As a raw vegan, I’m lucky to live in a city that boasts of not one, but many restaurants that specialize in the kind of food I love to eat. Most of you know my favorites by now: Pure Food and Wine, Bonobos, Quintessence, Caravan of Dreams. Prepare yourselves for a new addition to that list: SproutCraft.
It strikes me as ironic that I’m writing a restaurant post today, since October has been a month of restaurant-withdrawal. Due to a confluence of birthdays, visitors, travel, client meetings, and other celebrations, this summer involved a hefty amount of restaurant dining. Which is fine, except that it left my wallet lighter than I like it to be, and it left me missing my own chef’s coat. I’m still waiting on a little more quality time in the kitch (as opposed to rushed dinners at the office desk, which have been a mainstay lately), but for now, my main incentive has been to cut down on the restaurant tabs.
But when the kind owners of SproutCraft—a new raw and organic café in New York City’s financial district—invited me and a guest to enjoy a complimentary dinner at their establishment a few weeks ago, I could hardly decline! I’d already had a taste of SproutCraft over the summer, when I met my friend Kristen there for a mid-morning bite. At that point the café was in a different location (inside Atmananda Yoga ), and—alas—it had been a bit early for me to enjoy a big lunch (I’d sampled their incredible nut milks instead!) Here’s me a Kristen, outside the old location:
I miss summer.
Anyway, I’ve been excited ever since to sample Chris and Eric’s food. And so, accompanied by generous appetites, my friend Cassie and I made our way to SproutCraft for dinner a few weeks ago.
Before I get to the food porn—and there’s plenty—I want to make clear that SproutCraft is no typical dining spot. It’s a raw café located within a conventional restaurant space (soon, the owners plan to expand and take over the kitchen, but for now, they share with a traditional deli counter). What is currently an economical use of space is actually a brilliant way to entice lunchtime diners—who may be gravitating towards roast beef sandwiches and diet cokes—to try out vegan sandwiches and kombucha instead! Having vegan options present within the same space as typical lunch fare is a great way to pique the curiosity of diners who might never think to taste vegan food otherwise.
Upon entering the restaurant, Cassie and I were delighted to find that the setup is casual and welcoming. I know that being waited upon is a part of the whole restaurant experience, but to be totally honest, neither Cassie are all that into it. To me, the operative word in “waited on” is “wait.” I hate waiting for food to arrive. I’m also a picky eater, who often wants food modified to suit my tastes, which means that I hate feeling as though I’m driving a waiter crazy with my various demands. At Sproutcraft, you order food, watch it be prepared at the counter, and then choose to either bring it to your table on your own or wait for one of the chefs to expediently bring it over. No thirty minute waits, no snooty waiters insisting that modifications are impossible. Eric and Chris take orders and prepare food, which means that they can help to make any meal suit your needs and tastes.
What makes SproutCraft really special, though, is the character of its two owners. Some restauranteurs do what they do because they love food. Others do it because they love to entertain. Others love the chance to expand and develop a business space. Most vegan restauranteurs share these qualities, but in my experience, most of them also share an ideological incentive. The ones I’ve met ( Sarma, my friend Craig at Blossom café) feel strongly about the environment, about animals, and about health. The same philosophical positions that made them try out a vegan diet have inspired them to share their lifestyles with others.
Eric and Chris fit this description, and then some. They’re not only fine chefs (and fine people), but also eloquent, well educated, and serious champions of veganism and sustainable food production. After a few moments speaking with them, it was clear to me that serving good food is not an end goal for these guys. It’s a single manifestation of a much broader political and ethical perspective.
To explain this perspective, I defer to the (very well written) SproutCraft website. The restaurant’s stated mission is this:
“Our menu is designed by Chefs Chris Rayman and Eric Levinson to maximize flavor, nutrition, and live enzymes. Emphasis is placed on sustainable practices by sourcing organic, local, and seasonal ingredients whenever possible, as well as using little or no heat to prepare our products.
It is our philosophy that food must not only sustain healthy people, but a healthy planet, as well. That is why we support farmers using sustainable practices locally, and sourcing only fair trade organic products globally. By educating our patrons about what we are doing and why we are doing it, we hope to nourish a strong community that can challenge the dangers of the globalized food system.”
Elsewhere on the website, the two thoughtful chefs meditate on sustainability:
“When we decided to start a living-foods café, we knew that we were taking a risk by heading into unexplored territory. From our point of view, we were pioneers in what may very well be the future of a sustainable food system…This means buying seasonal, local, and organic products, often straight from the farmers…In the kitchen, we are developing production methods that require very little non-human energy, and someday hope to be a completely “off-the-grid” urban kitchen.”
It’s worth noting that Eric and Chris also address the importance of making their food affordable. And indeed, the prices at SproutCraft are significantly more reasonable than prices at other vegan and raw dining spots.
Since Eric was so impassioned in his discussion of all things environmental, sustainable, political, nutritional, and vegan, I decided that it would be remiss not to do a short Q & A with him. Before I get to the food, I’d like to share his responses to a few of my burning questions about SproutCraft.
1) Can you tell me a bit more about how SproutCraft came to be? What was the original conception for the restaurant, and how has it evolved?
SproutCraft came to be out of a desire to create a model for what a sustainable restaurant looks like, in terms of fostering health for both people and the planet. Originally, the concept had a mix of living and cooked foods, but evolved to a completely raw menu. In our new location, we also offer a hot lunch that’s made from local, organic produce to accommodate the lunch-hour crowd.
2) What–aside from those amazing wraps–do you think sets SproutCraft apart from other raw/vegan dining spots in New York?
I think a lot of raw places tend to be indulgent in nuts and oils, where we prefer to emphasize fresh vegetables. We have a couple of regulars in our new location, including one that eats hear every day who tells us he can’t eat at other raw food places everyday. The difference being that our food is light and balanced without relying on nuts and oils.
Our menu is also very dynamic, allowing us to use seasonal produce from local farms throughout the year. There’s also a lot of cultured foods on our menu that we make ourselves, like sauerkraut, kimchi and tonics like kombucha, kefir, and rejuvelac. Almost everything on the menu contains probiotics and sprouts!
3) As my readers know, I’m sort of a sprouting novice. Any tips for those of us who want to start sprouting at home, but are a little scared?
Just go for it! Start small, with a quart-sized glass jar, cheesecloth and rubber band. That’s all you need. Anything you want to sprout, look it up on www.sproutpeople.com and just follow the directions. It’s so easy. I suggest starting with almonds, since they are really easy to integrate into your daily routine and so incredibly versatile and nutritious. Just cover about a cup of almonds in three cups of water and let them soak in a bowl on your counter while you sleep. In the morning, drain and rinse. They’re ready to eat as is or peeled, so you can throw them into cereals, make your own almond milk, or anything else you can do with almonds. And of course, we offer private training sessions for a real hands-on experience with sprouts and living foods!
A quote that sums it all up comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos: “Take it from someone who’s been around about a million years, food is almost the whole story every time.”
I realized a long time ago that food is a decision everyone makes every day, and it affects not only their own personal health, but the health of the environment, countless others involved in producing the food they purchase (or don’t purchase), and even the health of their local economy. As we’ve seen with movies like Food, Inc. and Super Size Me, food can be the starting point for a discussion about health, politics, and community.
SproutCraft’s mission is to support local farmers and create common ground for all the various conscientious “foodies” that seem to miss the connection. Whether you eat better because you call yourself an environmentalist, locavore, vegetarian, vegan, gourmand, raw foodist, sick or healthy, rich or poor, we all have a common desire for better food produced under better conditions. It’s time we start looking for that common ground instead of what makes us different, and there’s nothing better than beautiful food to bring people together.
Eric: It’s so hard to pick a favorite! Every time someone asks me that, I just end up going down the whole menu. I find myself making lots of huge sunflower “meat” taco salads with all the wonderful local greens, chili-Colorado sauce and Ranch dressing, lots of veggies, avocado and kimchi, but I’m also a big fan of the lentil burger with the hemp-tomato pesto and a coconut smoothie.
Chris: The Raw Stir Fry! It’s got so many intricate details and flavors that combine so beautifully to create an incredibly healthful meal. The best part about it, I can never make it exactly the same way twice, based on what vegetables we have when I make it. I’m also a big fan of the Masala chai, whether I have it with hot with almond milk or cold in a coconut smoothie. It also takes a lot of willpower for me to not eat all of the raw chocolate!
How bout that Vonnegut quote, guys?
And I should mention, Choosing Raw readers, that that chocolate Chris mentions is a mere $1.00 or $1.25 a piece. This is almost unheard of in the raw chocolate world—take it from a girl who knows her chocolate!
On to the evening in question.
I tend to share Eric and Chris’s aversion to overly oily and heavy raw food, and so I was delighted to see a strong emphasis on produce and well digested food on the SproutCraft menu. After deliberating for quite a while about what we wanted—and nibbling on samples of the amazing marinated kale and chard salad as we did it—Cassie and I chose a few winners.
We started with the vegetable nori roll, which came with a delicious ranch dipping sauce:
These were incredible! Nutty and filling, but not too dense.
Next, we split a giant house salad with shredded radish, flax crackers, avocado, and more ranch sauce:
And, because we can each eat a pound of greens a piece, the marinated Portobello salad, which was served on a bed of fresh greens and shredded veggies tossed in ranch dressing with sunflower seeds, fresh herbs, and shredded radish:
This was by far the evening’s winner. I love salads, as you all know, and this one was exceptionally tasty. I’d never think to pair Portobello with seaweed, but it worked beautifully.
Finally, we had to try a famous SproutCraft wheat-free seed wrap, so we split the avocado wrap with greens, fresh veggies, pickles, sprouts and ranch dressing.
Again, this was amazing. I have yet to figure out how Chris manages to make such paper-thin, light, and delicious sandwich wraps, but I hope he’ll be kind enough to share his technique with me in a kitchen tutorial sometime.
What do you think, Chris?
After the meal, Cassie, Chris, Eric, and my friend Mike —who happened to be dining at SproutCraft that evening, too—sat around and talked about health, the environment, veganism, and so on. As we did that, we ate some delicious raw halvah and almond cookies (yummy, and not too sweet):
Cassie and I left with grateful bellies and a true appreciation of everything that Eric and Chris are trying to do.
I can’t say enough good things (clearly) about these guys and the kind of work they’re doing. If you’re in NYC, I urge you to try SproutCraft out. Experience the amazing food for yourself, and know that you’re giving back to a worthy team of progressive and eco-conscious chefs.
And if you’re not here in NYC, please support SrpoutCraft regardless! Check out the site, follow Eric and Chris on Twitter (SproutCraft), and friend them on Facebook. I can guarantee that these two will be scheming about many incredible incentives outside of NYC in future years, and you should all try to be a part of them.
On that note, happy weekend, all!