Friday, December 26, 2008

Raw Food In St. Pete.

photo from the St. Petersburg Times

Leafy Greens Cafe is a raw food and vegan establishment in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.

My friend Gina alerted me several weeks before my annual sojourn to St. Petersburg, Florida that a raw food restaurant had opened its doors in the downtown area.

"I don't buy it," was my response. 

St. Petersburg, deep in the heart of Florida, is not known for its celebration of healthy living. We Southerners tend to like things dead, deep-fried, gutted, battered, glazed, hickory smoked, filleted, corpuscular, and bloody. 

"It's true!" she exclaimed. "And it's fucking good!" she added excitedly. She had been down to visit her father recently, and had eaten at the restaurant every day, at least once a day. 

Now, Gina, a friend I've had since the early '90s, is one of the few people I know who shares my absolute affinity for trying the most esoteric, bizarre, costly, time-consuming, or downright perverted forms of veganism. 

She was famous back in the day for her homemade rejuvelac and her multiple jars of sprouts and nut pastes and butters, all of which she would consume happily while emitting random "mmm-MMM!"s and "God DAMN, this shit is good!"s. 

At the time, I found her raw food penchant to be a bit too strange - I was relatively new to vegetarianism and had not yet teetered over into complete and utter veganism. 

Oh, I tried vegan foods, but back then - when something said "Vegan" on it - it was pretty much guaranteed to taste either like composted coffee grounds or unwiped ass. Things have improved markedly over the past decade-plus, and now a vegan can eat things that taste absolutely amazing without putting too much effort into it. 

Over the years, I realized that veganism was for me, not just to help animals (though that was the primary reason leading to my decision), but people and the environment as well. Finally, I decided to try raw food, first at Cru in Los Angeles, then at my old New York standby joints - Westerly and Lifethyme - and finally, at Jill's in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.

Gina had come to visit, and she wanted to try Jill's. We went there, and we tried each and every one of those God Damn desserts, sounding like hogs at a trough, yodeling out from time to time with joy - "Oh my god, this is so FUCKING GOOD!" and "Jesus, can you believe this shit is raw?!?"

But all of that is really beside the point. You expect to find weirdo shit like that in New York and Los Angeles. 

We're talking about St. Petersburg, the home of Ted Peters Smoked Fish House and more Bob Evans than you can count. We're talking about a town that prides itself on its many BBQ restaurants that use pigs in aprons and chef's hats as their mascots. 

She and I made plans in advance to go to Leafy Greens Cafe (at 409 Central Avenue) when I got home. Nestled in the downtown area next to the old Kress Department Store and in the space where the old McCrory's was (I got some Urkel-O's cereal in that McCrory's in 1994... gross), this place was about as unassuming as a place can possibly be. I was very excited. 

The owner, who came over and talked to us while we were waiting for our food, had an interesting story regarding her raw food choice:
As a Raw Foodist (that’s what we are called), I am living proof that eating a vegan diet does wondrous things to a person’s health. 

In early 2007, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, which is a degenerative immune system disease. I was told that, without treatment, I could die in five years. 

This is a genuine wake-up call for anyone! I began a raw food diet the next day. I bought a small cookbook but found that the recipes were horrible—the food was pureed in a blender and had no flavor or texture. My husband, Doug, and I almost gave up but because of my health (and because I had purchased a week of food for the raw food venture), we decided to purchase another cookbook that was highly recommended online (“RAW the uncook book” by Juliano.

After one meal we were hooked! The food was wholesome and amazing! In four months, my blood was totally transformed and the doctor released me saying that he could find no sign of any illness! 

After my amazing experience, I decided that I had an obligation to introduce as many people as possible to the delicious vegan food we love and tell anyone who is willing to listen about my near-miraculous healing!
She was a lovely woman, clearly very passionate about her food and lifestyle choice. 

I ordered: 

  • mango soup - "This is my daughter Joanne's invention! Mango, coconut, lemon, and a bit of nut milk pureed and topped with chunks of mango and shredded coconut. Delish! Eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner!"

  • The Real Deal - "The first time I had this onion bread was at the Grass Root, a raw and vegan organic restaurant in Tampa. I was blown away! Our sandwich is served on our delicious homemade raw onion bread and stuffed with raw cashew hummus, chopped lettuce, guacamole, sprouts, and halved grape tomatoes."

  • I also had a raw chocolate, peanut butter and banana smoothie. 

    Now, to say that this food was delicious is not doing it justice. It was just plain amazing. That raw onion bread - however the hell she made it - will haunt my dreams until the day I die. It was oh so good.

    So good, in fact, that I went back the next day and ordered the same thing (I tend to do that - I know I'd be a better reviewer of hippie establishments if I'd sample their supply, but I can't help it. I loved that onion bread and I wanted it again, god damn it). 

    Gina and I took a confirmed non-vegan, meat-eating friend of ours there. He got the "Not-tuna sandwich" and he exclaimed that it was completely delicious. 

    Gina, on an "all-fruit" binge for the day, decided to have the "Banana Blast" - "This absolutely delectable dish is made from bananas, chopped nuts and pure vanilla bean and topped with berry sauce garnished with fresh fruits and homemade chocolate shavings! WOW!" Wow is right... I tried that motherfucker and wished I had ordered my own!

    Basically, what I'm trying to say is two things - 1) I am baffled, proud and amazed that my hometown has gotten progressive enough that raw food restaurants can thrive in it, and 2) I am glad that this particular raw food restaurant serves really good, dazzlingly delicious food. 

    Go there and try it! You'll be very happy you did.

    (Read a full review of Leafy Greens from the St. Petersburg Times here)

    3 comments:

    Dexter "Jiggles" LaRue said...

    "unwiped ass."

    Priceless.

    ginavivinetto said...

    I wish I knew how to spell one of those funny noises I make to convey my contentment at what I've just bitten, but I don't. Insert that sound here.

    Misty Snatchwrath said...

    It's a hybrid of "mmmm!" but it's got more to it than that.