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FIRST LOOK: Cafe Gratitude

Hugely popular plant-based L.A. concept lands in Little Italy

By Troy Johnson | Photography by Paul Body

This is should be massive.

Two trends have dominated San Diego’s restaurant scene over the last few years, both equally notable: 1) Baja cuisine, and 2) healthy gourmet. Healthy gourmet is a concept far past its estimated arrival time. America is chubby, a little sick. Our foods—salted, buttered, sourced from farms and ranches that put all kinds of crap (hormones, pesticides) into their products—are a big part of the reason. That’s why concepts like True Food Kitchen and Tender Greens have seen such extraordinary growth. Joe Diner is wiser, more self-aware these days—especially in Southern California—and his sweatpants collection too robust.

Along those lines comes Café Gratitude, a 100% organic, plant-based (vegetarian and vegan), healthy, seasonal restaurant. It’s landing in Little Italy’s new Broadstone building (1980 Kettner Blvd.). The concept started in the Bay Area in 2004, but really took off in L.A. Many famous people eat at their two L.A. locations (Venice, Arts District) to maintain their famous minds, bodies and spirits. San Diego-based singer-songwriter—and organic farmer and health food junkie—Jason Mraz is one of the main investors, and a reason Gratitude chose San Diego for expansion.

The dishes are all named after life affirmations: “Open-Hearted” buckwheat-flax pancakes, the “Fortified” veggie bowl, the “Humble” curry bowl. It’s yoga for your mouth, basically.

New age jokes now cease. Exec chef Dreux Ellis’s menu is breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast has items like those pancakes, sprouted oatmeal  (with berries and cashew crème fraiche), tempeh scramble, gluten-free French toast, crepes, and assorted baked goods (a gluten-free cinnamon roll made with flax eggs). Plus Stumptown coffee, almond-milk lattes, smoothies, etc. Lunch starts their all-day menu, which has bruschetta (with basil-hemp seed pesto), coconut ceviche tostada (with cashew queso fresco), plus sandwiches, wraps, and entrees (noodle dishes, pasta, bowls, etc.). Finally, dinner is the all-day menu plus special dinner-only entrees like cold ramen noodle salad (gluten-free noodles, housemade kimchee, creamy almond-tamari dressing), ancient grain pizza (einkorn and kamut flatbread) and asparagus risotto (with brazil-nut parmesan).

There will be desserts. There will be a juice cleanse program. And organic beers and wines to pair with meals.

San Diego’s dining scene is perfectly primed for Gratitude’s brand of nom-nom-namaste (apologies). If execution is right, this should be an insanely successful venture for all hippies involved. And I still maintain: The first restaurant to take over a drive-thru and serve healthy gourmet items will become bazillionaires.

As for design, well we’ve got the first known photos in the universe below. It was designed by Café Gratitude CEO Lisa Bonbright and designer Wendy Haworth. The idea? Keep it as calm, clean and relaxing as possible, with art flourishes (handmade tiles by Fireclay, custom-colored cement tile from Clé, and a large custom macramé by Free Creatures). Please enjoy the First Look.

Café Gratitude opens the morning of Wednesday, July 29.

FIRST LOOK: Cafe Gratitude

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