Living in Jacksonville must be rather hard if you're a vegan or vegetarian. Long ago I was forced to abandon my vegetarianism, mostly due to the fact that I was training to be a cage fighter, but I have always since tried to eat a healthy and balanced diet. The wonderful individual who introduced me to TacoLu, a vegetarian herself, once again came through with a winning suggestion: The Present Moment Cafe in St. Augustine.
The Present Moment Cafe hit the downtown St. Augustine scene in late 2006. It was opened by Yvette and Nathan Schindler who have studied under some renowned raw food chefs and put their education to use in serving "live, vegan, organic and unprocessed food" to similarly dedicated or simply curious customers alike.
So what exactly is this Raw Food movement all about? Going further beyond the vegetarian and vegan ideals of cutting out meat and other animal products from one's grocery list, raw food proponents (for the most part) advocate the consumption of "live" foods that are un-cooked and un-processed. There are some within the community that include raw meats, eggs, and milk in their diet but the most popular approach to the raw food lifestyle is a vegan diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts. There is plenty of information online about the raw food diet and its potential health benefits but, as always, I recommend taking a good dose of skepticism before delving too deeply.
But back to the Present Moment. We were greeted by a friendly waitress armed with a decanter of water. Looking closely I noticed a slice of cucumber and and a slice of lemon floating within the room-temperature fluid that brought to mind my cucumber lemon zest martini at Orsay. Very refreshing indeed, I think I shall have to commandeer that trick for my own personal uses.
Despite the fact that some may consider the prohibition of cooked food a limiting factor, the menu here is large and varied, boasting far more than the salads and smoothies us culinarily-unimaginative folk might expect. You can order hamburgers, burritos, tacos, chili, pasta, sushi and more... well, in name at least. There's certainly a resemblance in the appearance, texture, and even taste of these dishes but the ingredients are purely plant based and, of course, uncooked. But let me assure you, the absence of the defining meat or processed starches from these dishes is anything but a drawback. Additionally, the ingredients are organic and often locally grown meaning that the meals on this seasonal menu are as fresh as can be.
We ordered the "Viva Burrito" (dehydrated tortilla filled with pine nut-chili and walnut pate, guacamole, coconut sour cream and jalapeno vinaigrette) and the "No-Bean Chili" which were, for lack of a better word, amazing; fulfilling, wholesome, and inhabiting a level of unparalleled deliciousness. The chili bore all of the best aspects of its namesake without the oily, sloppiness that is often an unwelcome addition. The burrito consisted of a tasty, grainy tortilla of sorts packed with a smattering of fresh veggies, seeds, grains, topped with a coconut based sour cream analogue and served with a side of fresh salad greens. I would gladly abandon cooked food if I could eat meals like this every day.
Although we don't typically indulge in a post-meal sweet, the dessert menu here was simply too enticing and intriguing to pass up. We settled on a their version of a mocha, the "Cacaocha" (I know, it's not raw, they do make some exceptions), and the "Warm Live Pecan Apple Cobbler" that was served with homemade cashew-vanilla ice cream. The delightful flavor and absence of post-dessert self-disgust is still fresh in my mind. Oh, and upon being told that the pansy was also edible, I promptly ate that as well. So we left stuffed and, as an added bonus, the cost didn't exceed what you would encounter at establishments serving food of a far inferior quality.
In addition to offering amazing food, there is also a small store where you can buy raw-food literature, ingredients, and healthy pre-made treats. Occasionally they hold classes or play host to guest speakers. A list of upcoming events can be found at their website. I'd love to go to the Uncooking Class on Sunday, March 1 so I might have to scrounge up the $55 fee and see if there are any open slots. Any excuse to go back and indulge in some more of that amazing food.
The Present Moment Cafe
224 W King St
St Augustine, FL 32084
MON - SAT: 7am - 9pm