There has been a growing trend over the past several years toward eating a more healthful diet. And various diets have gained popularity, such as the raw food and vegan ones. Miami has nowhere near as many health food restaurants as Los Angeles, for example, but Short Order found several to investigate. Because Miami Beach probably has the 305 market cornered, I stayed inland and visited the Last Carrot in Coconut Grove and Lifefood Gourmet in the Roads.
Now I'm not normally fond of pretentious, raw, vegan, patchouli-plentiful food places. It's not that I don't like to eat healthy -- I'll take steamed Brussels sprouts over French fries nine times out of ten. It's just that these places tend to have an inauthentic sincerity, a sense of faux bohème, that grates on my nerves faster than the $1,600 juicer that sits in their kitchens.
Some staff members at these types of places wear a cloak of superiority -- an organic, 100 percent hemp, eco-friendly cloak, made by craftspeople and artisans, not by the indigenous populations of Third-World countries. Riiiiiight. Their subtle sneer implies that if you don't eat this way every day, you will soon die.
This is nowhere truer than at Lifefood Gourmet. The man behind the counter was snottier than a Parisian maître d' seating a couple of Midwestern tourists. As he described each menu item, his condescension grew until it reached astronomical proportions -- matched only by the prices on the menu.
On the other hand, the Last Carrot, although still a bit pretentious, is much more believable. The food is natural and organic, and there are lots of veggies involved, but the servers don't look at you like you're Jeffrey Dahmer when you order the tuna pita ($7.75).
Food anywhere is worth any price if said price is backed by taste. So when I complain about the prices at Lifefood, consider it like someone complaining about paying $7 for a turd sandwich. To be fair, also keep in mind that it is 100 percent raw and organic turd imported from Somalia and served on artisan bread.
So when I tried the "burger" ($12) at Lifefood, which consisted of a veggie nut patty with nacho "cheese" on sprouted bread, and felt the revulsion course through my body, I knew part of that revulsion was owed to the fact that I had just paid someone to serve me feces. Well, any place charging $6.50 for a 12-ounce glass of iced tea is already rubbing me the wrong way. One of those ounces better contain water from the Fountain of Youth.
The Last Carrot's quality and selection match its prices. There is no trying to take advantage of the "health food" or "organic" labels.
I asked the folks at Lifefood if they had anything that didn't taste like dirt, and they made me a sampler platter of the special menu, which they comped. The only good thing on this plate was some garlicky cauliflower "rice," which actually tasted pretty good. Everything else was straight garbage.
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The Last Carrot's aforementioned tuna pita is good. My girlfriend didn't like it, but she prefers her tuna breaded, fried, and stuffed inside a chicken nugget, so it goes without saying that her opinion wasn't valid on this occasion.
The Last Carrot will fill your tuna pita with roughage at your request; I took mine with everything (I think): cucumbers, tomatoes, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, shredded carrots, and lettuce. It comes with two dressings: a chunky orange herbal dressing and a thick green vinaigrette. Both add tremendous flavor to the pita without killing the flavor of the fresh ingredients like a creamy commercial dressing would.
The Last Carrot is like that old vegetarian aunt who is widowed, owns three cats named after literary characters, and grows her own vegetables. She might be kind of kooky, but her heart is in the right place. Lifefood is like the Skynet of the health food universe. For its humility, food, and prices, the Last Carrot wins.