pebble-lined walkway that quickly filled with guests. The peaceful partiers dipped into buckets of sangria and sampled raw organic desserts while a drum circle broke out under a tent.
Lori Zito, a friend and comrade of Choices owner Alex Cuevas, flew in from New York especially for the event. A longtime vegan and animal rights proponent, she has donated a lot of her "rawcipes" and input for the Cuevas brothers' enterprise. "I love experimenting with different combinations. And the great thing about vegan baking is you can always eat the batter, with no worries," she said as her natural treats quickly disappeared.
Not all guests were so steeped in the vegan community. Robert James, a self-proclaimed carnivore, arrived from Hollywood primarily to scout a new place to take his vegan mom. He heard about the party through Meetup.com. "It's good to see another vegan place open up -- to get more choices," he said, unable to resist the pun. "The hors d'oeuvres were good; the sangria is tasty. It's a good spot to eat."
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Zito's vegan peanut butter fudge samples made a round through the crowd before Cuevas called everyone to move on to the third stop of the night around 9:30. Guests trickled across the street and toward Brickell Avenue to hit Brickell Hot Yoga's studio for more wine, more desserts (this time Zito's raw cookie dough balls, or "Zi-doughs"), and some electronic music.
Cuevas made a brief speech of gratitude to the room, calling yoga studio owner Fred Busch up to the front. The duo drew guest Kevin Melendez as the winning entry among those who had entered a contest via Facebook, and awarded him and his wife a $300 check.
"I'm extremely happy with the turnout, and the Choices team looks forward to continuing serving Miami," Cuevas said of the event. "The Golden Triangle is an exciting partnership for all of us, and we think it will be a powerful force in ushering in higher consciousness here in Miami."