Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thanks Jordan Raw Vegan Cafe

As much as I hate to admit it (and I'm going to likely incur the wrath of my wife's family and fellow residents if they read this), the south suburbs of Chicago are a....well,how can I put this delicately?....cultural wasteland of sorts. Although one can probably argue that suburbs by definition pale in comparison to the lifestyle offerings of the city to which they're attached, my 6+ years of living on this side of town have largely convinced me that the deficiency is a bit more pronounced here. This is not necessarily an indictment, mind you (of course, there are plenty of practical reasons why this is the best place to be in the metro area), just me trying to convey the sense of how vanilla our immediate surroundings can seem at times. It is with this tableau in mind that made my recent discovery of a VEGAN (not just that, but all raw food, no less) restaurant only a 20 minute drive from the Commissary all the more shocking (to the best of my knowledge, vegetarians and health food nuts are a rare breed in these parts). Apparently, someone at the Tribune also found this surprising enough to write a detailed article on April 22 about the place, known as Thanks Jordan Raw Vegan Cafe in downtown Lockport (you can link to the article here if you're interested). I can only recall ever eating at a health food restaurant once before (in Dallas, at the behest of a vegetarian co-worker futilely attempting to persuade his 20-something colleagues to abandon those poison Doritos) and I don't normally seek out this type of cuisine, but since I am here to benefit you, dear reader, I made it my business to go check it out and return with a full report.

The cafe itself is situated smack in the middle of Lockport's old business district, only a short distance away from Tallgrass (an excellent fine dining establishment) and the old Illinois & Michigan Canal that is the backbone of the town's history (ironically, it's also next door to a pizza and barbecue take-out joint). Inside, as you might expect, the decor is very calming and bohemian, with a few tables, a small bar with some seating, a tiny open kitchen, and artwork from local artisans lining the walls. When I arrived, one of the owners graciously came over to greet me, going so far as to sit down at my table and explain both the cafe's mission (it's a non-profit raising money to support local animal shelters and orphans with HIV) and food philosophy (raw/uncooked fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, and beans, no meat, no dairy, only natural sweeteners). Almost if by cue, the restaurant's best customer, 87-year old Bob (a U.S. Navy veteran) sauntered in, showing up for his nightly meal (Bob is held up on the cafe's website as living proof of a vegetarian diet's benefits). Although I can't say for sure that all veggies all the time is the sole reason for his apparent longevity, I have to say that he did look pretty darn good for 87.

Anyway, after browsing the menu, I selected a Strawberry Bomb smoothie to start (almond milk, strawberries, banana, and agave), followed by the house special "lasagna" for my entree. If you're afraid that eating vegan means small portions, fear no more - my plate of lasagna was pretty substantial (see photo above), served with both a garden salad and a fruit salad. In place of the usual pasta sheets, the lasagna contained strips of zucchini, in between which were layers of Italian cashew cheese, pesto cheese, and basil ribbons, all topped with a fresh tomato marinara sauce. While my smoothie was nothing special, the lasagna plate and the salads were quite tasty (in fact, had I not known that I was eating all raw ingredients, I probably wouldn't have figured it out) and very filling. I didn't need to get dessert, but I did anyway, not being able to resist the house brownie, made with pecans, cacao, dates, and agave sweetener. Again, the portion size was large and I was only able to finish half the brownie (the other half came home in a doggy bag for the progeny - Hackknifette nibbled a bit, spitting it out and Hackknife Jr. declined completely to participate). I have to say that I wasn't enthralled with the brownie, which was a little leaden and a bit heavy on the date flavor (sort of a chocolate fig newton, without the cookie part). All told, though, I mostly liked what I ate (no small feat considering my omnivore, industrial food-tainted palate) and am eager for my return visit. Now if we could only get one of those Senegalese-Peruvian fusion joints to open up in Mokena....

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