Carnivore’s Holiday: Beets Living Foods Cafe

A 10-part adventure on the other side of the food chain
Part 1: Beets Living Foods Cafe
1611 W. Fifth St., Suite 165. 477-2338,
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
2014 update: Beets has closed.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 05.21.12
Respect for animals is one thing. Respect for vegetables is on another plane entirely at a place like Beets, where the food is spared even the cruelties of extreme heat. The idea is that cooking destroys what we hope to get from our food in the first place. Minerals, vegetables, fiber, satisfaction. But how to follow that ethos without tray after party tray of sticks and dips and Jack LaLanne juicer cocktails? Beets has dozens of answers, drawing on techniques as simple as dehydrating, marinating, grinding, pickling and spicing. Then comes the simplest beauty of all: combining. A burger patty made with carrots, beets, sunflower seeds, onion and flax. Corn tostadas with “sunflower beanz” and sour cream made with cashews. Ice cream made with nut milk and sweetened with dates.
Beets opened in 2009 in a mixed-use residential development along West Fifth, across the street from the elegant trainwreck we know as Donn’s Depot. It’s wide and well-lit from a mix of daylight, recessed lamps and a constellation of white paper lampshades like bubbles in an arctic lava lamp. The light crawls along a tiered ceiling of eggplant purple and sundried tomato red and across molded honey-wood chairs and a polished concrete floor the color of a dry creek bed. The effect is close to nature, but the kind of nature that fits into an upwardly mobile retail setting with customers who can drop $22 on a sandwich and a juice without getting their yoga pants in a twist. Understand, I know that good food doesn’t come cheap. Only cheap food comes cheap. And there’s no institutional food truck that brings raw sunflower flatbread.
What you’re eating: Unsure where to start, I announced I had $25 and gave myself over to the staff. A real Zucchini Zuckerberg I am. The server responded with a Reuben sandwich ($13.95) built on cracker-thin sunflower flatbread the color of toasted pumpernickel. Texturally, it’s like a masa cake with stronger connective tissue and a familiar graininess trending toward gumminess, and it tastes like a handful of softened sunflower seeds.
The Reuben characteristics are carried out with rye seeds dodging among tangy shreds of green cabbage sauerkraut with a cheese spread made from cashews that carries the nutty-sweet funk of something like softened Swiss. There’s nothing pretending to be corned beef, and I’m grateful for that. For one, the imagined substitutes scare me. But mostly because the Beets Reuben draws its own identity from slices of portobello mushroom marinated as soft as you could ever cook them. Their earthy demeanor plays off onions presented soft, sweet and browned as if they’d been caramelized. They finish the plate with paper-thin mandoline slices of sweet potato and white Japanese yam dehydrated to a popcorn crunch with a sprinkle of garden herb and matchstick salad of ruby beets, a vegetable vastly underappreciated in its raw form.
If the Reuben showcases raw food as a pop song, curried carrot soup ($4.25/cup) is more like a brass band, with sharps of ginger and pine nut yielding to a carrot and orange melody accented with garlic and lemon. Forget its raw-foods pedigree; this would be an exhilarating summer soup on any menu.
What you’re drinking: The KLJ ($6.75 for a pint glass). Here’s where things got green. I mean the mossy-green greeniness of the Greenfield family reunion: kale, spinach, celery, Romaine lettuce, cucumber, cilantro and parsley. Even with some apple folded in, this tasted like the liquefied scraps from a green-grocer’s trimming table. Grassy and sharp, its bubble-topped froth hangs on to the last, as if it were conjuring life beneath the foam on the healthiest planet in the galaxy. Not just filling. Chlorophylling.
Other options: At my own modified request, my command-performance lunch topped out at $27. I’m thoroughly sated and could have stopped at the Reuben and left with a lighter step. Along with adventurous raw-food constructions like hemp-crust pizza with almond cheese ($12.95) and a BLT with spiced eggplant standing in for bacon ($12.95), Beets plays it straight with salads of kale or sprouted lentil ($6.25 each) and a smoothie with coconut, pineapple and vanilla ($5.75/small). Somewhere in-between are raw versions of diner staples like tacos ($12.95), mock tuna salad ($7.95/$12.35) and guacamole dip ($7.50).
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)