Native Foods Café – A Concept Of Truly Healthy, ALL VEGAN, Casual Dining For The 21st Century!
With heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, dementia and other common and often fatal maladies on the rise, people are finally beginning to awaken to the fact that good health begins with what we choose to put on our plates. With mounting evidence that a diet largely consisting of plants can prevent and reverse many of these debilitating diseases, the world is beginning to embrace a plant-based, healthy lifestyle. That’s right, veganism has become cool. And it is high time.
Many fast food restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon and have begun to offer vegan options. Chipotles offers a couple of healthy vegan dishes, even eschewing the use of GMOs, and Wendy’s is now rumored to be creating a veggie burger. It’s a beginning.
On VOAA’s trip to Chicago to participate in VeggieFest Chicago this past weekend, we were blown away to discover Native Foods Café, a gem of a restaurant that offers nothing but healthy plant-based fare made from scratch. All vegan, all the time! What a concept!
This revelation began when I happened to stumble across chef Drew Swint of Native Foods Café performing a cooking demonstration while Cherle Link, Director of Sales and Catering for Native Foods, proudly showed off their exquisite full-colored cookbook featuring some of Native Foods’ best recipes. Connecting on a “gut” level, as only foodies can, Cherle and I made a date to visit Native Foods Café in River Forest in late afternoon, once Sunday’s cooking demonstrations were behind us.
Native Foods is not the new kid on the block. It’s been in operation since 1994 and has opened 25 stores nationwide, largely in the midwest and the west coast which explains why we had never crossed paths. (Veggin’ Out and About! has been largely an east coast operation slowly gaining popularity in the mid and western states.) The food is reasonably priced with entrees at less than $10.
We chose to visit the River Forest location for its proximity to the festival. We found it located in a trendy strip mall next to Panera Bread and perpendicular to a Whole Foods market in River Forest. While it appeared to be a fairly small establishment, there was plenty of seating in an environment that was casual and uncluttered. We slid into a four-seater with Cherle and her partner, Mike, and hunkered down for some serious eating.
The chefs know what they are doing, juxtaposing sweet and sour flavors with bitter and piquant. Our first dish was one of Native Food’s Earth Bowls, the Thai Meatball. The meatballs are made from seitan (wheat gluten) and are tossed with a mango-lime chili sauce. Sweet, tart and peppery accents merge to create a flavor explosion that is balanced and at the same time exciting.
What we found most amazing were the faux-meat dishes. If I didn’t know better I would have sworn that the “chicken” dishes were in fact the tender white chicken breasts I remember from my days as an unenlightened carnivore. I had to keep reminding myself that no animals were harmed in the creation of my meal; the chicken is made in-house from non-gmo soy, pea and wheat proteins. The “bacon” is a soy product as well and has the smoky sweet flavor of real pork. It is incredible! The numerous breads served at Native Foods are made in-house as well. Ashley Cox is an accomplished baker at the River Forest location.
I have personally never been a fan of meat substitutes. However, the meatless cusine of Native Foods Café has convinced me there is a place for these foods in my diet. They are a perfect transition food for those who would like to eat healthier but can not imagine giving up some of their favorite foods, like chicken, beef and pork. These dishes give you the texture, flavor and mouthfeel of animal protein without causing harm to our bodies, the environment and our animal friends.
This is also a great place to take your carnivorous friends where you can all find something to please your palates. I chatted with another diner, Tracie Worthy, who shared with me that she and her husband, Thomas, dine often at Native Foods Café because they can both find food they enjoy. She is a vegan and her husband, Thomas, is not. It’s not an issue here because they both like the food.
Native Foods has created a restaurant model that is able to produce high-quality whole foods on a scale that has been proven to be replicable. They began in 1994 and now have 25 stores nationwide. Native Foods has a plan for rapid expansion over the next four years to reach a total of 200 stores across the nation.
As yet another facet of their growth, Native Foods has just launched a catering program. Their model has been the Chicago area. Now they plan to offer this service at all of their stores. Clients can have events catered, such as business lunches and dinners for busy corporate offices, home parties, university parties, rehearsal dinners and any event where vegan food is desired. Native Foods aims to offer their catering services wherever their stores are located.
Rich and I sampled more than 20 dishes and I have to say there was not a thing on the menu I wouldn’t order again, and again. Each dish retained it’s unique signature flavor giving the diner plenty of opportunities to try a completely different flavor profile on their next visit to Native Foods Café.
Well… I suppose I should qualify that statement to admit I don’t think my waistline could survive endless servings of Native Foods’ decadent desserts. These sweet, creamy, and rich delicacies will leave your sweet tooth satisfied and your mind marveling that these are made dairy and egg free.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or just veg-curious, you owe it to yourself to check out Native Foods Café in one of their 25 locations from California to Washington, D.C. Look for their expansion to an area near you and visit their website if you’d like Native Foods to consider adding a location in your area. Native Foods catering services are likely to be an easy affordable solution to your next gathering.