October 25, 2011 | 1:24pm
Finding the juice and vegan food bar at the back of Beehive Natural Foods is like discovering Narnia in your closet. You push through tight spaces and cluttered shelves to enter a world of adventures you never expected -- without the white witch.
If the health food counter is the wild wardrobe world, then Carlos is Mr. Tumnus, the friendly fawn. The Brazilian and seasoned health foodie has been owner, head chef, and counter man here for the last 16 years. He's quick to disarm first-time customers by handing out lots of free food samples and calling everyone professor. "Everyone is teaching something," he explains, his eyes twinkling.
Like an auctioneer, he calls out today's special menu to each new face. "Split pea soup, German potato salad, brown rice and mixed vegetables, and seitan and mushroom pie," he declares, passing small plastic serving cups of the soup and potato salad over the bar.
The all-vegetable soup ($2.50 for a cup, $3.75 a bowl) looks and tastes exactly like it should: green, simple, hearty, thick, and nutritious. The egg-free potato dish has a mild vinegar flavor and is flecked with pungent pimento, shreds of carrot, and nibs of green beans.
With a few swift movements, Carlos composes a colorful plate of shredded beets, sunflower greens, tomatoes, and avocado, all on a bed of baby spinach and mixed greens ($2.95). Dressed with a squirt of miso dressing, we can taste the health in every bite.
Before we make a dent, a small platter of the seitan and mushroom pie ($4.99) with a side of the vegetable brown rice ($2.50) lands at our right elbow. The golden, flaky pie crust cradles a wheat gluten-based meat and mushroom gravy filling. The flavors and textures evoke a feeling of warmth and comforting memories of Thanksgiving days. The brown rice, while simple, is cooked plump and tossed with fragrant seasoning and tasty chunks of cooked celery and cauliflower.
While we're still savoring, Carlos slides a "tofu chicharrón" our way: a pork-rind like piece of baked tofu flavored with nutritional yeast and basil. It's salty and chewy --- a fun-to-nosh vegan novelty snack.
With a homey feel, organic ingredients when available, and prices that make Whole Foods look like highway robbers, Beehive Natural Foods is a Miami health food fixture we deem worthy of our regular business.